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Posts Tagged ‘church’

I am struck by the amount of time the church spends talking about world leaders. Even more, I am struck by the division of Christians as they talk as if their allegiance is with one leader or another or one party over another. Still, after reading the New Testament, I cannot find the parts where the church becomes preoccupied with such conversation. If the first century Christians were debating who would succeed Tiberius as emperor, the New Testament does not show much interest. If the church divided its loyalties for and against the incoming Caligula, there is no mention of it.

Four years later, after Caligula was murdered, where is the talk about Claudius replacing him? And when Claudius banned Jews from Rome and made other important policy decisions, were there some Christians defending him and others asking for his removal? When Claudius was poisoned, did anyone in the church become obsessed with what Nero’s economic or foreign policy would be? Perhaps such conversations occurred, I cannot claim to know. But, if they did, the New Testament does not consider them worth mentioning.

Instead, the New Testament uses a lot of space to repeatedly focus on things like the death and resurrection of Jesus. While Rome appeared to rule and Caesars came and went, the New Testament remained interested in other news. I suppose conversations about emperors are not in the New Testament for a reason. It is possible the New Testament writers are only interested in the political changes that came with Jesus of Nazareth. It is possible the Christians in the first century were already aware that Caesar did not rule the world. It is possible they already realized that neither Julio-Claudians nor Flavians nor democrats nor republicans held the answers. It is possible that early Christians were convinced that if Jesus was risen the rest of this conversation was a sub point at best.

The first Christians knew their identity as Roman was not their primary identity. They knew that Rome was not the primary kingdom. They knew Caesar was not the true king. And they knew that Roman politics were not their politics. Instead, they were convinced that God had become flesh and sent the Spirit to make a new politic possible. A politic that, in our more faithful moments, we call church.

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Every Wednesday during the months of June and July, the local Lutheran Church serves spaghetti to hikers who may be passing through the borough. It’s not only spaghetti. I am pretty sure they make their own sauce, and meatballs, and salad, and desserts, even homemade ice cream. They replenish supplies and listen to stories and make hikers feel important.

I join them for dinner because I love trail stories. (It was pointed out that I was the only one present who was neither a hiker nor a Lutheran). I listen as hikers talk about gear and fears and weather. I listen to stories about bears and barred owls. I look through pictures that hikers have taken along the way. I ask them what they hope to find during their journey. I ask the story behind their trail name. I meet people from literally around the world. I ask what it is like to have a homemade spaghetti dinner after weeks on the trail. Nearly every time they tell me this is the best meal they have had. One hiker said when he learned of this meal, he pushed extra hard to arrive in Duncannon on Wednesday. The blisters were miserable but he claims it was worth it.

I think of the tendencies and temptations churches can have. How we might choose not to minister to some who will not be able to give back or even join us on a Sunday morning. How we might not want to support the Lutherans because they are competition. How we might think about force feeding a watered-down message down hiker’s throats along with spaghetti.

I am so glad these Lutherans do not seem worried about such things. I am convinced they love to serve. I am convinced they recognize hikers not as transients but as neighbors. The fact is, I support this ministry because the kingdom wins when Lutherans host hikers, when Lutherans offer kindness, when Lutherans serve the hungry and thirsty.

I learn that Bill was at the laundry mat one Wednesday afternoon and overheard a hiker there announce she would be spending the night in Duncannon because the Lutherans were offering free spaghetti and she wanted a home cooked meal on her birthday. Of course, Bill made sure she had a birthday cake that night when she arrived. It was emotional. I’ll bet whenever she remembers the summer she hiked the Appalachian Trail that this will be one of her favorite memories. Thank God for Lutherans.

 

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One morning Alf and I went for a walk. On another day Roger and I walked through the woods with his dog Charlie. And yet another day, Mike and I walked a trail along Sherman’s Creek. Every Sunday, Joann walks a half mile to church.

None of this is by accident. Walking the areas around Duncannon is an enjoyable exercise. The streets and sidewalks, the waterways and forests all bring pleasure. But this is more than pleasure. It is also a good metaphor for what we are trying to do. We are walking together as a community called church. And we are walking this journey in and around this place called Duncannon.

Interestingly, Duncannon sits along the Appalachian Trail. In fact, it is one of the few communities the trail actually passes through. There is even an Appalachian Trail Festival held here. It is even more interesting to me that we gather to worship on the trail. Our building is located on High Street and to walk on High Street is to literally walk on the Appalachian Trail. You did read that right. The white blazes that carefully mark the trail from Georgia to Maine pass directly in front of the church building. Anyone who enters the front door must step onto the trail before entering.

I rather like this. A church on a trail. While we all may not be on our way to Maine or to Georgia, we are all on our way somewhere. My suspicions are that all hikers are interested in spirituality on some level, whether intentional or not. There is something about the trail that calls to the soul. To hike the Appalachian Trail is a pilgrimage

To gather as a people of God is also a pilgrimage. I cannot help but remember that God has always called people to go out on a journey. We are a people who belong to the Way. Walking together as a people called church. When we say we belong to the Way, we are being very intentional. This is not a generic spirituality. We are following One who claimed to be the Way. This is truly an adventure.

 

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I am serving in Christ Reformed Church in Duncannon, PA. We are trying to be intentional about things like becoming a community and belonging to a community. We are reading texts like Genesis and recognizing ourselves as descendants of a promise. The promise of a worldwide family. For centuries followers and disciples have taken this seriously. We are following the same steps and praying the same prayers as these early followers.

We are practicing the promise given to Abraham so long ago and so far away, but we are practicing this promise in this place. What Abraham practiced among the Canaanites, we attempt to practice among the Duncannonites. We break bread together and remember who called us. We walk through the church year with the understanding we are on a journey.

Early in my relationship with this body, I was called to a meeting held in the downstairs of the building. Some referred to this as the dungeon. I was ok with this description. Some of the church’s best stuff has come from out of dungeons. We discussed details during the meeting.  But what I remember most was the way the meeting concluded. John had us join hands and pray the Lord’s Prayer. I felt like part of something big. Like we belonged to a long history of people who have prayed these words in dungeons and church basements.

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The Beatles are in the news today as satellite radio launches a new station all about the Fab Four. I am certain there will be mention of the music invasion that came along with them. I hope to hear them sing “You say you want a revolution… We all want to change the world…”

Recently, another ambassador from across the pond has brought up the idea again. N. T. Wright has caused the word revolution to be used more frequently in church vocabulary. At least he has caused it to be used more by me. I have always been pulled in by the idea of revolution, but my new fondness has me using the word even more. Revolution is not only a great word but a necessary action. Certainly we are beginning to discover that to have faith in government to guide us in a healthy direction is a bit naïve.

It is time for a revolution. N. T. Wright would have us believe it began one Friday afternoon in first century Jerusalem. If we agree with that on any level, why do we remain so interested in solutions proposed by the rest of the world? And why do we often talk as if Washington, D. C. should do something about it?

It is time to shed the artificial labels we are wearing and to begin acting like people who belong to a revolution. If we truly believe that there is a story, one story, that can actually make a difference, why are we hanging onto small time peripheral loyalties?

Our literature tells us about early successes in the revolution. We were intentional about entering space with the peace and love of Jesus. We can find faithful moments of loving neighbor and enemy. We can read accounts about differents becoming one, of enemies becoming friends, of sins being forgiven.

The place this revolution begins is not the capital. The revolution begins in the local church. All other loyalties are too small for the kingdom of God. The kingdom of earth as it is in heaven. We do not have time to be duped into other loyalties. If we truly believe a story exists that can make a difference, it is time to embody that story and stop dabbling in convenient mainstream stories that actually run counter to our story. May we be a people who show the revolutionary love that was demonstrated by our king. “You say you want a revolution…”

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Missio Alliance is an ecumenical group that does not want to avoid the challenges of living as the church in the twenty first century. Because of that, they continue to make a serious effort to host conversation about how the church can engage in mission in a postmodern world. Many things are worth repeating following their recent gathering “Awakenings: The Mission of the Spirit as the Life of the Church.” Some of them are included below.

The conference began with conversation on “The Holy Spirit: Our Forgotten God.” The reasons we could forget the Spirit may be numerous but Todd Hunter suggested these reasons may include the explicit gospel we grew up with does not mention the Holy Spirit. And he thinks we equate the Spirit with weirdness and try to separate ourselves from that. Hunter reminds us the Spirit could be grieved by wacky excess or by being ignored. He concludes by telling us it was Jesus who said “it is better that I go away…” And that to be the people of God is to be connected to the Spirit.

Over the course of the gathering we were encouraged to look at the Spirit from different angles and through the lens of different traditions. This was a helpful exercise. Throughout we were in agreement that the Spirit intends to strengthen the church by the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit has no interest in promoting individual advancement. The Spirit is not interested in hierarchy, but unity. Not celebrities or heroes but community.

We cannot reduce the Spirit to mere gifts. To reduce the work of the Spirit to individual gifts is to miss the point. The Spirit is always about the Body. And the Holy Spirit is not only about the Holy Spirit. This is about God. And God in relationship. Trinity gives us a fuller picture of God. It was N. T. Wright who mentioned the Spirit weaves us into God’s poem. Some of us may be sonnets or haikus or limericks to help the world imagine His new creation. We are his workmanship, the masterpiece of the Spirit.

Other things I find scribbled in my notes include;

-There is a vast difference between believing something and living in the narrative of the people of God.

-From the day of Abraham it is evident that the people called to provide the solution are part of the problem.

-God gave the church the bi-vocation of worship and mission.

-The church is not the manager of the guest list, but the welcome committee.

-Church cannot be reduced to a utilitarian tool, it is a relational entity.

-The tabernacle is a small working model of new creation. God dwells here. We are the tabernacle people, the Spirit dwells within us.

-God is shaping the church to be someone who will show the world what Jesus is like.

-The church is following Jesus into the future, no matter what is out there.

A big thank you to Missio Alliance for this conversation!

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In the spring of the year I often find porcupines.  Sometimes I follow them for a while just to see where they are going. If I get too close they will let me know by stopping and spreading their quill filled tail. I have never seen more than one at a time but find it interesting that a porcupine gathering is considered a prickle.

This past winter I was in Florida where I learned that a gathering of alligators is called a congregation. While that does make it sound like a religious gathering, I suspect if any one of us found ourselves in the midst of a congregation of alligators it would be a religious experience.

In the spring of the year you can walk out into almost any evening and hear an army of frogs singing their spring song. The names of gathering creatures are numerous. We might talk about herds, flocks, and schools but we might also talk about hives, colonies, packs, swarms, coveys, and convocations. Have you ever heard of a dazzle of zebras? Or a crash of rhinos? There are nearly as many names for gatherings as there are creatures.

The purpose for flocking is complex. But one undeniable reason is that being alone is risky. Traveling together helps individuals remain safe. An isolated individual can be an easy target. But beyond any practical reasons, Craig W. Reynolds points out the beauty of flocks, herds, and schools in the natural world. Group behaviors are beautiful to watch and interesting to think about. These gatherings are made up of individuals yet the overall picture is “one of nature’s delights.” This all requires a great deal of effort by individuals to stick together while avoiding collisions with one another.

I can’t read this stuff without thinking about the church. As part of the church we gather as an assembly, a body, even as a flock, and as a congregation. These gatherings have purpose. We gather because being alone is risky. We utilize our collective wisdom to allow for better decisions. We interact and rub shoulders with one another because together we demonstrate things like forgiveness, peace, and grace to the world. We keep getting together because things like salvation and holiness are group projects. While it is true that sometimes the congregation has sharp teeth and sometimes it feels like a prickle, the fact remains – we need one another.

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