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Posts Tagged ‘church’

It was Sunday morning and we were gathered for worship. There had already been some excitement in town that morning. A herd of cows had escaped from a nearby pasture and had been wandering around in the borough. Most had been returned to where they came from, but some had spent the night in town and were yet to be found. Sounds like just another day in Duncannon.

During morning announcements, Crystal shared she had seen a cow that morning. She had texted her son who told her she should have invited it to church, then it would be a “holy cow.” She reported she did not, so there was no “holy cow” in worship. She then went on to say there would however be holy communion. I heard Joel who was seated near the front quickly reply “Holy Cow-munion?” (That is a great word)! Moments like these may not be what some think of when they think of worship, but they make me very glad to be part of this group.

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Peter Oakes has uncovered a house church in Pompeii. Not really, but he does give some valuable information about who might have worshipped in a first century house church. He tells us that the church may have looked like this;

 

        A craftworker who served as host, along with his wife and children, some male slaves, a female slave, and a dependent relative.

        Tenants who lived in the house along with their families, slaves, and dependents.

        Some family members of a householder who does not participate in the church.

        Some slaves of owners who do not attend.

        Some homeless people.

        Migrant workers who have rented some small rooms in the home.

 

It is helpful for us to get this picture of a first century Roman congregation. It helps us to see the diversity of social class, economic class, and ethnicity of this people who were considered as One in Christ. Scot McKnight makes a reference to Oakes study and later goes on to say, “The church is God’s grand experiment, in which differents get connected, unlikes form a fellowship, and the formerly segregated are integrated… They are to be one in Christ Jesus.”

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It has become increasingly fashionable to stop attending church. It is not unusual for someone to convince oneself they can be as spiritual or even more spiritual than those who show up for the weekly gathering. Some of those fashionable people have even coined a term for themselves, the “dones.” I have even heard some of the “dones” refer to themselves as a prophetic movement.

I have no doubts that some have left the church for what seem like good reasons. I am equally certain that among those who continue to attend the weekly gathering are some strong feelings about those who are leaving. In my best effort to read this situation through a gospel lens, here are two thoughts;

1)      The church needs the “dones.” We must never forget that behavior is communication. The “dones” are communicating something and the church would be naïve to ignore it. The “dones” are not the enemy and the church has some responsibility to continue nurturing that relationship.

2)      The “dones” need the church. No matter who comes or goes, the church remains the group called to represent the ways of God in the world. As imperfect as a church may be, it is still the big part of God’s plan. The church has a responsibility to continue offering hospitality, even to those who claim to be done.

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An Ally

I feel like a have a new friend. At least an ally in the mission we call church. Tish Harrison Warren, Anglican priest, writes “True Story” for The Point Magazine. And I am grateful.

Harrison Warren claims that Church pulls us into a story where we belong. We are included in a family, part of a forgiven people. In the church we find friends and food and ritual and meaning. But even more, she says, church is where we find mystery that cannot quite be described. A mystery of “the Trinity forming, humbling, remaking, and sustaining this creature called the church.”

Yes, the church does include pragmatic things like meetings and e-mail and budget and parking lots. But also mystery. As she says, Westerners tend to speak about mystery “as if it’s a code to crack, the true-crime novel we haven’t finished yet.” Instead, she says it is “crackling with possibility and saturated with God’s goodness.”

The church may be a place saturated with God’s goodness, but it is not a place we go to profess virtue. Instead it is a place to confess our lack of it. It is also a counter-cultural demonstration of serving others without expectation of anything in return. These are radical thoughts in today’s culture. She quotes her favorite headline from the Onion, “Local Church Full of Brainwashed Idiots Feeds Town’s Poor Every Week.” She enjoys the quiet, ordinary goodness, the silent ways we care for one another.

The church does not merely communicate information, the church creates the conditions for “personal and communal formation.” This is not a cognitive exercise but a story full of celestial wonder. The church is not part of some “divinely inspired game of telephone, where we simply whisper a message to the next generation.” It is a story that “comes to us through ordinary people over dinner tables, at work, in songs, through worship, conflict, failure, repentance, ritual, liturgy, art, work, and family.” It is a story that comes to us through sacraments where mystery is communicated through ordinary things like “water and skin, bread and teeth.”

On the one hand, church looks like “God’s kingdom coming among a community of ordinary people: tax attorneys and auto mechanics, stay-at-home moms and the homeless.” Yet, on the other hand, she envisions the communion table as a place that stretches through time and space so we are eating and drinking with the family around the world and throughout history. Sharing bread and cup with the likes of Magdalene, Augustine, and Dad.

She does not go to church for the grape juice and fried chicken or the fellowships and potlucks or for the friends and community connections. Harrison Warren stays in the church because the church is still “making her.” Her understanding of the world is shaped by the story she has learned there.

She realizes that church history includes Crusades, colonialism, sex scandals, abuses, racism, oppression, power hungry pastors, and Christians who are simply downright mean. She knows that church has likely cost her some likability among people in educated, progressive circles. She understands that church has probably motivated some ethical decisions that delayed her immediate happiness. So, she asks “why not choose a different story?” Her answer? She actually believes Jesus rose from the dead. She believes the Christian story to be the “True Story.”

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Most church affiliations hold a general gathering where business is conducted on a regular basis. Ours, held earlier this year, came with a theme “One.” I am not sure if it was the program committee or some other genius who came up with that theme, but I loved it. (Personally, I hope it becomes our ongoing theme). It certainly should become our ongoing prayer.

To call it timely would be an understatement. If there were a competitive match going on pitting unity vs. division, division appears to have the upper hand. Each day we wake to discover someone in the world is at odds with someone else. We seem to be surrounded by division. This makes it even more important for a church group to take “One-ness” seriously.

Truth is, we shared differing opinions right there on the council floor. Emotion was felt in the room. I am writing as one who is glad we are bold enough and respect one another enough to state opinions when we do not see eye to eye with one another. I write as one who is glad we are able to share differing opinions and yet walk out as “One.”

I pray that we are becoming “One.” I pray that our “One-ness” will not be of some petty tribal variety but will spill over into other sectors of the church. I pray we will work with the larger body of Christ in ways that we share in areas where we are strong and learn in areas where we are not. I pray we will work with our sisters and brothers in the church universal to reflect the ways of God in the world. I pray the church will be a witness of “One-ness” in a world that is otherwise divided.

Truth is, if the church does not demonstrate “One-ness” – who will? May our “One-ness” communicate that the hope of the world is in Christ and demonstrated in His church. Perhaps we are called to be catalysts for the church to become “One.” May we be a divine illustration that unity can be achieved – but only through a God-filled people.

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I and II Thessalonians cannot seem to stop talking about work. In these short letters we find references to work at I Thessalonians 2.9, 5.12-13; II Thessalonians 3.6 -13. Here are four implications we might be able to make from reading I & II Thessalonians.

1)      If you have been gifted with hands and strength and brains, do not take advantage of your generous Christian brothers and sisters.

2)      It is not a good witness to become dependent on or indebted to another.

3)      Stopping work in order to act all religisophical gives the appearance of idleness and hinders the witness of the church.

4)      A follower of Jesus who is idle in public suggests the wrong thing about the church and puts all believers at risk.

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My times of solitude must be in balance with corporate responsibilities. It will not do to try and convince myself I am growing spiritually if I am not among the people of God and not in service to the world God so loved. So I must look for ways to grow alongside my sisters and brothers in Christ. Perhaps even spending time with others who do not come from my own faith tradition that we might become acquainted with the strengths of one another’s church. We want to walk together in this adventure called church. This is a corporate adventure and I want to take seriously what happens when two or three of us gather together in His name.

I will participate in corporate life and enjoy that I belong to a large family. I will pursue balance in Christian living. I will be reminded that I am to love God AND love my neighbor. Worship will be an enactment that spills over into everyday life. This will help me to shape my responses toward others. I will carefully deal with those who have different opinions than I do. I will attempt to reconcile those who do not get along on account of political persuasion and remind them that our relationship with one another is stronger than partisan views. I will bless my sisters and brothers, bless those who do not deserve blessing, and I will recognize that I have been blessed.

I want to bridge the gap between those of differing political persuasions. I desire to be a gentle reminder that the kingdom of God is bigger than the current political landscape, the Good News is better than the current political rhetoric, and that King Jesus rules no matter who lives on Pennsylvania Avenue. I desire to be a flesh and blood reminder of the living Jesus.

Living among others is one of the struggles of being human; this is the reality of the matter. Humans come in all different sizes and shapes and shades. Some sound like me, others do not. We have an assortment of eye colors, hairstyles and adorn ourselves in multiple ways. Some of us are noisy, some are quiet. We all think differently, have different levels of hope, and get excited about different things. In fact, something that excites one may infuriate another. So many of us, all different, yet all created in the image of God. May I recognize that these “two leggers”, these hominids created with the dust of Eden and filled with the breath of God, all wear the mark of their Maker.

I want to keep incarnation in the forefront. What a mystery that God became one like us. Heaven came to earth and God became earthling. If this does nothing else, it surely adds some dignity to the rest of us earthlings. I only hope that I am wise enough to step out of the way often enough to learn from others in the Body who think differently. I desire to bless those of like mind and those who aren’t. To be a blessing sounds easy enough. But Barbara Brown Taylor claims that the world needs us to do this, because “there is a real shortage of people” willing to do it. To bless another, whether we are authorized or not, is evidence we ourselves have been blessed. She goes on “That we are willing to bless one another is miracle enough to stagger the very stars.” I pray for a spirit of hospitality toward those who are difficult for me to spend time with. I want to be intentional at understanding the people whose opinions differ from my own. I want to develop a posture of humility instead of one that is defensive. I desire to “stagger the stars.”

In the coming season of my spiritual journey, I will ask questions that matter. Are there relationships that I should nurture? Would new relationships spark my spirituality? Should I initiate more interaction with non-believers? Should I look for new places of service? Can I support the community where I am called to serve in new ways? Is there something that may stretch me a little? Is there a conference I should attend? Questions like these will help keep me from stagnation. I will ask them often. I want to consider such questions with seriousness, remembering I do not wish to crowd my schedule with more to do unless it has spiritual benefit. Otherwise, I defeat my purpose. I have already been shedding obligations deemed less necessary that were crowding my spiritual formation.

Thomas Merton writes that he entered the monastery and a writer walked in behind him. It makes me wonder, who is following me around? What identities do I carry with me that are unnecessary? If I identify myself as democrat or republican how does that strengthen my spiritual formation? What things are neutral, good, or bad depending on the way I choose to implement them? What things enslave me? Am I asking for stones when God is trying to give me bread? Are there things to be pruned so that I might be more fruitful?

This rule of life is not intended to be a guilt producing exercise, but a guide to help keep me on a path of growth. It is not intended to give me something more to do, but an assistant to help me focus on spiritual formation. It is not designed for me to master anything or figure God out. In fact, it does quite the opposite. The rule of life is intended to keep reminding me that  my role in relationship with Jesus is to follow.

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