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Posts Tagged ‘community’

Twenty-two of us gathered around a table in the basement last night to talk about Christmas. We also eat at these gatherings. We seem to take cues from those first century gatherings we read about in an old book we call Acts so when we get together we are often eating (I suspect some come for the eating). We weren’t quite talking about Christmas, but about Advent. One has to go through Advent in order to get to Christmas. We are preparing. We are waiting. We are getting ready. In a way, I suspect we are like shepherds tending sheep in the fields or like Magi traveling from the east.

 
Our conversation actually included a prophet for hire and a donkey who talked. These are great stories but it was the words of the hired prophet that stick out in a context for Advent. “I see him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel.”

 
I love these meetings. While I do not tend to like labels, we have had people who call themselves Congregationalists and Methodists and Lutherans and Pentecostals attend these meetings. What do you get when you put a group like this in the basement with a holiness preacher for the purpose of listening to old texts together? I think you get a great picture of church. Sometimes this text simply fascinates us. Sometimes it creates more questions than answers. Sometimes it challenges us in ways we did not expect. But we always benefit when we get together for the purpose to hear what it says.

 
It is our hope that our readings and discussions lead to things like belief and behavior and belonging. If they don’t, then why spend time in the basement on a cold, dark night anyway? We don’t want to be a people who just talk about things. We want these things to spill out onto the street and into the surrounding community. What happens at 212 N High Street, doesn’t stay at 212 N High Street.

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A Gathering

At first glance, 212 North High Street may not stand out. There, you will find a fine brick building with plenty of character. The imprint in the concrete near the front steps say it was built in 1912. Multiple things go on here. In just the next few weeks, among other things, the building will serve as the site for a dinner, study sessions, the local food distribution, a board meeting, and a party. Next Thursday evening, we will sit on the front steps and give treats to the neighbors.

 
But the primary thing that happens here is a gathering on Sunday mornings. We don’t take these gatherings casually; in fact, we believe heaven and earth meet here. We gather with allies to acknowledge who rules the world. We gather to remind ourselves of our role in such an important narrative. We gather to pray, sing, and bless one another for the ongoing journey. We enter sacred space and read words of hope out loud. We are reminded of what is real in contrast to the artificial news we hear so much of the time. On account of these things, I suspect most of our gatherings leave attenders somewhat ‘spirited.’

 
But recently we were reminded that what we do is not always ‘spirited’, at least not in a sense that feels good. In fact, we were reminded that our gatherings can be sobering. It is hard to feel good when one of your own is hurting. It is easy to talk about retaliating toward a perpetrator. It is difficult to talk about forgiving them. It doesn’t feel good when a friend is pouring out the emotional pain of her soul because of a literal catastrophe.

 
At first glance, 212 North High Street may not stand out. But there is something going on in those Sunday gatherings where we attempt to “bless those who persecute… rejoice with those who rejoice… mourn with those who mourn.”

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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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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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We are brought together by a God who is bigger than any petty differences. We are family. We carry the news that can save the world. Yet, we still fall for the voices of culture. We not only listen to them, we hold them in high esteem. And it divides us. Our news has always been clear that the ways of the world are unable to save the world. Yet we continue to act as if they can.

It is no easy task to resist the pressures of culture. It has always been difficult to resist principalities and powers. Yet, this is not optional. When we give in to cultural pressures we choose sides and we become divided. We choose lesser, artificial, and temporary ideas about important things like salvation and community. And our choices lead to partisanship in the body.

Interestingly, the word evangelical has become news. And not the news the word evangelical is intended or accustomed to sharing. Flip on the television and find someone trying to convince you that evangelicals are an important voice in the current political landscape. Turn the channel and find someone trying to convince you evangelicals are irrational, hateful and a cancer. Whenever we begin to listen to these voices as a voice for us we are mistaken. Spoiler alert, these voices are not neutral. They say what they say to pander to whoever they think is listening.

The president has become part of the “evangelical” news. And the voices of culture are attempting to draw a line and put you on one side or the other. It is true the president has said some rash things. The president has made some ill-advised decisions. But it isn’t the president’s behavior that worries me most. It is ours. The bickering that is going on inside the church only lends credibility to the misguided ideas that salvation will come through Washington D. C. and our allegiance depends on which side of the aisle we are on.

The church is not a political action committee. This is no lobby group. Perhaps the democrats and republicans are less evil than the Nazi’s, but to align ourselves with either of them is just as bad. We already have a King. And we’ve already been told there is no room for two masters.

Participate in elections. Encourage elected officials. Pray for them. But do not bow at their altars. When you agree with politicians and when you disagree – God is still at work. Even more, God is still in control. And when you start to believe otherwise, you are worshiping at the wrong altar.

It is time to stop participating in the divisive strategies of the world. The fact is, we cannot repair what is severed on our own. We need God. We must learn to listen, learn to disagree, and learn to resist in ways that are faithful. The church must stand together and recognize the opportunity right here in front of us.

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I am in the forest and leaves are falling. At times they are falling so hard it sounds like rain. Looking up, it is like I am watching the hardwoods throwing leaves from their branches and into the arms of the conifers. Who knew the trees played games of catch?

In the book The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben teaches us a thing or two about trees. He wants to make sure we know that individual trees are important. At the same time he insists a tree is only as strong as the surrounding forest. When trees unite to create a forest, the whole becomes greater than its parts. The well-being of a tree is dependent on the community of trees. Wohlleben suggests that trees are far more social than we might imagine.

One tree standing alone is at risk. It cannot establish a consistent climate. It suffers alone in wind and weather. But a forest of trees creates an ecosystem that moderates temperature, stores water, and generates humidity. Wohlleben insists that in a forest, trees care for one another. Every tree becomes valuable to the community and is worth keeping around as long as possible. Sick trees even receive support and nourishment from others until they recover.

Wohlleben is convinced that trees are able to communicate with one another. And not only one another, but with other creatures as well.  Who knew? He makes a case that trees care for one another. They share food with one another. The forest is a tree community. They need one another. Maybe those lively trees we read about in stories are not as farfetched as we think. Maybe trees are not the passive plants they appear to be. Maybe that really is a game of catch they are playing above me. Maybe the forest really is an enchanted place.

I am struck by the way Wohlleben talks about the forest in ways the New Testament talks about church. We communicate with one another. We care for one another. Like trees in the forest, we are stronger and more productive when congregated. Alone we are at risk. Together we are the church. We need one another. Just as an individual tree does not make a forest, an isolated Christian does not make a church. It is interesting that both forest and church are the dream of the same imaginative Creator. Perhaps we should not be surprised by any similarities. Whatever future research tells us about trees, I will never walk through the forest the same way again.

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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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