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Posts Tagged ‘gathering’

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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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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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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I suspect there are many reasons people do not become part of the church. The one I fear most is that we have communicated a poor picture of what the church is. What if we communicate a picture that church is uninteresting? What if we fail to stimulate the soul? What if we communicate weak expectations? What if we fail to cast a vision of church as an adventure? What if our gathering is just another endorsement that things are ok the way they are? What if we communicate that following Jesus is simply a Sunday commitment without risk? What if we lead people to believe that sitting reverently or singing exuberantly is all there is? What stops us from proclaiming the church as a risky, mysterious, surprising adventure like no other?

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We know the church was created by a holy hand. Yet we look around on any given Sunday and it is easy to overlook the holiness. Can we say this gathering is better behaved than those outside? Are they better looking? Do they possess more skills? Are they more likely to succeed? How then, are we to ever remember this is a holy people?

This collection of people may not look like much. They may not be thinking they shake holy hands on the way through the door, or that their own hands are holy. They may need reminded again of the sacrifice that gives them life. They may not remember they are dripping grace into their bodies when they eat the bread and drink the cup. They may not recognize the image of God shining from the faces of others or be aware it shines from their own.

Yet here we are again, gathering to be in the presence of a God who hides in the bush until He sets it afire so that we may find Him. We are gathering in the presence of a gusty God who blows where He wills. We are gathering in the presence of a God who hides swaddled in a stable to catch us unaware.  We are gathering in the presence of a holy God who knows what it is to hide in flesh, the place we try to hide each day.

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The patriarchal clan migrations may have been the beginnings of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. However, it becomes much more than that. While we are most familiar with Joshua’s account of a sudden, bloody, and complete conquest (Joshua 1-12), the text also suggests it was a long and complicated affair (Joshua 13. 2-6; 15.13-19,63; 23.7-13; Judges 1).

The complications become evident when we find the following among the people of God; alongside descendants of Jacob there are Egyptians (Leviticus 24.10), Midianites (Numbers 10.29-32), Amorites (Joshua 6), Kenizzites (Joshua 14.6) and other fugitives. The list could be made longer but this short list is enough to demonstrate Israel was growing even while in the wilderness. Even some who did not experience the exodus were becoming converts. The text does not always tell how but does reveal God has always been interested in bringing new people into the gathering He calls His own.

John Bright tells us many of those who were grafted into the people of God had long been settled in Palestine and joined the Hebrews when they arrived from the desert. Some who were without a place in established society would have gladly joined the Hebrews. That the God who had delivered slaves from the Egyptians would include them in an inheritance of promised land would have been appealing. In such a company one could find an identity and connection they had never experienced before. Numerous conversions were likely taking place. Bright says “Clans and villages by the dozen must have been converted to Yahwism.” While this likely benefitted in military ways, it does suggest a mixed people as suggested in Exodus 12.38 “Many other people went up with them” or by Numbers 11.4 “The rabble among them.”

The fact remains that for those who resisted, conquest was bloody and brutal. This is likely part of the reason numerous towns and villages were ready to join the Hebrews. After hearing the stories, who would want to resist? Sometimes this occurred willingly, sometimes out of fear (Joshua 9). Others were likely conquered without military action but from uprisings within. Although enclaves of other peoples remained and tension continued for many years, Israel was in possession of the land they would occupy for centuries to come. Not long after this representatives gathered (Joshua 24) and made a covenant to be the people of Yahweh and to worship Him alone. It is evident this is no longer just a clan religion.

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