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Posts Tagged ‘gathering’

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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I am not a lone adventurer.  And I am not the first.  I read the logs of those who have gone before.  Their insights help to orient me.  They help with decision making and direction.  Those of us participating in this adventure are explorers of these particular texts.  Exploring text is a lot like exploring the forest, or the backyard, or the seashore.  In order to become skilled at it, we must be attentive to things like contrast and movement.  Things like shape, tone, and frequency call our attention to what is going on.

Sometimes it is tempting to read the texts through the eyes of where I am and when.  But reading the text is necessarily contextual.  All texts have a specific context.  Eugene Peterson says that we must “immerse ourselves in their soil and weather.”  The texts were formed because the traditions are important.  We take this seriously so we continually read the texts, gather around them and acknowledge that we are wisest when we are attentive to what they have to say.

The text is not tame and calls us to either choose a new world or defend the old one.  Reading the text is a daring, dangerous act.  The text calls us out and places us in a larger system than first imagined and explores our relationships with the Creator, creation, outsiders, enemies, neighbors, and with one another.  Ecclesia may mean “called out” but it does not eliminate our connection with the world at large.  The text reminds us that we do not dominate what is around us. Instead we are participants in it.  We are part of an eccle-system.

The text does not exist that we may gain information.  Instead it directs us to a King and invites us to join up with a collection of people who gather to follow that King.  Our words, our behaviors, our attitudes, all of our moves become extremely important and influences everything else in this eccle-system.  Here, we recognize that everything belongs to the King and that determines how we respond to it.  Our response becomes one of thankfulness and gratitude, of becoming as children, as taking on the attitude of a servant.  This is a community where love for God and neighbor are strong, but love your enemies is equally strong.

In this community it is evident that what happens to one member affects and impacts the rest.  It is no accident that the text calls us to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn.  What outsiders do affects us as well.  Persecuted by someone?  Bless them.  Have enemies?  Feed them.  Evil is not an option.  Peace to everyone.  The text provides an eccle-systemic view of this gathering, this thing we call church.

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