Monday, January 26, 2009

The Church is people...

...People who have committed themselves to being a certain way in the world. To try to brand that is to risk commodifying something intimate, sacred and holy. A church is not a center for religious goods and services, where people pay a fee and receive a product in return. A church is not an organization that surveys its demographic to find out what the market is demanding at this particular moment and then adjusts its strategy to meet that consumer niche...

...It's about our death. It's our willingness to join the world in its suffering, it's our participation in the new humanity, it's our weakness calling out to others in their weakness...

...What does it look like for us to break ourselves open and pour ourselves out for the healing of these people in this time in this place?...

...It's written in the letter to the Hebrews that they shouldn't give up meeting together because they should "consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds."

The phrase "good deeds" comes from the Hebrew word mitzvot, which refers to actions taken to heal and repair the world. It's a concept rich with significance in the Jewish tradition. For the writer of Hebrews, the church gathers so that the body will spur one another on to live a particular way day in and day out.

These gatherings aren't the end; they're the beginning. They're the start. They put things in perspective, they remind, they provoke, they comfort, they inspire, they challenge, but ultimately they are about the Eucharist. About these people in this place at this time being equipped to be a Eucharist*.

From "Jesus Wants to Save Christians," by Rob Bell, pages 159-161.

The Eucharist is ultimately about what we do out there, in the flow of everyday life.

When the goal of a church is to get people into church services and then teach them how to invite people to come to church services, so that they in turn will bring others to more church services -

that's attendance at church services.

And church is not ultimately about attending large gatherings.

Church is people.

People who live a certain way in the world.

People who have authority in the world, but authority that comes from breaking themselves open and pouring themselves out so that the world will be healed."

Rob Bell defines Eucharist this way: "God has made peace with the world through the Eucharist, the good gift of Jesus. And so Christians take part in a ritual, a meal, a reminder of Passover, called the Eucharist - also called communion or the lord's Supper or Mass - as a way of remembering and returning to who God is and what God has done in Christ.

But the Eucharist, as it is with any ritual, is about something far more significant than the ritual itself...

...The church is a living Eucharist, because followers of Christ are living Eucharists.

A Christian is a living Eucharist, allowing her body to be broken and her blood to be poured out for the healing of the world...

...Because in the Eucharist, in Jesus' body and blood, everything has been reconciled to God. Paul calls this the "new humanity."

The Eucharist is about new humanity (page 151-154).

Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States of America this past week. The whole world watched with bated breath as he was inaugurated on January 20, 2009, taking up the mantle of leadership of the most influential country in the world. Newspaper headlines threw around words like "hope," "courage," "future," and "revolutionary" to describe Obama's leadership. Young and old, black and white, rich or poor are all looking to Obama to bring them the change, the hope, that this world needs.

This world needs hope.

It needs change.

It needs peace.

It needs courage.

It needs revolution, equitable resource sharing, economic stimulation and environmental reforms.

While Obama represents a change of the guard in the Oval Office and a change in American values and, yes, can be a part of the solution, he is not THE solution. While the election of a new president brings a breath of hope to the world, he is not THE hope for the world.

The only true hope for the world that I can see is a church - and by this, I mean the universal church, all followers of Jesus together - that lives the way that Rob Bell describes in his book (can I point out that this is a remarkably similar description to the church as described in Scripture? Ironic, isn't it?). A group of people living a different way.

A church that lives to heal,

to bring peace,

to provide for the needs - physical, emotional and spiritual - of others,

to love,

to share hope,

to give,

to bring reconciliation and unity,

to bring freedom where there once was condemnation, and

to be honest in weakness and in strength.

A church that does this together, as one body, poured out and broken so that the whole world can live fully alive in hope and in peace in spite of the grief, sorrow, weaknesses and inefficiencies of this world.

A church that exists for this and like this is a church I want to be a part of...both "C" church - the universal body of believers - and "c" church - my own church family here in Calgary.

As a church leader in a local congregation, this changes how I lead. It changes my expectations of myself and my congregation. It changes the way I program. I want to encourage my community of believers to become that church. I want the times that we come together be times of encouragement and celebration so that we can go out into the world again and live differently. I want our gatherings to be a stop on the journey, not the destination. I want us to be the church, the new humanity, the Eucharist.

Even more importantly, it changes the way that I, as a follower of Jesus, live. I recognize that the only way that I can lead that way is if I live that way. I'm pretty open about the fact that my faith in Jesus is a big part of my life. I find it amusing how people react to that. Often it's with surprise. Some people even comment on how "normal" I am, usually adding that I'm far less judgemental, legalistic and hypocritical than they expect. That's part of the picture but I want to be more. I want to be known for being caring, accepting and generous. I want to be loving. I want to stand up for the one who no one stands up for. I want to be the one who can bring peaceful resolution to conflict. I want to be the one willing to sacrifice for the sake of others' healing. I want to be content and joyful, kind and patient in such a way that others are positively affected by my presence. I want to convey a vision of something bigger and better than this world can ever offer. I want to be someone who gives people a picture of Jesus that is compelling and exciting and attractive, just as it should be.

I'm not there yet. I, however, have hope that the God who can change the world is capable of changing me. I'm looking forward to it.

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