Tomorrow would be three weeks since my last post. Yes, I’ve been AWOL from the blogosphere. I hope any readers I have left will forgive that. It’s be a busy time for me as Community Outreach Pastor, and for this Church as a whole. With so much going on, blogging has taken a back seat.
Now that I’m back, I hope you’ll indulge a little Theological Reflection on the events of April 2012 here. Without getting into details of any kind, I have to reflect openly and honestly (hard to do in a public sphere) on some things. But there’s a few things which this month has brought to the front of my mind.
We are broken. Yes, even those who are in Christ. We are messy, imperfect, hurting, broken people. Even in the midst of the Kingdom work there is much negativity among God’s people in all places and times. The Gentile mission described in Acts came along with resistance and conflict. The Reformation lead countless folks to an awakening of the gospel, but also met with bloodshed, hatred, and all out war among Christians.
So it is with us. Our striving to do the will of God is met with opposition, even from within. We mourn this. We try to reconcile it. Many tears have been shed among our people recently. Some filled with joy that we have brought several folks to the gospel, and seen their lives transformed. Other tears have been sadness and hurt and anger because we still struggle to know how we are to live in community with our brethren in the faith.
I know it seems odd for a Pastor to publicly post that the congregation he works with is conflicted. But if we are actually honest with ourselves and others, Churches are not filled with perfect people who manage to love unconditionally as we are called to do. How we use conflict is what matters. Are we able to dialogue in respect and love, or do we resort to name calling, factionalism, stubborn refusal to listen, or anger/hostility? Do we live in love, open to hear, or do we show up to the conversation looking for a fight?
God has called his Church to be a people who can disagree in love. To the Roman church (12:9-18), Paul wrote:
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
In the Psalms of Ascent, we find these short, but startlingly beautiful beautiful words of the value of community (Psalm 133):
1 How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
2 It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.
This would be sung as the Israelites went to worship at the Temple. It speaks of anticipating the blessing which comes when God’s people are gathered unified. But what happens when God’s people aren’t unified? We immediately see the impact. So what do we do? I love these words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “He who looks upon his brother should know that he will be eternally united with him in Jesus Christ… God himself taught us to meet one another as God has met us Christ” (Life Together. San Francisco: Harper Collins 1954, 24-25). In other words, get it right, because we are stuck with one another FOREVER. Respond to others with the love and grace shown to us in Christ.
It’s amazing how quickly we sometimes forget that. We bicker over man-made rules as if they are life and death. We get hostile over processes. We lose sight of the gospel call. We neglect to recognize we live under God’s rule, and in his Kingdom. All things should work towards that.
But this is not an ideal world.
We are not an ideal people… yet.
In spite of what Christ has done, and is doing, we remain broken;
Centre Street Baptist Church is not a people who have it all together. There, I said it. It’s out there. Shouldn’t be a secret to anyone. We are not always united. Sometimes we argue. Sometimes we mess up. What defines us, and all congregations of God’s people is the one we cry out to when things are amiss. We are always called to be built upon grace.
My second daughter bears the name Karyss (a sort of transliteration of the Greek χαρις). Grace. The semantic range of χαρις includes grace, favour, kindness, blessing. We are to be people who show favour, kindness and blessing to our brothers and sisters.
How do we live in grace?
How do broken people bless the folks they adamantly object to? How do they bless those who persecute (in Romans 12:14, quoted above, Paul uses εὐλογεῖτε- “speak well”)? How do we speak well to those who speak harshly to us? How do we serve the Kingdom without getting grace right among ourselves? How can God work when are so broken?
I think of Joseph’s words to his brothers, “You intended to harm me,but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” His brothers who hurt him, sold him, disgraced him, were shown forgiveness, because somehow God made something good out of sin. We serve a God who raises the dead; God who can turn sin and hatred into salvation and healing; God who can bless people through their sin. Yes, God can use your sin to bless you. Think about that. It’s mind-boggling.