Saturday, February 24, 2018

Grumbling at the Table

I’m not preaching this weekend.  Doug, my associate is preaching.  He’s also the one who designed this series, “The Way to Heaven” based on a book by that title.  And it is really all about grace.  Last week I preached about the need for grace, or original sin.  This week the topic is the grace that comes before - prevenient grace.  Now, I’ve been gone all week and so don’t really know what Doug is preaching.  Plus he has changed the scripture from the original plan and so I’m not 100% sure I know what he is planning to do or say.  So, come to Southport UMC this week and we’ll find out together!    And in the future, I probably won’t write one of these when he does preach. 

But this time, I decided to find something I had written about the passage that I think he is planning to use in worship.  Why?  I don’t know, except I like to feel like I know what’s going on.  Even when I don’t.  Plus I’m looking for prevenient grace in these verses.  And decided you could help.  So, here’s what I wrote before under the title “Grumbling at the Table.”  


Sometimes there is no greater joy than sitting down at the table with your family.  In those moments we laugh and share and invest ourselves in one another’s lives.  We participate in the thoughts and dreams and hopes as well as the experiences and happenings of the lives of those we love.  Sitting at table together at its best is a glimpse of heaven, the true community celebrating life as Christ calls us to live.  At its best it is heaven.  At its worst it is hell.

Sorry.  A bit strong?  Maybe.  But then sitting with surly teenagers who are still fuming from slights real and imagined, and with parents who have just lost their last nerve and are fed up with excuses and “he said/she said” and aren’t listening anymore - well, how would you describe it?  I’m not sure which is worse the pointed fingers and hurled accusations or the sullen silence broken only by cutlery on plates and angry chewing as though devouring each other.

Not that it ever happens at our table, you understand.  Sweetness and light and homey family bliss, that’s us.  But it came to mind, this odd possibility, as I read our Gospel lesson for this weekend.  It seems that at the table that Jesus set there was some grumbling from time to time.

John 6:35  Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 

John 6:41-51  Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven."  42 They were saying, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, 'I have come down from heaven'?"  43 Jesus answered them, "Do not complain among yourselves.  44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.  45 It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.'  Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.  46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.  47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.  48 I am the bread of life.  49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." 

“Who does he think he is?”  That’s the grumble.  He’s not so special.  He’s just like us.  It is the inclination of most of us to want to pull people down to our level.  I’m not talking about those who want to push enemies down lower, to climb up on top of them, to crush them beneath our feet.  That is something different.  This seems more benign somehow.  We like puncturing overinflated egos.  We like knocking folks down to size.  We like putting people in their place.

One might even argue that it is woven into the fabric of the American Dream.  We are all equal, no one is special, greater, higher than us.  That’s why we don’t have royalty, at least officially.  The problem is we keep looking for people we can put on those pedestals, at least until we decide to pull them down again.  Equality is a good thing, but we often use it as a means to dismiss those we ought to listen to.  

“The Jews,” which in the Gospel of John means those who were out to oppose Jesus and not Jews in general, wanted to put Jesus in his place.  He’s just like us, with parents and a history.  He grew up around us, we know him.  What is all this about being bread?  What is all this about coming down from heaven?

The irony here is that John uses the same word, which we have translated as “complained,” as the word that was used in the Old Testament to describe the attitude of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness.  Remember they had problems with leaders too, they complained and grumbled and whined about the direction they were heading.  So, now we have these folks complaining that Jesus doesn’t know what he is talking about.  That he is leading them astray.  Why should we follow you? they grumble.  You’re nothing special.

In fact this passage is another of John’s attempts to say something about the specialness of Jesus.  But it is done in a rather curious way.  First of all, Jesus says I am Bread.  What?  Common ordinary bread.  Stuff on the table, something everyone has all the time.  I am bread, says Jesus.  I am the common stuff of life.  I am that sustaining presence that you often take for granted.  At least until you don’t have any.  They say, he’s nothing special and he says he is bread. ?  Not caviar.  Not creme brulee.  Not rack of lamb (oh, well, that comes later, I suppose) Just bread. 

It is as if he is saying to those who don’t want him to be special - “You’re right!  I’m not special.  I am necessary.  I am daily (give us this day our daily bread)” At the same time to those of us who want him to be special, to be brought out on special occasions, like the good china and grandma’s silver, he says, “No, I am bread, the ordinary stuff of life.  You don’t keep me on the shelf for special moments, you take some everyday.”

And as if that isn’t odd enough, he goes on to say he isn’t really leading here.  Wait, what?  At least that is what it seems to me that he is saying.  “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father.”  Huh?  

Maybe he is saying to those who are grumbling that the problem isn’t with him, but with God.  Maybe if they stopped and listened for a little while then they would hear the resonances in their own soul.  God is at work in them, and if they were to pay attention, they might find that what he represents is just what they’ve been looking for.  They might find out that he can satisfy the deepest hungers in their own souls.

John Wesley talked about the grace that comes before - before our awareness, before our efforts, before our choices.  God is at work in us, drawing us toward the One who will fill the empty places in our souls.  This “prevenient grace” is what Jesus was talking about here.  Jesus tells us about the God who calls, who draws, who wants us to know God’s own self.  This isn’t about barriers, about hoops to jump through.  It is about the nature of God.

And our own nature.  What we learn in this story is that sometimes we are so full of ourselves that we don’t hear the call of God.  Sometimes our hurt, or our anger, or the rights we thought we didn’t get, keep us from hearing God’s call to join in an experience of love and sharing.  We miss another opportunity to taste the Kingdom by breaking bread with those we love.  God calls us to dinner.

Leave your attitude at the door.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Rescue Me

I’m just back from two days with clergy.  Redeemed by the fact that spouses were invited this time.  A little dose of reality, of humanity in our unique mix of religious sensibilities.  This was our almost annual clergy retreat here in our Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church, called “Life Together.”  I’m on the planning team.  I was given the responsibility of ordering worship.  So, I did the smartest thing I could, I brought my band.  Well, they aren’t my band, they are Southport UMC’s band.  And they are good at what they do.  So that was great.  We also had a speaker who helped us think about our life together, our call, our covenant as United Methodists.  It was good.  Went well.  Informative, fun, community and relationship strengthening.  And I’m glad it’s over.  

Sorry.  Don’t mean to be an old grump necessarily.  But one of the problems with retreats you lead is that they are a bundle of anxiety throughout.  And I’m constantly reminded that you can’t please everyone.  Some thought it was too loud, some thought it was too long, some thought it was out of touch, some thought it was irreverent.  Sigh.  We aren’t all the same, despite the fact that we want to be a community together.  We don’t like the same things, the same patterns, the same emphases.  But surely we can find some common ground, some meeting place, some grace that allows us to be together, to worship together, to live together.  There always seems to be something in the way of that.  Something that keeps us from entering in, from being present, from connecting.  Maybe some were just having a bad day.  Or maybe it was something more. 

Paul thinks our problem, that which keeps us from being a true community, is more than just a “having a bad day” kind of thing. In fact he sees it as something much more fundamental than that.  And much more ubiquitous than that. Much more... human than that.

Romans 7:14-25  For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin.  15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.  17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.  19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.  20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.  22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self,  23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin. 

Good old Paul.  He seems to be having a bad day to end all bad days.  Or maybe even a bad life.  Wretched man that I am!  He seems to shout to the heavens.  Nothing good dwells within me.  Yeah, I’ve been there.  I’ve had those moments when it seemed like all my choices were bad ones.  When all my mistakes were big ones.  When all my thoughts were broken ones.  Yeah, I’ve been there with ya, Paul.  So, buck up.  Hang in there and it will get better.  You just gotta hold on until the storm passes.

No, he replies, you aren’t listening.  This isn’t a momentary weakness in your impenetrable armored will.  This isn’t a didn’t get enough sleep last night, my biorhythms are out of wack, or the moon isn’t in the right phase for me right now kind of thing.  This is you.  This is the real you.  This is the consequence of living in the world as it is right now instead of as it was originally designed.  This is the result of sin running loose in the world.

Yeah, you say, I get that.  I do bad stuff from time to time.  I mess up, my bad.  I make a goof, a boo boo, an open mouth insert foot moment in the conversation.  I know that.  I’ll do better, I really will.  I can hoist myself up by my bootstraps, and try a little harder.  Thanks for the reminder there Paul, woo, close call there.  Thanks for the boost, thanks for the lift.  Just, thanks.
No, says Paul, you still aren’t listening.  I’m not talking about an exercise program.  This isn’t about trying harder, digging deeper, climbing higher in your attempt to do good things, to embrace the good, to be good.  This is about admitting that there is nothing good in you.

Whoa there, Paul.  There might have been a time when that sort of approach would work.  When you wanted to scare folks into the faith, when you wanted to shame them into responding to the altar call on your sawdust revival trail.  But we’ve gotten a bit more sophisticated these days.  We need goal setting and strategic plans.  We need behavior modification and checks and balances.  We need self-esteem raising and awareness training.  We need the rules explained and defined, the boundaries clearly marked and the punishment delineated.  We need self-help books: 5 days to be a better you, 6 minutes to tighter abs, 7 ways to total transformation.  

What you need, says Paul, what you’ve always needed and will always need is a savior.  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  We need rescuing, he says.  We can’t save ourselves.  And while we know that intellectually, it is hard for us to claim this truth.  It is hard for us to live into it every day.  OK, we might accept the need one time for a rescue, or a hand up.  But then we tend to live the rest of our lives with an “I got this Jesus, thanks anyway” attitude.  We live in a world that tells us we can be anything we want to be.  Which is both true and false at the same time.  It is true that opportunities abound for many of us, maybe not all of us - that is the tragic inequality of the world in which we live. 

Even so, even without that imbalance, the war within us means we can not consistently choose the good.  We cannot will the right, live in the light.  Sin, Paul says, is not an act or even a pattern of behavior that we choose or to which we succumb.  It is instead a power and a presence that dwells within us.  And as long as it is there, our efforts might be successful for a time, but they cannot last, will not last.  One commentator likens Paul’s view of sin to the disease called shingles.  It is a viral infection that continues to live in our bodies and every now and then it breaks out in the rash that causes so much pain.  Even when the rash goes away, the virus is still there.  Even when we don’t engage in sinful acts, Paul says, sin still dwells within us. And the war goes on.  And no one is strong enough to win that battle on their own.  They may hold out for a while, we may hold out for a while.  We may want the good, and not want the evil, but, says Paul, but ...

Who will rescue me?  That’s the real key to the passage.  That question.  It is a cry of faith.  It follows the cry of despair, wretched man that I am.  Wretched woman.  Wretched creature.  In a world without hope, that is the final cry.  But praise be to God there is another cry to follow.  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  The Lord of life, that’s who.

The promise here is that this disease, this cancer that dwells within us can be replaced by the Christ who dwells within.  We can be transformed from the inside out.  It is sometimes instantaneous.  But more often it is a lifetime of inviting the indwelling Christ to come and take up residence within us.  Which I guess means that there is a struggle either way.  Either we struggle against the sin that threatens our very existence in the world, that makes us ill equipped to live in community, to maintain relationships, to be content within our own hearts and we live that constant battle knowing that we will ultimately lose.  Or we struggle against our own will that doesn’t want to be given over to a loving God who can remake us into what we really want to become.  That struggle was described by the late songwriter Rich Mullins in the song Hold Me Jesus: Surrender don't come natural to me / I'd rather fight You for something / I don't really want / Than to take what You give that I need / And I've beat my head against so many walls / Now I'm falling down, I'm falling on my knees.

When we finally fall to our knees, when we finally surrender, we find a new strength, we find a new support network, we find a new possibility.  We find the sun still shining even though the clouds have rolled in.  We find hope instead of despair.  We find joy instead of shame.  We find goodness within as well as all around us.  Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!


Saturday, February 10, 2018

Body and Soul

Though it is waning somewhat, it seems to me, there is still an unhealthy fascination with zombies these days.  Now there is a sentence I didn’t think I would ever write as an intro to a bible study.  And yet it fits.  In an odd sort of way.  But first, my complaint - zombies.  What’s the big deal with zombies?  Why are we so intrigued by zombies?  Scary movies - like the “...of the Dead” series of which there are far too many; funny movies - like “Shaun of the Dead” a few of years ago; comic books, popular fiction - everywhere you look there are zombies.  Aaahhh.


Some argue that horror movies tap into some deep national or global fear and reinterpret it to fit the genre.  The monster movies of the 50's were a reflection of the nuclear threat, fears of science out of control.  The robot movies of the 70's were a manifestation of the fears of being replaced by automation.  The apocalyptic movies of the last few decades reflect a fear of the devastations of war, or the effects of global warming, or  pollution or who knows what.  So, what about zombies?  What do they reveal about our hidden fears?  Some argue it is AIDs or cancer or any of a number of medical threats that prey upon our minds and hearts these days.  Others argue that it represents a soulless leadership that seems to be marching us all to inevitable doom.  Maybe.  I wonder, on the other hand, if it isn’t a physical or a political threat, but a spiritual one instead.  I wonder if we have neglected the Apostle’s Creed so long that we’ve lost touch with the meaning of I believe in “the Resurrection of the Body.”

Maybe it is a stretch, but Paul had to contend with those scared of zombies in his day.  Sort of.  The problem was that there were some who were repulsed by the concept of the resurrection of the body.  “Who would want,” they would argue, “to reanimate dead flesh?”  Who would want to re-inhabit this shell that we had cast off on our death?  And that doesn’t even include the problems of what kind of death you would be coming back from.  What if the body wasn’t in fit shape?  What if there were pieces missing?  Yuck, they argued in Greek or Hebrew or Aramaic (and I confess I don’t know the Greek or Hebrew OR Aramaic for “yuck”) So, Paul sighed deeply and wrote the 15th Chapter of I Corinthians to deal with them.  Take a look:

1 Corinthians 15:35-44  But someone will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?"  36 Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.  37 And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.  38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.  39 Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.  40 There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another.  41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.  42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.  43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.  44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.

Paul, who is admittedly wrestling with stuff he doesn’t really understand, makes a number of different points in this argument.  First of all he argues that resurrection is God’s act, not a natural occurrence.  This means that we can’t simply look at the world and see what happens.  We have to see with the eyes of faith. 

There are, however, some symbols in this life that give us a clue, Paul claims.  The metaphor of the seed gives us some insight into what is going on in resurrection.  The seed is planted, it “dies” and what grows is something different.  The seed doesn’t wake up, or reanimate, it is transformed by the process of creation.  The body is changed, he argues, and what appears is different from what died.  In other words, Paul claims, there is a new creation.   He wrote of that new creation in a different way in last week’s passage (II Corinthians 5:16-20).   That was about living as a new creation, this passage is about being made new for eternity.  In fact, as we finish our reflections on the Apostles Creed this week, we have two statements to cover: I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  They go hand in hand, of course, but they also share in common the truth that they straddle that line between the world we know and the world we are heading toward.  They both speak to us of life that is bigger than death.  Or maybe better, life for which death is but a moment, a pause before continuation. 

But even continuation isn’t quite right.  Yes, it continues, but it is also about change.  About transformation.  Not just a transformation that occurs at death, however.  This is a transformation that is at work in us from the moment we accept the gift of life that comes from the One who came that we might have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10 (the verse that, for me, encapsulates what Jesus was all about!)).

The seeds of that final transformation are at work in us from the moment we claim the salvation that Christ offers.  We claim the power of Christ’s resurrection today, even while we wait for our own resurrection.  The transformation is to be made like Christ.  We can show glimpses of that life in our flesh, Paul argues,
but we are still mortal - still subject to death.  Until this final transformation, this new creation that God works in us.

He describes that transformation in a very interesting way.  The final verse of the reading says this: “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.”(I Cor. 15:44) One commentator claims that this is a weak translation of what Paul presents.  The weakness comes in the Physical vs. Spiritual split that we often struggle to comprehend.  What would a spiritual body look like?  A ghost?  Not body so much as spirit that is recognizable? 

What if we retranslate that first sentence to read: “What is sown embodies the soul, what is raised embodies the spirit.”  Now, we usually use soul and spirit interchangeably.  But in Greek “soul” is psuche and “spirit” is pneuma.  Soul translates as “creatureliness” that life force that makes us human, that makes us a part of creation, of earth, mortal.  Spirit translates as the divine spark, the image of God in which we were created, the treasure that lives in this earthen vessel. 

We are, in this life, embodied souls, subject to the needs of the flesh, fragile, earthy, focused on survival and self.  Because of that we are only dim reflections of the Christ who lives in us.  We are imperfect examples of a life of the spirit.  But resurrected, we will be embodied spirits, living not for ourselves, not subject to the needs of the flesh, but able to mirror the God who gives us life.

Paul seeks to make the point that resurrection is real, not some ethereal, ghostly undead kind of life.  As rich, as real, as wonderful as this life is, resurrection is even more so.  Even though words fail to grasp the realities beyond our experience, faith tells us that God has treasures in store for us.

But the real joy is that we don’t have to wait.  We have this gift now, and because of it though we may think we are dying, or already dead to life and living, because of self and doubt, we do not let go of the life within us.  We have caught a glimpse of God and that is enough to sustain us - body and soul and spirit.  Until resurrection.


Saturday, February 3, 2018

If Anyone

Forgive me.  A common conversation item, interjected in the midst of a discussion with all sorts of intentions and moods and results.  Forgive me, maybe you mean it and are genuinely sorry and want to heal what is broken between you.  Maybe it is a way of getting out of an uncomfortable moment and you both know your apology doesn’t mean much more than the exasperated air you use to say it.  Forgive me.  Or worse, say you’re sorry.  Remember that one?  Maybe it was your mom telling you that you had to apologize for hitting your sister, or breaking your brother’s favorite toy, the one he told you not to touch ever.  Say you’re sorry.  Sorry.  Did you mean it?  If it gets me off the hook then yeah, I meant it.  Then mom turns to the offended sibling.  Forgive them.  No way, he’s mean, she’s selfish, I hate you.  Forgive them.  

You’ve forgotten more incidents like that than you remember, I’m sure.  It happened with troubling regularity.  Conflict, confrontation, even violence and brokenness, it is our lot in life it seems.  Even those closest to us find it difficult to live in harmony for very long.  Something gets in the way.  We get in the way.  Everyone else gets in the way.  If it was just us, each of us individually, we’d be fine.  We could do our own thing, hold our own opinions, enjoy our own company, get along just fine.  Except it isn’t just us, isn’t just me.  There is you, and all the other yous out there.  And something in me wants to be in relationship, as difficult as that is. And for this forgiveness thing to work, for this community thing to work, with all the wild variations of yous out there and mes in here, we’ve got to find a way to overcome the hurts and the slights and disappointments that are just a part of living in community.  We’ve got a find a way to forgive. Together.

2 Corinthians 5:16-20  From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.  17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation;  19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.  20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 

If anyone is in Christ.  Anyone.  We’d rather rewrite that line, wouldn’t we?  If those like me are in Christ, those who agree with me, those who look at things like I look at things, those who value what I value and speak the language I can understand.  If those who I choose are in Christ then, hey, let’s celebrate this new thing that is happening in us, between us, the new creation, the fresh start, the coming together and becoming community.  Anyone is just too big, too much, too inclusive.  I’d rather just worry about me.  

There is a dimension of forgiveness that is individual, I don’t deny that.  A part of forgiveness is a personal  choice to not dwell in hurt.  It is the ability to let go of anger and resentment, to not be destroyed by your own disappointment by what has been done to you.  The willingness to forgive is a choice to live free from the burden of vengeance; to not be defined by the wound received.  That is a healthy and healing choice.  And necessary to the process of forgiveness.  But only a start.  Or a first step - as giant a step as it may be.  There has to be more.

Historically the phrase we focus on from the Apostles’ Creed this week was added later.  At least some historians argue that.  It was not in the oldest depictions of the creed.  It began to appear sometime after Constantine.  (The Emperor, not the Demon Fighter from the comic books) When Constantine accepted Christianity, the church changed dramatically, almost overnight.  And one of the first things the church did, after breathing deeply for the first time in a couple hundred years, was to count heads.  Who was in and who was out.  There were some who wanted to deal harshly with those who compromised during the time of persecution.  They shouldn’t be allowed to remain a part of the community if they, to save their own skin, recanted their beliefs, bowed to the emperor or other diluting practices that were forced on the faithful during this time.  Others argued differently.  They said that it was a difficult time, and while we celebrate the few who were willing to give their lives for the faith - the ones we know as martyrs -  for many, particularly those with children, or other family members they couldn’t bear to see suffer it was too much to ask of fallible human beings.  Therefore we should be a bit more understanding.  We should be a bit more forgiving.

We believe in the forgiveness of sins began to appear in the Creed.  Just after a declaring a belief in the church and in the communion of saints, the idea of forgiveness began to appear as though explaining just how this church thing might work.  We can only be the church, we can only be in communion with one another if we also believe in the forgiveness of sins.  Without forgiveness there can be no community.  Because “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” because “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”  That’s why we need forgiveness.  Without it there is no community.

But forgiveness as we understand it here is not simply “getting over stuff.”  It is about building bridges.  About putting things back together.  It is, says Paul in our passage for this weekend, about reconciliation. 

That argument is that Jesus changed everything.  From now on, he writes, from the event of Christ everything and everyone is different.  And what is different is that we can no longer look at each other from the outside in.  Which means that our judgements about the worth of any individual are not based on appearance or even actions or opportunities or choices.  Instead we see Christ in each person, we see the image of God, no matter how obscured by the world.  We love first.  Anyone.  That is our challenge and our choice.  There is a new creation - in our understanding if not yet in the person we see before us.  But even then it is there in potentiality, the possibility for new life is always there.  And we live and act and relate in that hope.

The message of the church is the message of God in Christ which is reconciliation.  We don’t have the luxury of a live and let live kind of policy.  We are called to create community, to reconcile those who have wandered off.  We are ambassadors for Christ.  An ambassador is never off duty.  Wherever he or she is she represents the sending agent.  And whatever he or she does is not the ambassador, not the person themselves, but the one sending who is acting.  Whenever we act, whatever we do we represent Christ.  When we build bridges it is Christ working in us who builds them.  When we refuse, when we burn those bridges because of our hurt or anger or jealousy, it is the cause of Christ that suffers through us.  There’s another cliche we need to redefine: “You’re only hurting yourself.”  If we are in Christ, to use Paul’s term, then that can never be true for us again.  Yes we are hurt by our selfishness, but more than that Christ is hurt, the church is hurt, the community of faith is hurt by our not living out our call.

Whew, heavy stuff here, I realize.  But also exciting when you think about it.  Because of Christ I get to participate in the reconciliation of the world.  I can be a bridge builder working alongside you and all the other members of the communion of saints in making the world resemble the Kingdom of God.  What could be better than that?  Don’t you long to live in true community?  Don’t you long to heal the hurts caused by others or even yourself?  Don’t you long for deeper meaning and wider impact?

Of course we do, on our best days.  On the days when we feel Christ’s Spirit within us, urging us, enlarging us, moving us beyond the self until we begin to acknowledge anyone, everyone.  We don’t do that on our own.  God is making the appeal through us.  We just lead with forgiveness.  We just default to reconciliation, to building bridges, to healing hurts, to joining together, to being the church.  On our best days.  Forgive me.  My best days.  How about you?