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The Basin and Towel

with Indispensable Churches and Tending the Light

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Passages

I John 1:8-10

8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (NIV)

Our fellowship together as Christians requires openness and vulnerability.  Openness is me revealing to you my heart, my dreams, my disappointments, my sadness and my joys.  It is me showing you my inward life, so that perhaps you can understand me better.  Vulnerability is me opening my arms to you, inviting you to come in to my embrace.  There’s always a risk in that, as the Prodigal Father knew (Luke 15) – my open arms and my invitation are not a grabbing at you and a forcing of you into my clutches, but an invitation that you are free to decline, even to reject.  Still, the more open and vulnerable I am with you, and the more open and vulnerable you are with me, the stronger our fellowship may become.

But there are times when I am fooling myself when I think I am being open and vulnerable to you.  Sometimes I hear words coming out of my mouth like “I’m only human” or “well, that’s who I am.”  Most of the time I hear them not with tones of sadness, tears and Godly contrition but with tones more like defiance, even pride.  Since I use them when I’m being defensive, I know they are bricks in the wall I build between us, not true efforts at fellowship.  And yet I fool myself into thinking that I’m being humble or honest or open with you, when I’m really daring you to storm the wall from your side.

When I do that with God, He is ready to open His inviting, grace-filled arms to pour out His patient and faithful love  over my rebellion and invite me back into His embrace, to be warmed and welcomed at His heart.  But there are a number of reasons why I still stand off to the side and tell Him I’m fine without that embrace – pride, self-protection, stubbornness and more.  Nevertheless He patiently waits for me to come to my senses and take Him up at His invitation, knowing that I will not regret it in the end.

And if I am open and vulnerable with you, and you with me, will we regret it in the end?  If we show our hearts to each other, and open our arms to embrace each other, will we regret the fellowship that may result?  Or will we fall into that fellowship the way the Prodigal Son fell into the Prodigal Father’s arms, clinging to that love and welcome for all he was worth?  I think the latter.  And this kind of fellowship that we have with one another, modeled as it is after the fellowship we have with our Prodigal Father, will strengthen us both as we face the trials and troubles of the world.

Will you take my hand?

God bless us everyone!

1 John 1:1-4

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete. (NIV)

If we try to define the Trinity from a structural point of view, we end up describing a skeleton without any of the vitality, breath, or even life.  That’s why the Athanasian Creed is so hard, sometimes, for us to grasp – it seems to present us with a structural God rather than a living God.  Not that structure is bad – as vertebrates we like that internal skeleton – but the structure does not tell the whole story.  The better term to describe the relationship between Father and Son and Holy Spirit is fellowship.  That’s going beyond structure to relationship, to friendship, to heart and hand and eye and ear and even love; to dancing together and working together and laughing and crying together; to enjoying one another’s company around a table long after the meal has ended.

And that’s what Jesus invites us into when He calls us to faith as people in His church – to fellowship, not just to membership.  “Membership” places us in a ledger; fellowship places us at the Table.  “Membership” proposes obligations; fellowship proposes offerings.  “Membership” defines roles; fellowship describes relationships.  Whether it’s “membership” in a Synod, a congregation, or a Circuit Pastors’ Conference, the purpose is administrative.  But “fellowship” is completely different – whether in a congregation, a Conference, or a Synod.  The fellowship that we have with one another is an icon of the fellowship within the Trinity.  Do you want to know what the interior life of the Trinity looks like?  Look at the fellowship to which Christ calls His believers.

The Church is not the structure, and we are not members of the Church.  The Church, the body of Christ and His Bride, is the icon of the Trinity and both are described best by the word “fellowship.”  And the way we relate to one another is best described by the word “fellowship.”  And even though that fellowship sometimes looks thin and sometimes looks strained and sometimes looks weakened, it is still what holds us together; it is still worth hanging on to; it is still worth fighting for.

I go an extra mile for someone who compels me because that’s what Christ commanded me to do; but for the one with whom I am in fellowship I don’t bother to measure the mile.  I lend my coat and my cloak to someone in need because that is the compassionate thing to do; but for the one with whom I am in fellowship there is no IOU, no due date, and no limit to what I will give him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let the fellowship we have with one another (not in general only, but you, the reader, in the fellowship you have with me personally) clearly and brightly reflect for each of us and for those around us the fellowship of the Trinity, so that both of us and everyone else may see the love of Jesus for us and for them.

God bless us everyone!

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