Search

The Basin and Towel

with Indispensable Churches and Tending the Light

Tag

honesty

The Sermon on the Mount

An Indispensable Churches post

The Christian claim is that life is better lived in the church because the church, according to our story, just happens to be true.  The church is the only community formed around the truth, which is Jesus, Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life.  Only on the basis of his story, which reveals to us who we are and what has happened in the world, is true community possible. (page 77)

In a world like ours, it is tempting to seek community, any community, as a good in itself.  . . .  (page 77)

The Sermon [on the Mount, Matthew 5-7] implies that it is as isolated individuals that we lack the ethical and theological resources to be faithful disciples.  The Christian ethical question is not the conventional Enlightenment question, How in the world can ordinary people like us live a heroic life like that?  The question is, What sort of community would be required to support an ethic of nonviolence, marital fidelity, forgiveness, and hope such as the one sketched by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount?  (page 80)

– Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens(Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 1989)

Naether Memorial Chapel; Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu, India

We happened to be reading the “eye for an eye” part of the Sermon on the Mount last Sunday in Bible class, and commenting on how difficult it is for us to live the kind of life Jesus describes in those verses.  But we’re not alone – everyone struggles with the “love your enemies” words of Jesus.  We do the Christian quick-step around them with re-interpretations (“He didn’t really mean love in the same sense that you love . . . “).  We make exceptions (“I can love my enemies in general; but not that one in particular”).  We’re so hopelessly in love with the lex talionis because each of us has so idolized our individual selves that for Jesus to say things like “But I tell you . . . ” drives a knife right through the heart of our self-importance.  And yet we want to call ourselves Christians, too, and claim to follow Jesus.  The rock is firm, the hard place is hard, and we are caught firmly in the middle, unable to escape by ourselves.

Then come Hauerwas and Willimon (above), who tell us that it is precisely because I cannot escape by myself that I need the church, the community of believers, the communio sanctorum.  It is only in that context and in that community that I can be faithful to the words of Jesus.  It is only in the church, surrounded by other believers current and past, that I learn the truth about forgiveness, marital fidelity, and all the other things Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount.  We both know we won’t learn any of it in the world.  We both know that not just any community is up to the task, no matter how ethical it tries to be.  Only the church, the body of Christ, is uniquely designed by Jesus Himself to feed and nourish and nurture its members so that together we grow into the temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells.

I need the church that is the body of Christ all over the world – in India, in the USA, in Europe, wherever there is another believer.  I need that believer.  I need the church that is the denomination I belong to, and the denominations I see around me.  I need the church that is the body of Christ assembled in the building in which I preach, as well as those assembled in other similar buildings in our community.  I need the church that is the huge one in the big city, and I need the church that is the tiny one on the ridge overlooking the village of used-to-be.  I need them all – and so do you – because each and every one of them teaches me how to live the “But I tell you . . . ”  I confess that I am a poor, miserable sinner.  I rejoice that Jesus has forgiven my sins!  But I need the Church Indispensable to teach me to be the disciple He calls me to be.

And I think you do to.

Advertisements

Border Protection

An Indispensable Churches Post

Hermann Sasse, one of the great Lutheran theologians of the 20th Century, once wrote

A church that does not continually gather around the [Lord’s] Supper must undergo secularization.  It must irreversibly turn into a piece of the world, because the Supper establishes the boundary between church and world.  This conclusion is confirmed by the experience of church history and especially of the history of worship in the last few centuries.  The destruction of the Supper is followed by the disappearance of the living remembrance of Jesus from the hearts of Christians, especially of his suffering and death.

Thus, in the century of the Enlightenment, the fading away of the person of Jesus as the biblical Redeemer into an indeterminate universal teacher, who might just as well be called Moses or Socrates, was bound up with the decline of the Supper as the celebration of his inextinguishable remembrance.  . . .  Where Jesus Christ no longer himself speaks to us in the Holy Supper the Gospel “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” the message of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world necessarily fades away.

–  Hermann Sasse, “Church and Lord’s Supper” in The Lonely Way (St. Louis:  CPH, 2001), pages 420-421.

 “The Supper establishes the boundary between church and world.”  What do you think about that?  First of all, that there should be such a boundary, a place church and world may meet but not intersect.  A place where church and world may greet one another, may perhaps glare at one another, but not join with one another.  A place where church and world say to each other, “you stay on your side, and I’ll stay on mine.”   

But how fluid is this boundary?  Can we come and go with ease across it, moving from church to world and back again without impediment?  Should we come and go with ease across it?  Or should it be a firmer boundary, a border we cross with difficulty, a boundary we cross at our peril except at the approved Gate (John 10:7-10)?

And what if this boundary is removed?  If there is no boundary between church and world anymore, does the world become like the church or does the church become like the world?  Observation of recent history would suggest the latter.  And if the Lord’s Supper fades into unimportance in the life of the church, to be superseded by technology, prosperity, “growth,” or attendance as indicators of the health and well-being of the church, does the Gospel also necessarily fade into the background?  And when the Gospel fades into the background, shall not the church fade away into the background and then into oblivion as well?

 

All in the presentation?

As a friend and I were chatting over a nice lunch today he reminded me that it’s Friday the Thirteenth.  Not that either of us is superstitious, but I happened to know that Joel Osteen is having an event this evening at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland (where the Cavaliers play basketball).  Neither of us plan to go, but we took this news as an opportunity to reflect on the presentation of the Gospel.

Joel Osteen’s version of the Gospel appears to be “God wants you to have your best life now,” and tonight, for one night only in Cleveland, he’ll tell you how that’s possible.  He’ll be accompanied by his lovely wife, world-class instrumentalists, and up-to-date technology.  All this for the low admission price of $15 per person, plus a $3 facility fee.

My friend and I recalled that the Rev. Billy Graham came to Cleveland in 1994 for a multi-night Crusade at the Cleveland Stadium (where the Browns and Indians used to play).  A number of folks from my friend’s church attended the Crusade every evening and sang in the massed choir (including “Just as I Am, Without One Plea,” of course).  Some of the folks from our church went every evening, also, to serve as counselors with people who came forward onto the field at the invitation of Rev. Graham, to follow up with the Gospel with them and get information that could connect them to a local church.  The Crusade had the massed choir, George Beverly Shea (of course), and all the technology the sound system of the old Cleveland Stadium could muster.  Every evening Rev. Graham told the crowd how Jesus was our hope through the forgiveness of sins, and that His promise to everyone who believes is eternal life in the love of the Father.  Hundreds of people came forward every night to demonstrate the beginnings of their faith or their re-commitment to that same faith.  All this for the low admission price of – oh, wait, the Crusade was free!

Every night – no admission fee charged to anyone.  Members of the choir – no fee to participate.  Counselors on the field – no fee, either.  No fee for attending the training sessions before the Crusade came to town, either.  No fees for local churches for people connected to them, either.  All good – all Gospel – all free.

Upon further reflection, this post makes me wonder who it was that Rev. Billy Graham thought would benefit from his preaching at that Crusade?  It makes me wonder who Joel Osteen thinks will benefit from his preaching tonight?  And I suppose it should also make me wonder who I think will benefit from my preaching this Sunday or ever,

 

 

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!

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑