Christ in community...
NOTE: Earlier today I shared this message with my congregation as a part of my weekly e-update. It is an invitation to review their participation in Sunday worship as part of a living commitment to the counter-cultural values of Jesus.
One of the joys of serving God in pastoral ministry involves the privilege of beingwith families through the seasons of life: for over 30 years it has been my honor to have baptized some family members, journeyed with others through the challenges and celebration of life and then been with still others as they face both death and funeral celebrations There have been graduations, sicknesses, troubles as well as ordinary time shared with meals, movies and music. I remember telling one of my seminary advisers who thought I would be better suited for an academic career that I felt called to the ministry of being in communion with God’s people as community. Because “if we can’t strengthen our hearts in the ordinary moments of grace, why bother with just extraordinary ones?”
My spirituality of pastoral ministry has ripened through the years and might be summarized like this: 1) We meet God in a unique way in worship so our time morning must be creative, experiential and grounded in mystery as well as practical application. 2) We meet God in community so there can be no invisible or passive members; our practice of being faithful is expressed by caring for one another and building trust and love together as Christ’s body. And 3) We meet God as we nourish our hearts and minds in prayer and study; each member of the body of Christ is called to develop a disciplined and ordered life that includes personal or private devotions. There are other ways of being the Church, to be sure, but our practice is grounded in being together in community. We are not fundamentally a collection of individual seekers or mystics, but rather a living body: the body of Christ. I remind you of my perspective on ministry today for two reasons:
- First, my hope is that as this fall ripens that you might take some time to revisit your habits and practices concerning worship: how often each month do you come into community in worship? What strengthens your participation and what keeps you away? Are you at peace with this rhythm or are there ways you might go deeper? For while we are not doctrinaire about worship attendance, the more you are present the deeper our community can become in love and compassion.
- Second, worship is where we learn how to practice living into the counter-cultural grace of Jesus. Liturgy literally means “the practice of the people” and what we practice is being open to God’s new way of living in the world. St. Paul put it like this: we are not to be conformed to the ways of the world, but rather to be transformed by the Spirit into people shaped by grace. (Romans 12) From my perspective, I see a society living in ways that are out of balance with God’s loving grace – and people of faith have been called to offer those around us an alternative to the violence, fear and cynicism that so dominates in our culture. But nobody can give what they don’t have – we have to nourish a grounded and well-ordered life before we can share it with another – and worship is where it begins in our tradition.
Now I call this to your attention not to be a nag or a drag, but because I believe Christ is counting on people of faith to leaven and redeem our culture. Bottom-line obsessions and idolatries have turned many hearts from the common good to a mean-spirited selfishness. What's more, worship is one of the only places left in the United States where our emphasis is on nourishing awe, strengthening beauty and practicing compassion.
Tonight I met with my "community of practice" - a clergy support group that gathers for dinner, prayer, conversation and accountability each month. I was not able to participate on a regular basis last year because of jazz gigs, health concerns and family travel. It felt wonderful to reconnect tonight and I am grateful.