Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Wandering Aramean...

Pilgrims long remember, I think, what settlers soon forget.

Settlers imagine that good fences make good neighbors, that “their” property is theirs and private. Pilgrims, on the other hand, know that shared hope, a common vision, and the pooling of resources make for real community. If settlers imagine that they are self-sufficient, that their own strength and wisdom have gotten them this far, pilgrims know they must continually rely on each other, and on the daily provision of God, to get them anywhere at all. Rich fools build barns; thankful pilgrims build altars.

I have been thinking since Sunday about such things, and what started it was this: our Church School class was temporarily displaced. Some weeks ago, so that God’s Kids could have a permanent home (we were happy to make the sacrifice!), we moved from the old Wesley class to the Fellowship Hall. But on this past Sunday the UMW had set-up for that delicious lunch (and let us be clear: we were happy about that too! Yum!), and so we were left looking for a place to pray and study. The sanctuary? No. Debs was practicing. The choir room? No, that room would be occupied soon enough. My office? Too small. And so, if you saw about 20 people kind of wandering around in the halls of the building, a bit bewildered, it was we—the Wesley Class.

Not to be too melodramatic or presumptuous, but I think we had—at least let me say I had, if only a little and just for a moment—the slightest inkling of how Palestinians and many homeless others feel. It was good for us—at least let me say it was good for me—in that little way to walk a few little steps in the shoes of refugees.

We finally found a place (the Promised Land!) and, settled in, began talking about our poor lost world and what we might do about it—bringing people to Christ, bringing Christ to the world. It is a big question, of course, with many answers, but I am thinking that one crucial thing we can do for the homeless, broken and warring world is to build a safe place, a healing place, a “home” place where people can find refuge and peace. A place where people can bring their darkness into God’s light—a place where death gives way to life, where confession is practiced, where forgiveness is sure. The kingdom of God is like a bush, Jesus said, where the birds of the air can build nests: the church is like a shelter, a way station, a safe house, a hospital.

I suggested that one of the reasons many churches have trouble bringing people to Christ is that the churches themselves do not look or behave so very different from the rest of world. That to say, many churches are just as fractious, just as territorial, just as prejudiced and privatized as any other group of “settlers”—and very clear as to who the “homefolk” are and who are the strangers. That kind of stratification may be attractive to the gentry, but Jesus built his church on the foundation of fishermen and the feckless, tax collectors and revolutionaries.

I reached back for a phrase I wrote about in this space some months ago, now—and suggested that for our church to grow, to be more of what we want to be and in some ways already see, we need to be “Jesus to each other and Christ for the world.” That definition of church comes from the pen of Robert Benson and would make for a great tee shirt, or mission statement, or program strategy: we will be Jesus to each other—calling, teaching, reminding, rebuking if need be and always forgiving; and we will be Christ for the world—inviting, welcoming, sharing, feeding, baptizing and instructing. Jesus for each other and Christ for the world, and always remembering the lessons we learned when we were “on the road,” when we had no place till we came to this place, relying only on each other and the daily provision of God, building our altars in thanks.

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