Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Those Clay Jars

I believe in the church. Let me say that, again. Some people don't, I know. They say they have a personal relationship with Jesus. They say they don't need a church to be a Christian. The Gospel says otherwise. When Jesus sent the disciples into the towns, he sent them in pairs. When things were the worst, Jesus wanted his community with him. And oh yeah, Jesus called a community of people. There are, of course, reasons to call twelve, mimicking the twelve tribes of Israel. But Jesus could have been a Moses or an Elijah--either no followers or just one. The church, the people called are, are part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. We all follow together. We all search for the reign of God together.

And yet, when I look at the church, my heart is broken. It breaks again and again. Those who would make the church angrier and meaner than anyone should ever be get the loudest voice. And on the other side of things, we're a different sort of broken. Mostly, I think about the jars made out of clay.

That passage was meant to inspire hope among people who were distressed, but mostly to say that they were only vessels hiding the glorious power of God. The trouble is, somehow, we have begun to only look at our jars made out of clay. We look at our very ordinariness and limitations and sigh, not having known the all-surpassing power that is within.

The truth is, we haven't had to trust in that unseen, all-surpassing power within in a long time. The Gospel was first preached to the very poorest and marginalized in the culture. The people searching for the hidden power certainly had very little within their world. So in this neck of the woods, where the church saw strong, strong growth for so long, especially in the population boom of the 50s and 60s, we've been powerful for a long time. We didn't have to look within. We were some of the strongest forces around. We were dressed up in jars of marble and gold, jars decked out with jewels. The world around the church came to the church because such relationships were necessary for respect in the community.

As that has passed away, we can only look at our ordinariness.

Stop it. Seriously. Stop it.

And start looking at the things that defy the ordinary. Look at the things that have happened in the name of Christ that have transformed you.

In the name of Christ...
...were you healed?
...were you fed?
...were you welcomed?
...were you given a place to sleep?
...were you loved?

And in the name of Christ...
...have you healed?
...have you fed?
...have you welcomed?
....have you offered a place to sleep?
....have you loved?

Because of my own stories around just those seemingly simple things, I can guess that if you have been on either end of those things, you have been transformed. And if you begin talking about those stories, you cannot help but feel the extraordinary things wrapped up inside the things that seem so simple. It's that all-surpassing power wrapped up in a clay jar.

After all, the Gospel story is just those things, spoken over and over again. And if we looked to the things inside those clay jars instead of the jars, we might be shocked at the church we find.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Most Holy Covenant

It's no secret that, overall, the church is aging. The so-called young people in many of our congregations are baby boomers themselves; the old folks are the ones with white hair, not just gray hair. And churches say they want young people in the church. That is, of course, if those young people will come and be like them, or at least something they understand. At least that's the way things come across.

So here's my request: be in covenant with me.

I remember a time when the old folks were in covenant with me. No, they're not the same people with whom I worship now, but those people were part of the same holy covenant. They were part of the ancient command given to God's people long before Jesus, people who were told to teach God's commandments to their children at every single moment possible. They were part of the Christian commitment to Jesus' Great Commission: teach them to obey everything I commanded you.

I remember all those who kept those covenants with me as a child. My mother was among those who taught me, but she was only one, along with Diane and Judy and Linda and Wayne and Ron and Cheryl and Randy...and well, that is who I can name off the top of my head. All those people taught me within the first ten years of my life. Some were older than my parents. Others were teaching their kids alongside me. And Ruth, the seemingly ancient woman whose class I never sat it, was surely in covenant with me. She talked to me each Sunday morning, even putting up with my playing with Cheerios during worship. I remember staring at her hair in fascination; she was the only person I ever knew with a beauty shop hairdo--part of a generation that went and had their hair done each week.

And all those lessons they taught me stuck. God's word is written on my heart and in my mind. I tried to forget it and couldn't. I never left the church and I pray I never will.

So please, be in covenant with me now that I am grown. I know that I haven't fulfilled all the expectations you had for me and that I have exceeded others; that's true of most kids. I know you don't understand a lot about my life. But it never hurts to ask. Ask where I find the holy and if it's not church, then go with me there. Ask what I find moving about worship. Don't worry so much about me still being single and allude to the day that problem is rectified. Learn a song I like to sing. Not because I'm a pastor, but because I'm that thing you say you want in the church.

Be in covenant with me.

Because, you see, I am in covenant with you.

It's true. I would rather not worship on the morning of a precious sleep-in day. I would rather walk a little faster. I would rather eat at a restaurant than cook for a church potluck; like other folks my age, cooking's not really my thing. Sometimes you smell weird. Sometimes you talk too much about doctors and pills and pain and creaks and groans. Sometimes you offend me with your language, a remnant of an era I wish had never happened. Some of those old hymns you love make me cringe; others I adore. But I learned them all.

Because I am in covenant with you.

That's what people in covenant do. They learn from each other. They hear about the things that are important to the other person and even participate in those things. You may not enjoy it so much. You may have the time of your life. It doesn't matter. What matters is that you shared in the covenant with me, that most holy thing that binds us together when other things should separate us.

You have heard: there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female for all are one in Christ Jesus. Sixty years or less should certainly be less divisive.