Community: Wounds of Fellowship (Part 3)

The third of five parts beginning on June 23, 2005The Wounds of Judgment“…But you, why do you judge your brother? Or again, why do you regard your brother with contempt?”

~~Paul, the Apostle

The cabinetmaker surveyed our kitchen. He tapped the wall here, checked the plumbing there. Then he took a measuring tape from his pocket, measured a length, replaced the tape, jotted down the measurement on a little note pad, took the tape from his pocket and repeated the process. Measure. Take note. Measure again.

Beware the brethren who carry a ruler in their pocket! Such a tool is the craftsman’s equipment, not the instrument of fellowship. Critical spirits have secret standards. They evaluate. Quality control is their specialty. Do you measure up? Do I? As we wonder, we are ever focused on ourselves and, often, we seek relief from judgment by hiding ourselves from our judges whoever they may be. The one who feels judgment withdraws. The one with the ruler in his pocket feels rejected and isolated. Defensiveness divides the church.

Jesus chose the company of substandard human beings. He knew what they ought to be, but accepted them where they were. In relationships, faith means accepting people where they are. It should be left to Jesus to grieve (though I doubt He does) over where they ought to be. We are to rejoice (with Jesus, I think) over where they will be. As Paul showed by his example, we are to refuse judgment, and instead, offer a gift: the confidence that He who began a good work in our brethren will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. In our woundedness we are to have this confidence in the wounded. This is the life of the church.

Random Thought: Altar Calls

The most eloquent altar call is the gathering of believers.
The most compelling presentation of the gospel is that they love one another.

Community: Wounds of Fellowship (Part 2)

Second of five parts begun on 6/23/05The Wounds of Faithfulness

For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not that you should be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have for you.

~Paul, the Apostle

These are the true words spoken in love, the reproof that weeps over the one reproved; the admonition that trembles for the one admonished. Wounds of faithfulness gamble that the covenant of friendship is enough to soothe the faithful wounds and to heal.“He does not respect you,” said my faithful brother. He was speaking of my young son. The words cut deep and I bled softly for three days. They echoed in my silent drive to the river and stung for the hour or so that I sat watching the boats. They spoke into my waking moments of reflection when the mind wanders from its immediate task.“Who does he think he is, anyway?” Anger is one way of bleeding. “He’s right. Even others notice.” Despair bleeds. “God help me. Help my son. Forgive my brother.” Dependency heals…and leaves a scar.Proverbs reminds us: “Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend…”It is the way the Body is. It is wounded, yet lives.The Wounds of Expectation

“He began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give you.”

~~The Acts of the Church

We think we know what we need. Sometimes we even think we know from whom we can get it so we turn our attention to a brother or sister who, unfortunately, is not Simon Peter. We look expectantly upon another, hand outstretched, and demand alms.

Expectancy can be the anticipation of an awaited event—the Christmas of our hearts—or expectancy can presume upon the favor or ability of our brethren. My brother expects a thing from me, but I cannot (though he suspects I will not) perform. His expectations have become for me a prison. I must be what he wants me to be. He insists upon it. It does not occur to him that I may be better suited to his needs than to his expectations. He demands alms, while excluding wholeness.

We are both wounded and afflicted—he by disappointment in me, and I by a feeling of failure. At least in our injury we are brothers.

It was through a small boy that the multitudes were fed. He had little to give, but at the touch of the Eternal Provider it became what was needed. What he had was broken and shared. So it is with the body. Though what we have is broken, in our brokenness we can share and live.

Community: The Wounds of Fellowship

This is the first of five parts dealing with some of the challenges of community life.

“…His appearance was marred more than any other man, and His form more than the sons of men…”

~~Isaiah, the prophet.

“What happened to your arm?”

It’s a question that I get asked often. There is a scar across my right elbow where I tried (and fortunately failed) to chop off my arm with a gas-powered pruning saw. The accident happened over twenty years ago. When I am asked about the scar, I tell about the wound.

Wounds tell stories. In Christ’s body after the resurrection, they told of redemption and eternal life. Now, the body of Christ is the church and it, too, has wounds that tell the story.

From Christ’s Body to the Body of Christ

Jesus, the suffering servant, carried away the sins of the world —His generation, the generations before, and the sins of the generations to come. He took the wounds in His body and unleashed a tidal wave of reconciliation that was to rush upon the human race and pour out across the millennia to touch even us.

But why did Jesus have to bear the scars of crucifixion even after His resurrection? Surely a resurrected body could have been a perfect, unscarred body. Why the scars? Because scars are evidence of wounds and Christ’s wounds proved something. They proved that life had been poured out. They proved brokenness is the cost of healing. His eternal, resurrected body bore the marks of the horror of sin in order to prove that sin and rebellion cannot be undone but must be forgiven—horribly, passionately, and continually forgiven.

Thomas, the disciple, needed proof that the cross meant something more than another martyr’s death. Jesus offered him the evidence of His resurrected presence: He showed him His hands and His feet. It was the fatal wounds of the living Lord that stood as proof of redemption.

Today, when we take the bread and the cup of the Eucharist (literally, “the good gift), we see Jesus as Thomas did, pierced through and crushed. We say, “our Lord and our God!” as we look upon the living One—his shattered hands and feet, His pierced side.

And when we leave the table we are the hands and feet of the living Lord, no less wounded. It must be so because wounds prove something. They prove that the work of Christ goes on and that sin is not undone, but forgiven. Jesus’ wounds should have been lethal, but they were merely mortal. Their presence bore witness to the miracle of resurrection life. Likewise, the wounds of the church should destroy her daily, but the church, like her Lord, lives on. Her wounds prove that life—supernatural and vibrant— is within and among us.

Living with wounds is hard. But God calls us to more than that. To live beyond them and in spite of them is the word of our testimony to the world.

Community: Alienation to Transformation

There [isn’t] any such creature as a self-made man or woman. We love that expression, we Americans, but every one who’s ever lived has been affected, changed, shaped, helped, hindered by other people.
We have to know who we were if we’re to know who we are and where we are headed. This is essential. We have to value what our forebears—and not just in the 18th century, but our own parents and grandparents—did for us, or we’re not going to take it very seriously, and it can slip away.

~David McCullough, Historian

It’s early morning. I got up before five today. Figured I’d try getting up when I awakened in the morning rather than waiting for the alarm—something about the obeying natural rhythms. We’ll see how that goes today in the early afternoon!

I’ve been thinking about history. Not just the grand sweep of past events and world-forming circumstances, but the quiet passing of days and years in a community. It seems to me that the measure of a community of faith is the history that the community has been willing to enjoy and, at times endure, together. Real community is formed when its members set a course and follow it, regardless of the cost of the course.

So often these days the cost of traveling together is too high—not that it is in fact, only that we perceive it to be as a matter of convenience—and rather than pay the price we abandon the enterprise and one another. That we “go to church” as though it were a location or an institution makes it all the simpler. We’ve had people announce that they were going to “leave Summit” (the name we’ve applied to the little band of travelers here) and move on to some other place. I’ve always been intrigued by that choice of words. It strikes me that it’s easier to “leave Summit” than to say, “I have grown tired of you,” or, “you displease me.”

Steve Meeks, a Baptist preacher, pointed out that there are four stages of community. The first, he calls “initiation,” the honeymoon stage when relationships are new and the excitement of discovery empowers the group. Anything negative is swallowed in the glare of brilliant newness.

The second stage is “alienation.” Here is where the challenges begin. Romance collides with reality. The flaws and blemishes—they’ve always been there—start attracting more attention than the positives. Here is where history is made. Here is where the mettle of the group is tested. At the point of disappointment is where heroes emerge and relationships are forged. Traveling from Independence, Missouri to the West Coast today is not remarkable. The same journey in 1850 made history, and the story lives on. The difference? Perseverance and determination against the obstacles that would deter and destroy. Yet, at the point of resistance is when people abandon community. On the eve of history, they “go somewhere else,” not realizing (or admitting) that it is not a place they have abandoned but companions, which are the stuff of history.

Meeks points out that the step beyond alienation is “transformation,” where real love begins. The lights are on, but not as brightly—glare has become illumination. The flaws and blemishes are in full view but they no longer matter. Love has covered a multitude of sins and the community is transformed—and each member. Later, as new members trickle in, the old ones tell the story of their history together and the new ones are drawn into it. Mere companionship moves toward covenant and the community is no longer defined by name or place but by a people.

What then? If a community is transformed what comes after? Meeks suggests that “incarnation” is next. It is a community that has learned to live together with wisdom, depth and grace. Incarnation takes time, but it is what the world is longing to see. It is, I think, what Christ-followers are longing to be, too. But the price is high and is paid by staying together long enough have a history to share. The motivating question for such followers is not where do you “go to church” but “with whom have you been called to be the church?”

Economy: Relational Economics

We’re taking a giant step into the future
And turning into a thousand other towns
I heard today the news that they are
Closing the bookstore down.

Some big concern comes in and yanks
Our jobs, our shops, our hometown banks,
Then they expect our grateful thanks
It happens every day.
I guess I just prefer to see
Success serve our community
Not just some wealthy VIP
Who lives a thousand miles away.

So take a minute and look around,
There are corner shops in every town
Squeezed and pushed and hunkered down
And battered by the blows
No, they might not be shiny or bright or new
But they’re run by folks like me and you
Now, I can’t tell you what to do
But me?…I’m going to shop at those.

John McCutcheon, “Closing the Bookstore Down” Rounder Records

It was an ironic situation. I was standing in Fairley’s Pharmacy, a locally owned and operated drug store when my cell phone rang. It was my wife telling me that I’d gotten a call at home from the Safeway Pharmacy—corporate mega-drug powerhouse—about the over-the-counter medication that I was trying to find. I had just left there and stopped by its tiny competitor, tucked into a pie-shaped building about a block away where Sandy Boulevard angled into Fremont Street. Fairley had opened back in the 1920’s long before Safeway was built.

I called Safeway back and got a recorded voice, the first of several… “For store location and business hours, press ‘1’, for the floral department, press…” Eventually, I got the pharmacy and another recording: “For pharmacy hours, press ‘1’. If you are a doctors office, press ‘2’. If you need information about insurance or medicare…”

At last I got a human voice. I talked to it as the pharmacist at Fairley’s—a living, breathing pharmacist—stood at the counter waiting to talk to me. He had been waiting about five minutes for me to finish navigating the electronic labyrinth. Safeway said that the medication I was looking for had been discontinued. I hung up. I turned to the man at the counter. He told me the same thing.

I left the little drug store considering the contrast between the information I got from the corporate store and the information I got from the little guy. The difference was relationship.

Now, here’s just the right place to insert the obligatory diatribe about the impersonal world with its electronic customer service and volume pricing. This would the time to slam the capitalist juggernaut and lament the lack of locally sustainable economies. But I think there is a different issue for Christ-followers, the issue of relationship. As citizens of the commonwealth of faith, relationship becomes the relevant issue. Jesus taught us to value human interaction and charitable service. He taught us to love one another, and along the way, love the world, which was what the Father had done by sending Jesus in the first place. None of that is possible without relationship and placing high value on the personal. Our issue with corporate America isn’t raw economics, it’s relationship; it’s losing the personal interaction, the human, voice and the human face—the window into the soul, which is where the Spirit of God jealously yearns to dwell. If we choose the small and local it’s because relationships are lying right there on the surface and not buried beneath a media-drenched infrastructure or a constantly shifting bureaucracy. If we choose “humongo mart” it’s usually in pursuit of the less expensive or convenient—the sacrifice of the personal.

Still, it’s fairly difficult these days to avoid the maelstrom of the humongous. When it isn’t practical or possible to support a local economy, we can at least make relationships a priority as best we can. Down at Safeway we know a few people. Bret asks about my son; Sharydon knows my last name. I try to go through their checkout line—when they’re working, and until they get transferred to another store—then I drive home, passing Fairley’s on the way. I intend get my prescriptions there from now on. Shun the corporate monolith and trade locally…hang the cost!

So give me slow food and a hometown team
Spencer’s, Bodo’s, Chap’s Ice Cream
Gleason Hardware and that corner store
With the dust on the shelves and the bell on the door
I swear I’d love to hear that sound once more
Since they closed the bookstore down. (McCutcheon)

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