Wounds of Fellowship (Part 4)

Fourth of five parts begun on June 23, 2005The Wounds of Separation

But we, brethren, having been bereft of you for a short while–in person, not in spirit — were all the more eager with great desire to see your face.

~~Paul, to the Thessalonians

Belonging is the great joy of community, but it carries the risk of pain, the pain of separation. You can hear it in Paul’s writing over and over again, poignantly in his letter to the church in Thessalonica, desperately in his last correspondence to Timothy, his beloved partner in Christ.

To Timothy he wrote, “Make every effort to come to me soon, for Demas  has deserted me. Only Luke is with me. Come before winter”  For Paul, the winter of his heart had already tightened its icy grip. Loneliness had overtaken him. Memories of the faces of those with whom he had shared the Lord’s Table were all he had left. They both comforted and haunted him; both healed and wounded. Separation is the changing of the season of relationship. Being separated awakens the deepest fondness, and the most profound regret in the hearts of those who have taken the risk of relationship. Being a part of something makes painful being apart from it.

It should come as no surprise that the bonds of love are painful. That was how it was with the Master who gave His life out of love for human beings. Deep love always cuts deeply.

My own silliness makes the point. When Super Glue first came on the market, I had no idea of the strength of the stuff. Impulsively, I put a drop on my index finger and grabbed the finger of my unsuspecting wife. We were instantly fused! No twisting, prying or pulling would release the hold of the glue that bonded us. Together (that was, after all, our only option) we made our way to the place where the razor blades were kept so I could carefully cut us apart. Because it was my foolishness that caused our dilemma, I made sure that it was my flesh that suffered the cutting.

The bonds that are the evidence of love in the body of Christ are like that. Once the promise of growing relationship becomes an authentic bond, separation only comes at the expense of a piece of the heart. The more people that come and go from among us the more acutely aware I become that the desire for relationship is intensifying. Perhaps, finally, love is awakening my heart. That is why it hurts.

The corporate name of our home church network is, “The Summit Fellowships.” It is nothing. The name is no more the church than a dot on a road map is a city. Nevertheless, some have left us and declared they are leaving “Summit,” meaning they are leaving an institution. This, I presume, is a way of making separation easier because institutions don’t bleed, people do. Those who yearn for relationship will suffer a wound when it vanishes. Theresa of Avila said, “I have no defense against affection.” Thus, as we learn what it is to be the church, we will learn what it is to be wounded.

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?”

Helping Restless Christians on the Road to Adventure