What should Church be?

For many people, church looks like this at the most basic level
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Yet remember that the angel said to the women who went to find Jesus at the tomb –

The angel said to the women “Do not be afraid! I know that you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. Why are you looking among the dead for the living? He is not here – he has been resurrected!” (Condensed Gospel rendition)

The church as we know it is dying.

The Christian faith tradition must change what it looks at in order to survive. It must change from being a religion of rites and creeds.

It must stop being an institution focused on
the historical Jesus
and the future Jesus
and learn to BE Jesus right now,
to the people in the world.

It must stop the idea of “Bringing people to Jesus”
(preaching the Gospel)
and start living the idea of “Bringing Jesus to people”
(living the Gospel)

Many people have left church because they know that something is missing.

There are many large abandoned church buildings.
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And at the center of them is the altar, a shrine to death, to sacrifice.
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For many, church is a place of divine insight, of sudden epiphanies

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But then when they leave, the everyday world is dull and boring.

For many, church is a sanctuary against the storms of life

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But does this teach them to live in the world?

Perhaps Church can be seen as a boat, to rise above the dangerous waters, or to safely travel to visit or help others.
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Each person gets their own boat. They learn how to row it themselves. They develop the strength to help themselves and to help others.
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It is a place where we can each learn how to learn and grow safely. Others watch our progress and make sure we are not going to get hurt. They cheer us on.
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It needs to be a place where we can learn that right here is where God meets us – that God loved us enough to come down to Earth to be with us and live among us. That God loves us enough to still be with us right now, right where we are. That God wants to work through us, and with us.
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Church should be small, human sized.
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It should be intimate and personal.
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Why have we so long built churches that are immense, that dwarf us, that make us feel insignificant?
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They feel lonely, cold, isolating.
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They are out of proportion with us.
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When God came to earth, God came as our size. The Temple is not a place, but within us.

Often churches are built far away, high up, hard to get to.

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This is especially true of monasteries. They are places to retreat from the world.

Jesus tells his disciples that they are to be in the world – not apart from it. Jesus trained them to feed, to clothe, to help – everyone, not just those who are “in”.

For so many, God is seen as immense, and difficult to get to.
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There are narrow paths, and gates, and boundaries in the way
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We need to break apart the idea of church. We need to see through it, to reinvent it.
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Even modern churches, while looking different, still have the perspective wrong. The focus is on the preacher – on one person. The people sit passively, staring in the same direction. If they speak at all, it is from a script (a hymnal, a prayer-book) Only one person is allowed to speak something different, to direct the service.

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This sets up a hierarchy – of one person higher than the rest. This is directly opposed to what Jesus wanted, who wanted us to have only God above us. To have a person above us is to make them into an idol.

I’ve met many people who’ve left church for all of these reasons. They felt lost, alienated, alone. They too read the Gospel and met the real living Jesus and made a home for him in their hearts. They know that Jesus says that the Church is us – people, doing the will of God here in the world.

Yet, God says that people were not made to be alone. We are meant to be in community. We are meant to live and work and be together. No one person has everything required. We must work together.

Church needs to be all of us working together to help others. It isn’t a building or a place. But even if we remove the idea of the church being a building, we still have to remember the ideas that have long been part of church, so even when we take the Church out of the building, we must still make sure the old ways don’t come along.

It must be open to all.
It must be human-sized.
It must not be led by a single person – all must participate.
It must be a place where all can grow.

Again- it sounds like I’m talking about a place – an institution. I’m not. Certainly, people need to gather together occasionally. People cannot truly connect online. But, the money raised from members cannot go to a building or a salary. It cannot be inward-based. This will cause self-collapse, and is the opposite of what Jesus wants. The Church cannot support the church. The Church – the Body of Christ, must give aid to the world. That is where tithes must go. Outward.

People can meet in small groups, in each others’ homes.
They can meet in school gyms (they are not being used on the weekend)
They can meet in community centers or hotels.

There are plenty of already-built places that have meeting areas that are either free or inexpensive.

But when they meet, it must be a place to organize to go out into the world, to bring Jesus to people, by feeding, clothing, healing, visiting.

Not by preaching the Gospel,
but by living it.

(All pictures are from Pinterest)

Living church

Jesus uses the word “church” only twice in all of the Gospels, and both of them are in the Gospel of Matthew. (MT 16:18 and 18:17) This is significant because if Jesus came to build a church in the way we have been taught to think of it, he would have talked about it a lot more often and we would have had references to it in the other Gospels.

In the Gospel of Matthew, he renames his disciple Simon after he declares that Jesus is the Messiah.

– Jesus continued, saying “Your name is now Peter, because you are a rock, and upon you I will build my living church, and the gates of death will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you join together on earth will be joined together in heaven, and whatever you separate on earth will be separated in heaven.” – (MT 16:17-19, Condensed Gospel)

Most translations cite verse 18 like this – “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it.” (HCSB)

I have learned from my studies that the word that is translated as “forces” (or sometimes as “powers”) literally means “gates”, and that Jesus is not indicating Hell (as “Hades” is sometimes translated) with the word “Hades”. Hades isn’t a place, but refers to the “power of death” according to the notes in the Harper Collins Study Bible. This source also refers back to a note on MT 11:23, saying that Hades is the “Greek equivalent to Hebrew Sheol, realm of the departed dead.”

This is why I interpreted that scripture in the manner I did. We’ve read that line over and over and it doesn’t mean anything real to us until we dig further.

Peter, and all of Jesus’ disciples, including you and me, don’t have power over Hell. We have something far greater. We have power over death. Being a disciple of Jesus means that we embrace and affirm life. This isn’t about “coming back from the dead” or simply having eternal life after we die. It is about being fully alive now, and sharing that life with others.

What we are to unbind or loosen on Earth is the same as what the disciples were charged to do elsewhere in the Gospels – to forgive sin, exorcize demons, and to heal the sick. We are to free people from the death of not being fully alive.

Jesus came to build a living church, not one of stones and wood. He came to free us, right now, from the death that is not being fully alive. This isn’t about the future. It is about the present.

He came to let us know that all of our sins are forgiven. And then he wants us to go share that good news with others. We aren’t to make new converts so much as bring people back to life by forgiving them in the same way we are forgiven, and re-joining them to the community. We are to include everybody who has been kicked out. We are to seek out the lepers of our time – those people who have been excluded from society. We heal them and bring them back to life by welcoming them.

Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah

When Jesus and his disciples came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, a town north of the region of Galilee, he asked his disciples privately, “Who are people in the crowds saying I am?” They replied “Some say you are John the Baptist. Others think you are Elijah, and yet others think you are Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

Jesus faced them and said “But as for you, who do you say I am?” Simon answered him saying “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”

MT 16:13-16, MK 8:27-29, LK 9:18-20

Jesus responded “Simon, son of Jonah, God has blessed you with this knowledge because you didn’t learn this from a person but directly from God!” Jesus continued, saying “Your name is now Peter, because you are a rock, and upon you I will build my living church, and the gates of death will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you join together on earth will be joined together in heaven, and whatever you separate on earth will be separated in heaven.”

MT 16:17-19

Then he gave them very strict orders not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

MT 16:20, MK 8:30, LK 9:21a

So, I’m writing a book. (On believing in myself and my message.)

Recently I’ve had several people interested in the fact that I am writing a book. They ask what it is that I’m writing about. I always hesitate. I started to wonder why.

Perhaps I’m hesitating because I don’t know if these people are religious or not. A lot of people have a knee-jerk reaction against organized religion, and religion in general. I understand that. In fact that’s part of what I’m writing about. But I don’t want to say I’m writing about God and Jesus and have them immediately stop listening to me. So I have to figure out a way to warm them up to the idea.

It reminds me of the elevator speech that I would give to people when they would show up at the library. There were members of my former church who I would see at the library and they would say “How come I haven’t seen you in church in a while?” I needed an answer for that. Sometimes they wouldn’t say anything at all and I would tell them anyway. I wanted them to understand that how we are doing church is completely opposite of how Jesus wanted us to do it.

What I’m doing is stripping everything down and rebuilding from the ground up.

Some churches are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Some churches are doing what is right, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. Some churches are clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and feeding the hungry. But some churches seem to be more about celebrating God than following God. They get that good feeling once a week by saying that they are Christians but during the rest of the week they don’t live like they are. Jesus didn’t die so that we can get dressed up for an hour once a week and sing songs. He didn’t die so that we would live badly. So part of what I’m writing is about saying what we are supposed to do.

Perhaps part of why I hesitate when they ask me what I’m writing about is because of my lack of credentials. I don’t have a degree in theology. I’ve not been to Divinity school. And let’s face it – I’m a woman. The apostle Paul says that women shouldn’t talk in church. So by extension they certainly shouldn’t talk about church. But let’s look at who Jesus called. Jesus called the leftovers, the has-beens, the never-was. Jesus called tax collectors, fishermen, and laborers. Jesus called people who weren’t authorities at all. That’s important to remember. So just because I don’t have any training doesn’t mean that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

I want to wake people up to their true calling as followers of Jesus. I want us all to connect with the true Vine that is Jesus. I want everybody to know that they are ministers, and they are called. I want people to read the Bible for themselves, rather than have it fed to them. I want the church to be about the people and not about the building.

That. That is what my book is about.

Will it sell a million copies? Will I get to retire and write all day long? Doubtful. Will it change minds? Hopefully.

It is already written – it is in this blog. I’m just putting it together in book form and then self-publishing it. Fiddling with the format is tedious. I’ve looked at getting help for this and the price they want to charge exceeds what I think I’ll make on it. So I’m plodding along on my own. Meanwhile, I’ve got more ideas coming. It is hard to juggle it all. But I think the first thing I have to do is believe that this book needs to happen and stop apologizing for writing it and for believing that it should exist.

Jealous

I remember a time when the priest at my old church was talking about this non-denominational church that had started up in Nashville. She couldn’t figure out why they had such a hugely following. The unspoken part was that it was huge in comparison to the attendance at her church. Average attendance was about 80 at hers, and about 300 at this new thing.

I felt it, but I didn’t have the words at the time. I now know. She was jealous.

Instead of being glad that the Gospel was being shared, instead of being happy that more people were turning towards Jesus, she was jealous that this church was getting the numbers and hers wasn’t.

Like it is about numbers.
Like it is a popularity contest.
Like it is about her at all.

The fact that she was jealous is why nobody showed up at her church. She had made it her church. She had held on to it so hard that she had forgotten who was in charge of it.

It isn’t the minister.

It is the One who never ordained anybody, and told us not to have Fathers or Rabbis or Teachers, because we have all of that in God.

If Jesus is the head of the Church, all will go well. When it is a competition and a popularity contest, not so much.

She said “We have all of that, and we have sacrament!” as to why her church, her denomination was better. But who needs an empty ritual, a show of communion when you have true Communion with God through Jesus, when you have a living relationship with him?

She was afraid of the relationship I had formed. None of the classes offered there taught about how to have this kind of relationship. I’m surprised she even allowed people to go to Cursillo, which is all about meeting Jesus in person.

But then, she didn’t want me to go to it. She thought I was being called to be a deacon, but Cursillo would have been too much.

The fire still burns in me.

I still wonder about a denomination that confuses someone who wants to help people with someone who should be ordained. Surely, wanting to be helpful should be normal, not so unusual that it requires a committee and Bishop approval and homework and years of study.

Taxes and tithes

Jesus was constantly getting under the skin of the religious authorities of the day. They kept looking for ways to trap him, to make him show that he was a rule-breaker. Here’s a situation where he was asked about paying taxes.

Matthew 22:15-22
15 Then the Pharisees went and took counsel how to entangle him in his talk. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Hero′di-ans, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the money for the tax.” And they brought him a coin. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled; and they left him and went away. (RSV)

So – we are supposed to pay taxes. Got it. But what about tithes? If we are supposed to give “to God the things that are God’s” – then we need to rethink tithes. God’s face isn’t on the money we have.

What is from God?

Our time.
Our energy.
Our talents and abilities.
Our creativity.
Our intelligence.

We should give these things in the service of God, not money.

Sacristy

In the faith tradition I come from there is a room known as a sacristy which is right near the main worship space. It is sometimes two different rooms. It is the room where you prepare for the worship service.

It is the name for the room where the priest puts on vestments to celebrate Mass. It is also the name for the room where the altar guild cleans and prepares the elements and the vessels for communion. These are separate rooms but they have a similar function. They are set aside to get ready for the service. These rooms are used just for these purposes and nothing else.

They are kind of like airlocks, or vestibules. They are in between places. They are thin places. They help those people (the minister or the altar guild) get ready to celebrate and encounter the divine.

How interesting that we can’t get in our heads that God is present unless we switch gears. How interesting that we have to have separate rooms for this.

Why don’t we have such rooms everywhere?

Every place is a sacristy. Every moment is divine.

Your own kitchen, bathroom and closet are all places to prepare. You are always in transition from the secular to the sacred. You are always there, and here, at the same time.

Preparing yourself for worship is as simple and as sublime as eating breakfast, taking a shower, and dressing. Starting your car to drive to your worship hall is a sacrament. Taking your coat off and hanging it on a hook is preparing to receive the gift of God’s presence.

Be here, in the moment. Your ministry has begun.

God awaits you to celebrate.