When I was children’s pastor at St. Paul a kiddo asked me if I was Jesus. No, of course not! He was a first century Jewish man and I am a twenty first century white woman from Mississippi! But isn’t that really my calling? To be like Jesus for people until they can see Jesus for themselves?
This statement of Paul’s, that Jesus is the very image of the invisible God, is a powerful word about Jesus’ divinity. If there was any doubt, Paul confirms that Jesus is fully God, not just equal to God, but actually God, with all authority and holiness…an exact representation. There has been no other physical representation of God before. God’s Spirit was believed to inhabit the ark of the covenant or God’s shekinah glory was thought to hover over the temple, but no one had seen God and God required that no one attempt to create anything that represented his likeness. God could not be contained in anything we could create, but God was willing to become a human filled with the fullness of God so that we might meet God. More than willing, Paul said it PLEASED God.
God is PLEASED to reconcile all things.
God isn’t just joyfully willing to reveal himself to the world. God’s purpose for the revelation is that the world would be reconciled to God. But why is that good news? It means that we have the opportunity to see God and to be empowered to allow others to see God in us. That wasn’t always the case. Paul says there was a time when were enemies with God. I don’t know if you ever thought of yourself that way? An enemy of God? Not me! And yet, if we weren’t living for God, we were living against God. But through Christ, God has made peace for us. So wait, if God made peace for us, then why are we living in turmoil? Why does there seem to be less peace now than ever?
So here is the line I’m trying to draw as I celebrate this amazing thing that God has done: if God has made his invisible self visible in the person of Jesus Christ; and if God has made peace with the world through Jesus Christ, then it is possible in my own life to experience the presence of God in this world and to live at peace in this life. These things have been secured for us. So what does it take for our world to recognize God’s presence in the world and to live at peace and with the peace that God has been pleased to give?
What kinds of things is God reconciling? So these are the types of questions that fill my mind as I ponder this church that we are creating. What are we doing here? What is important? I began to identify things that I believed were critical to sharing the peace of Christ.
We lift the value of discipleship, believing that this is the core of what builds a church. Jesus calls us to follow him, calling us disciples. We want to pattern our lives after Jesus.
We lift the value of worship. We all worship something, but we were created to worship God. We want to set our priorities on God.
We lift the value of hospitality, radical hospitality, where people aren’t just guests, they are valuable to the fabric, they belong. We want people to experience the joy of belonging.
We lift the value of mission, believing all people of God are sent into the world to announce that God’s kingdom has come close. We want people to experience the fulfillment of mission.
In two weeks we will lift our final value of recovery, believing that all people need to be reconnected to God and restored to human relationships. We want people to recover their full humanity.
This week we lift the value of being neighbors, which is characterized by diversity. So reality is that we tend to congregate with people that think like, look like, worship like, and live like us. It’s human nature…but is it the nature of God’s Kingdom? If we pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” is our homogeneity consistent with that? Jesus was very clear that the most important thing we do is love God and love our neighbor. And when pressed on “who is your neighbor,” he told the very disconcerting story of two racially diverse individuals cast in roles that were unexpected as a Samaritan saved the life of a Jew. The conclusion, in my mind, is that the neighbor we are supposed to love isn’t necessarily the one we can choose, but rather the person in front of us who needs help seeing God. But sometimes this can be very overwhelming or even despairing as we see the amount of hate in our world.
Without shifting from HOPE
Paul encourages that as we are reconciled to God and we work to love others into the same reconciliation, we should do so without shifting from the hope we have in the Gospel…the good news of Jesus. There is so much hope held out for us…we have been given access to the Kingdom of light! WE have so much to share with others…and if we are busy sharing this good news with the neighbor in front of us, what time is there to despise or despair or dismiss the people around us?
One day, I wondered aloud if given the chance, would I ask God to change Joel’s disability. I imagined him going through life without the physical struggles and pain that accompany his little body. I imagined a little boy free to talk and share all of his ideas with clarity. But I couldn’t imagine a little boy different from Joel. I was puzzled. As a mom, I would certainly stand between my children and any emotional or physical pain. But would I change who my children were? Then Cliff said, maybe that’s the wrong question. Maybe we shouldn’t imagine God changing our son to meet the world’s expectations, maybe we should ask God to change the world to accept our son. Maybe bringing the Kingdom is more about changing the way we see other people, to name them for who they are in Christ and the value they have in God’s eyes rather than who they are in the world and the value or valuelessness they possess in the world. We often look at people with our eyes and let our hearts judge accordingly. But what if we looked at people with our hearts and let that inform what our eyes see.
That world wouldn’t see my son’s disabilities first, they would see his ability. That world wouldn’t classify my daughter according to what girls are supposed to do or not do, but by the strength of her personhood. That world wouldn’t make presumptions about my sons…or their teammates based upon things like hair color or eye color or skin color. But sometimes that world seems very far away. God came so far, all the way from heaven to earth in order to reveal the invisible God in Jesus and through him to reconcile all these things…but where do we see that??
There are so many beautiful examples of this…and I have been blessed to witness and serve in churches that also imagine this world. So, As I imagine a new church, I have a lot of hope! I hope for a church that provides hospitality to my sons teams…a place where the whole band and the whole football team aren’t just guests, but are part of the fabric of what we do.
I hope for a church where my daughter believes that women who preach are normal!
I hope for a church where my little boy and his classmates aren’t a project for the children’s department, but are sought out as assets and leaders for the whole church.
I hope for a church that looks at the hearts of people before they judge their faces. I hope for a church whose heart for their neighbors is visible to the whole neighborhood.
Seeing GOD in EACH OTHER
I hope for a church where we see God in each other. When in Portland Oregon, I met a man named Mike. Mike was homeless and had wandered into the convention center looking for a place to charge his phone. I was also charging my phone because I had been dismissed from one of the meetings. He asked me if I was a part of the meetings. I said yes, I was a preacher. He said I didn’t look like a preacher. I asked if he was a preacher. He said he didn’t look like a preacher either. He asked what we preachers were talking about. I was slightly embarrassed to admit to this homeless and hungry man that we were spending millions of dollars arguing with other rather than loving our neighbors in Portland. I asked what he was doing and he was slightly embarrassed to admit that he had gotten into some trouble and lost his job and home. I asked him about his tattoos and learned about his family…especially his grandparents who he really loved, and the time he spent in prison which he didn’t love. He asked to see my tattoos and he was shocked (shocked I tell you!) that I didn’t have any. I asked if he would be willing to share his life with God. He said, “problem is, I can’t see God…but I can see you.” And just like that little preschooler did, I was reminded that the invisible God has made himself visible in me…so that I can invite others to have peace with God. So many classifications for him: Hispanic, addict, ex-con, homeless…but as God’s love for him began to fill my heart, other descriptions rose to the surface: grandson, friend, a person whom Jesus died for. And that’s what I focused on for the rest of the conversation, a conversation which ended with us praying, and him confessing that his heart felt strangely warmed (true story, his words not mine) and him receiving a coupon for a free meal.
This isn’t politics or agenda. This is our world, the world that God in Christ holds together. It’s a world where Mikes and Joels and Zoes and Leannes exist and can also be held together. That’s the church I imagine. These are the bridges I am inviting you to build. I hope you will prayerfully consider joining the movement.