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Archive for November, 2013

When we gather in Worship on Sunday, is it about equipping the members of the congregation to “be the church” when we are scattered back into our neighborhoods and offices during the week? Yes, the Christian congregation “is a company of men and women who gather, usually on Sunday’s, for worship, who then go into the world as salt and light. God’s Holy Spirit calls and forms this people. God means to do something with us and he means to do it in community. We are in on what God is doing and we are in on it together (Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way).

Yes, but…I believe there is something more going on. Is the Spirit calling us, gathering us together, in a particular place for a purpose? Is there a purpose in the geography of the place to which we’ve been called for assembly? As the church gathered, are we the visible presence of Jesus to the neighborhood in which we gather? If so, what are the implications? What is required of us? At JCSTS, we ask the question: “What does God look like to those in the neighborhood when the church is indifferent to, even scornful and afraid of the neighborhood? When the church doesn’t care about and isn’t involved in the life of the neighborhood? When the church is barred and gated against the neighborhood?”

Lesslie Newbigin wrote that when the church is not involved in every aspect of neighborhood life – not just religious, but secular – the implication is that God’s grace does not extend into the neighborhood. What, then, does God look like when it appears that His grace is reserved for a few privileged people? When God’s grace and mercy does not extend into the neighborhood?

Many of us live in one part of the city and worship in another. And, as Dick Halvorsen said, “Wherever you go, God is sending you there because Christ, who dwells within you, has something he wants to do through you.” But what about the sending God is doing when He sends us out of our own neighborhoods and into the place of worship? Is there something God wants to do through us there, as well? I believe so! And to understand what it is God’s Spirit is calling us to, we need to get to know, really know, the neighborhoods within which our congregations sit. Only then will we begin to understand our purpose.

Seven years ago, I read an article by the vicar of a small congregation in England, John Davies. In it, he explains how he began to know the neighborhood in which he’d been recently called to minister. In Reading the Everyday, Davies writes that, “My epiphany came on walking out into the area with notebook and camera in hand, taking time to observe closely and to note carefully the details of the place…to know God and to express God to others, we need to become deep students of, and fluent communicators with, the ordinary.”

Of course, it doesn’t stop there – the people are key to deep knowing about a neighborhood, about a place. We must also get into the neighborhoods and get to know the people. In seminary, we are taught to “exegete” the Scripture – to become keen observers, attending to the most minute detail that may have implications on the text with which we are engaging. We must also learn to exegete the neighborhoods and cities to which we’ve been called. To do good exegesis, you have to learn to ask good questions: What are the key slogans of the city or neighborhood? What are the prime landmarks, and how do they shape the narrative of the neighborhood? What kind of music do people tend to listen to?
What lyrics do they have committed to memory, and what story is that calling them into? What are people’s favorite films and what lines can they quote by heart? What are people’s dreams and hopes? What are their fears and stresses? These and other good questions are raised in this article that gives tools to “exegete” the neighborhood.

We are recipients of the gifts of an incarnational God, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish (John 1:14, MSG).” Jesus didn’t pretend to become human – he became one of us. His hands were roughened from his work in the carpentry shop, he was tempted, he prayed, he wept, he was rejected – he became part of our neighborhood with all that implies. The ordinary was transformed by encounter with the extraordinary. If we are really following after Jesus, I believe He will lead (is leading) us into the neighborhoods where we gather for worship.

Jesus is God in action, God speaking, loving, touching lepers, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, raising the dead, forgiving His enemies. Peterson notes that Jesus isn’t just our way to God. Jesus is God’s way to us – it’s a two lane highway with traffic moving in both directions. “The Way” is a person whom we follow, Immanuel, God with us.

If we are following Jesus, I believe that we, too, must become action verbs, to heal, to feed, to forgive, to speak, to listen. We have to move in the neighborhoods, be with the people, listen to them, learn from them, walk with them. We are, after all, the Body of Christ.

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