We celebrated Pentecost this past Sunday, the day of wind and fire, language and speech, when thousands heard the Good News that there is a Love stronger than any grave, a Love that pursues us through death and brings us to Life.
Timed more by circumstance than planning, I lectured on the Holy Spirit and the Church last week in my Christian Formation class. What a great preparation for Pentecost! As I sat silently one very early morning (the Holy Spirit hour is around 4am for me), a list of reasons flowed from pen to paper about why actively participating in a local worshiping community is vital to discipleship.
But even before the 12 reasons is One Reality: followers of Jesus Christ are already incorporated into the Body. There is no Christian without the Body of Christ (as much as our individualistic culture would want us to believe otherwise). Being part of the Church Universal comes with being a disciple–though we can opt to not practice our participation. We have a place-setting at the feast, though we may stay home.
Paul writes to the Corinthian church in the 1st century, 1 Corinthians 12:27:
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
Augustine writes in the 4th century:
What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the Body of Christ and the chalice the Blood of Christ. … How is the bread His Body? And the chalice, or what is in the chalice, how is it His Blood? Those elements, brethren, are called Sacraments, because in them one thing is seen, but another is understood. What is seen is the [material], but what is understood is the spiritual fruit. …
`You, however, are the Body of Christ and His members.’ If, therefore, you are the Body of Christ and His members, your mystery is presented at the table of the Lord, you receive your mystery.
To that which you are, you answer: `Amen’; and by answering, you subscribe to it. For you hear: `The Body of Christ!’ and you answer: `Amen!’
Be a member of Christ’s Body, so that your `Amen’ may be the truth.
Stanley Hauerwas writes in the 20th century:
“[Salvation is] being engrafted into practices that save us from those powers that would rule our lives making it impossible for us to truly worship God.”
One of those practices into which the Holy Spirit engrafts us is the Church, expressed both universally through all time and space, with all followers of Christ past, present, and future, and locally through gathering together to worship God and love each other.
With this in mind, here are 12 reasons to answer “Amen” to our engrafting into the the practice of Church:
- We have difficulty seeing the truth. Christian community reveals our blind spots and encourages us to choose love. We see each other’s amazing gifts and call them out. Others call out our gifts and help us not hide our light under a bushel.
- The illusion of homogeneity is dispelled. The local gathered church forces us to be with people who are different, creating opportunities for growth for everyone. Even if we think we are all the same, we’re not, I promise.
- Dividing walls are broken. The church is a community that, at its best, can cross the boundaries imposed by the world. We learn to love those who are a different age, economic situation, ethnicity, gender, etc., than ourselves. We learn how to practice hospitality.
- It’s not all about you. (Read that again.) Christian community de-centers the self and places the self in a larger and longer Story, with a history and a future.
- It’s about you and everyone else. The church provides opportunities for people to grow into persons who are full of life, to encourage true selfhood. Then it offers opportunities to give the self away in love. “In order to be self-giving, you have to have a self to give.” (Fr Kevin Seasoltz)
- It’s all about God. The local church is called to model the committed love of God to its members and the world. When a person sins, love doesn’t end, ever. Behavior may need to be confronted, boundaries may need to be set, but there is grace and forgiveness, and always the possibility of reconciliation.
- It’s really all about God and all of creation. Loving God and loving others are two sides of the same reality. The church is a circle with God at the center. As we move closer to God, we move closer to each other; we love creation more, the more we grow in the love of God.
- The Church is a foretaste of the Kingdom feast. The church lives in the “now but not yet”–where sin and suffering still exist, but in the promise of the future joy. The church, at its best, is a witness to Love incarnate, the Body of Christ, a love that is stronger than death.W hen Christians love, they are showing the world that choosing to love is a possibility, one that has lasting impact.
- You can do more together than alone. The needs of this world are huge and, while one person can make a difference, that one person will have a community supporting them–look for it.
- Life is often brutal and we will all face death. The church is Kingdom life now. When a person faces the forces of chaos and death, the community intercedes on their behalf, holding them in their suffering, and looks for ways to provide materially, emotionally, and spiritually. The church gives us glimpse of the life on the other side of death.
- The Church is a family, where the vision of the Kingdom is given to the next generation. The church is the place to raise children, your own or other’s, in practices and habits of Love and self-gift. Children will hear about a Love that calls them by name and be entrusted with the Story that changes the world.
- The Church is so much more than we understand now. The Church Universal is a mysterious, wondrous, super-natural, multidimensional way of living where all its members are persons-in-community, connected together through and in the dance of the Trinity. We’re only scratching the surface of possibility.
There are, no doubt, more, but this list will keep me busy for at least the next 4o years.
(And if you need a good dose of how a local church made a world-changing difference simply through a prayer service, go here.)