Friday, November 4, 2016

Church Write-Up: Teamwork, With Some Downton Abbey and Vanhoozer Thrown into the Mix!

At church last Sunday, the pastor was preaching about being on a team.  It was “Jersey Sunday,” so many people in church, including the pastor himself, were wearing jerseys of their favorite sports team.

The pastor talked about how none of us is self-sufficient.  We need other people.  In this part of the sermon, the pastor was not saying that we need to be social, though he would eventually imply that.  Here, he was just saying that we all depend on other people, since we cannot do everything ourselves.  Even loners need other people to provide electricity to their homes, whether or not they ever actually interact with those people!

The pastor also said that we, by ourselves, do not know everything.  That is why we need other people to give their opinions.  The pastor may have an idea about a particular area, but someone with more experience in that area can say whether or not the idea is good.

The pastor referred to the Gospel text in which Jesus sends the disciples out two-by-two.  See, for example, Mark 6:7 and Luke 10:1.  Why did Jesus send the disciples out two-by-two?  According to the pastor, it was so that the two disciples could encourage each other when they were persecuted, as Jesus did say that persecution was a possibility.

The pastor talked about working as a team on church ministry projects, and not caring about who gets the credit.  We can serve, and our names may not be mentioned from the pulpit!  Still, God appreciates our service.

The pastor made the point that God is in the business of uniting people, whereas Satan is in the business of dividing people.

Then the pastor talked about the family, saying that we are responsible to the family in which God placed us.  The pastor referred to Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, which talks about how two are better than one: if one falls down, the other can lift that person up!  The pastor said that this is a sensitive passage for many, since they are alienated from or at odds with their family.  The pastor remarked that it is a blessing for his children actually to want to talk to him!  He then said that people may have a successful business and be liked by the community, but if their family life is not in order, then God looks down at them from heaven and shouts “Boooo!”

The pastor stated that God does not make us loners.  Rather, God brings us into community, through the Gospel.

I was grumbling against this message on the way home from church, and throughout the week.  More than once this week, I said to God, “Well, booo on you then!”  And, as is often the case, I responded to God’s alleged idea that we should all be one happy community with “Dream on!”  But hate or contempt towards God or anyone else does not make me feel emotionally at peace or uplifted, so I try to avoid such feelings.

As is usually the case, I seek some area of common ground with the sermon, even if it makes me mad.  I personally abhor the idea that God boos those who fail to navigate their way successfully through the world of interpersonal relationships, even with their own families.  Still, I do believe that God likes to see peace, harmony, love, and reconciliation.  “But Jesus said that he came to bring a sword and division—-see Matthew 10:34-36!” True, there are times when one may need to choose God or some higher principle over approval from our families.  Still, God’s path does aim towards unity.  I do not mean uniformity, since people are different and may disagree with each other, as even the pastor acknowledged, but I am referring to unity in love.  The Bible emphasizes love, mercy, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness repeatedly.

We recently started watching Downton Abbey.  As viewers of the show may know, Lady Mary and Lady Edith hate each other!  Lady Mary probably views Lady Edith with contempt, regarding her as whiny, mealy-mouthed, unattractive, and boring (not to mention underhanded).  And Lady Edith sees Lady Mary as, well, a witch with a capital B!  I can empathize with both of them, on some level (more so with Lady Edith), but just once I would like to see Lady Mary and Lady Edith appreciate each others’ strengths, or at least treat each other with maturity and respect, even if they never become the best of friends.  That, I think, is how God is with us.  God knows why we are angry with each other, and God understands what buttons were pushed to make us upset.  God is aware of our frustrated desires, our unmet needs, our baggage, and our interpersonal weaknesses.  I doubt that God responds to that with derision.  But God would like for us to treat each other with maturity, respect, dignity, and maybe even some appreciation.

In responding to the sermon, I found myself talking back to God, as I said.  Yet, I also talked back to myself.  “Why does your heart have to be so hard?”  Believe me, even after writing this post, there will be people from whom I will be alienated.  But why do I have to be so cold?

What the pastor was saying about God not making us loners (though that is still what I am, so there!) reminded me of a passage in Kevin Vanhoozer’s Biblical Authority After Babel.  It is on page 136 of the Adobe Digital version, and Vanhoozer is contrasting human attempts at community with the community that God creates through the Gospel:

“The basis for the reconciling practices that constitute the Christian community is the cross of Christ.  One important difference between the church and godless congregations is that the church is not trying to accomplish reconciliation but rather is attempting to bear witness to what God has already achieved.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in Life Together, ‘Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.'”

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