God did not take a little of this faith and a little of that to make some kind of spiritual main course. Instead, God sent Jesus to mix us all up to reteach, reshape, and redeem us back to God.
In part of an on-going conversation with a friend who, like me, has started a new church, we were laughing about the various ways people have describe the church to us. Like her, we are both hold ordination within the confines of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches. We both subscribe to the Congregational Way, a form of church polity that, if I were to overly simplify it I'd say it's based on something Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with you also."
My friend today said someone once described it like a Chinese menu. You pick one thing from box A, and a couple of things from box B and C. While that is a creative way to explain a church's polity, it does not do justice to the church itself. It only makes me think of the old joke about Chinese food in that you can get your fill but you'll be hungry in a half-hour. I can see where some people get this impression of not only the Congregational Way, but most churches in general.
Churches today, in order to attract more people, tend to offer too much. The menu is full but there is not a whole lot of nutritious substance. OR on the other other hand we offer too little or too much of the same old stuff. People are either walking away hungry for more or simply walking away for something else, like sleeping in.
During the time between Resurrection Sunday and the Pentecost Sunday (when the Spirit of God descended upon the people after Jesus ascended to heaven), the followers of Jesus are in flux. Little do they know what to do or make of what just happened, never mind that God is at work yet again as the church incubates in the womb of faith. God did not take a little of this faith and a little of that faith and mix it up into some kind of spiritual main course. No. God specifically sent Jesus to reteach us, reshape us, and reform us back to God...redemption. One person. One job.
It's a simple concept that I believe many churches today have forgotten or ignored. They are too busy in the kitchen mixing up all the things that seem to work with this generation and that target market, that they overlook the basic, obvious purpose of the Gospel message of Jesus. To love. As a result so many churches have lost their flavor, or unique taste. Instead, they have become so much like the culture they're trying to lure in that they have become no different than fast-food. McDonald's...same flavor no matter where you are.
But guess what? Different people have different taste. They also have different opinions and different interpretations of scripture. But it's more than different rituals and theologies. Some are meat eaters, other vegetarians. Some smoke, drink and cuss...and then there are those who don't. There are different languages, different music taste, different fashion sense. Our differences are what makes the church unique and well...different. However, the one thing that remains the same is God, whose love for us is great that God is willing to come to us and serves us up a hearty, heaping helping meal of holy grace (hmmm, is that why we say 'grace' before each meal?).
As I seek a new way of doing church (which in fact is a very old way to do church) I am inspired by a poignant question Leonard Sweet asks. "Can the church stop its puny, hack dreams of trying to 'make a difference in the world' and start dreaming God-sized dreams of making the world different? Can the church invent and prevent, redeem and redream, this post-modern future?" God, I hope so because I have no idea what I'm doing.
Sweet challenges us to get back to the basics, the simplicity of being God's children in the Kingdom of Heaven. We do this in the way we love as God loved us, or in the way we practice forgiveness as God forgives us. As my wife Kathleen said, "I don't want to go to or be 'the Church,' I want to be church!" The way God intended. One people, united by our diversity and faith.
The church is not like a Chinese take-out menu. Instead it's more like Beach Road Chicken, a small 'mom and pop' homestyle restaurant in Jacksonville Florida that's as old as time. My mom went there as a kid on her way home from the beach, and she took her family there when we'd go to visit family. In college, my friends and I often went there for the all-you-can-eat chicken supper whenever we got tired of eating from the school caferateria
Imagine entering into an old house that had been reconfigured as a restaurant. You sat whatever seat was available at the long, picnic tables. And you didn't order a thing because there was no menu. Instead they brought you plates of food; fried chicken; rice, corn and peas, homemade rolls and gallon jugs of sweet tea whether you wanted any of it or not.
As I look back, I can envision the last supper Jesus had with his friends probably looked like this. A holy communion, a gathering of two or three, where Jesus is in our midst breaking of bread and sharing the cup. He too looks different. A bit overweight perhaps. Sweaty from the humidity, his neck red from doing hard work in the hot Florida sun. Maybe he's black. Maybe he speaks Spanish or German. Maybe he's tattooed or overly adorned with body piercings. Maybe he's a surfer with salt-crusted hair or a businessman grabbing a quick bite to eat on route to something more important. Maybe it's the person passing the peas your way, or placing a plate of fried chicken on the table. Or maybe he's the person you're bumping elbows with as you gnaw on a chicken bone; savoring the meal along with everyone else.
I think this is how Jesus wanted us to do church. To be his body in the world; sharing the table and food with friends and strangers alike. This is the way he wanted us to do communion, for this is exactly how we not only remember his teachings of love, but put them to practice as well. This is how we do church and make a difference in the world. It starts by dreaming God-sized dreams of peace and justice and grace for all who come to the table of God's blessing and love.
Today, when I googled Beach Road Chicken I noticed they've expanded a bit, adding tables and a few more items to the menu. But the pictures that were posted seem to reflect how the gathered community is the same. Diverse, faithful, and hungry. Just like church, this is still the place to go to get your fill of something special and you leave completely stuffed and satisfied.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”