[Thoughts from Montreat Wee Kirk 2011]
I've spent the last four days talking about Jesus. I'm glad that's the case, but I figured with a title like "Wee Kirk" that we'd be talking a lot about church. As a pastor, I find that many conversations are about church. How we do it, how we can make it better, what's right, and what's wrong. Budgets. Committees. Polity.
But the thing I didn't realize until this week is that I have a lot more conversations about church than I do about Jesus. No wonder I feel a little listless. How did that happen? When I took ordination vows, I don't remember thinking about all the ways I could do church. I remember being in love with Christ and wanting to share that love with as many people as I came in contact with.
Somewhere along the line, though, church became what I did. Is it possible that church has slipped into the center of my focus, and pushed Christ to the margins. What a terrible travesty! And if that is the case, how do I reclaim my love and passion for the One who has saved me from myself? How do I make "it" less about church and more about Christ (and why, why, why, do we live in a world where those seem to be different things?!).
Here are two things that I heard this week, that should have been common sense, but that have gotten under my skin. Maybe these are starting places to shift me, and the world around me.
1. Be Jesus to the World. "Don't be like Jesus. Be Jesus" is what one presenter said. "The world doesn't necessarily mean across the ocean. The world is where you are, the people even right around you" is what another one said. This made sense to me, even though the governing philosophy for a while was "No one can be like Jesus, and it's blasphemous to assume that you are Jesus." Well, maybe it's not assuming that I am Jesus, but rather about believing body and soul that I am an extension of Christ, that I am quite literally the "hands and feet of Christ" as Theresa of Avila called it. How can I be Christ to all that I meet, especially outside of the church. Maybe it's a smile. Maybe it's a word of encouragement. Maybe it's plopping myself down to listen. Maybe it's radiating grace to people who have only known judgement. Sure, I tell myself, I've done these things, both as a pastor and as a Christian. But today, I am making the decision that I will keep those thoughts at the forefront of my brain. I will consciously work toward being Jesus to all I meet.
2. Submitting all that I am and do to Christ. I was blessed to hear Steve Hayner speak this week, about being the Aroma of Christ in the world and also about serving Christ in the 24/7 world. He told of an exercise that he did with some students, where he asked them to write down everything they had done for a week. Then he asked them to label each item with "Things I did for the love of Christ", "Things I did for the love of Christ's body" (and one other category which I can't pull up right now. I'll edit this later when I remember!) Steve said that one smart aleck said "What about my laundry?" And then another said "What about my homework?" Even as I saw where Steve was going, I realized that there are so many things I do grouchily. I have never rejoiced at mountains of laundry--that's for sure. But what if I took that time and used it as a time to pray, not in the pious, wordy, head bowed sort of way, but in the way that is inviting Christ into that which is perfectly ordinary about my life? What if I viewed the yard mowing as a chance to be reminded that I'm standing on God's holy, ever-singing, ground? What if I view my time waiting in line at the store as a time to connect with or pray for those in front of me? Perhaps that's one of the things I loved about Barbara Brown Taylor's "An Altar in the World"-- the sense of worshipping God in and through everything I'm doing. So that's my second decision. I am going to make every attempt to bring every boring and ordinary thing on my to-do list before Christ, not just the things I deem as holy. I want my every day world to be flooded with the presence of Christ in and around me.
"Graceland" is the name of my favorite song and album. It's by Paul Simon, but more importantly, it's what "home" sounds and feels like to me. We always listened to this album as we traveled from my home in Tennessee to my parents' childhood homes in Florida. But today, it's also a pretty good snapshot of my theology. Somewhere I really believe that the Christian journey is all about a wild trip to Grace-land. As I see it, Grace-land is the place where God is waiting to meet even us–with all the baggage and brokeness that we tote with us. Grace-land is the place where we will be received with open arms, even though our attempts at “getting it right” have been miserable failures at best. But, I think, every step we take is a step on the journey to Graceland.