Yes class, today we solve for church! Yesterday I made a shocking claim, quoting Pastor Bill Hybels, that the local church is the Hope of the World. I qualify that today to include my belief that any and all congregations in all their myriad forms compose the Body of Christ on earth, so as Jesus is our true Hope, His Body unleashing Hope in a way no other organization can begin to do. Aspirational, you say?! Absolutely so!! And why not?! We proclaim a crucified and resurrected Lord, and ourselves as servants to the world, for Jesus’ sake, so we are in the aspirational business!!
Although scriptural authors use many terms (assembly, people, tribe, congregation, remnant, church, body), they mean the same thing….when we gather, perhaps even in groupings as small as two or three, we constitute the Body of Christ and are assured that Jesus is actually present with us. Please note there is almost no collect (prayer) in the Anglican tradition cast in the singular. Always plural, not simply grammatically correct but making a bold theological claim about the very nature of church. Now, we’ve seen American extremities along the wide continuum of congregational expression this past century, from the very recent mega-mega-churches on one hand (Hybel’s Willow Creek, Saddleback, Hillsong…ooooffff bad run lately for that last) to the endangered species of small mainline Protestant churches dotting the local square. And yes, it’s true that decline in active church participation has accelerated since a high water mark in 1966, but did anyone notice how profoundly saturated last week’s Inauguration was with religious expression? We are diminished but still very much here. I reject organizational pessimism and also reject recent attempts to categorize congregational affiliation as some kind of adolescent faith expression in a hierarchal stair-step ladder towards higher spiritual consciousness. Bleeccchh…you’re killing me Smalls!! (Sorry, please consult your favorite cultural dictionary if you aren’t familiar with my various expressions of disgust.) No dear readers, we don’t ever outgrow the need for things like..eyes, hands, feet and hearts.
Our local congregations are part of the Body of Christ, an organic, evolving and ever-changing dynamic landscape of Christlike nature situated at the precise intersection of heaven and earth. Sometimes this Body looks gloriously radiant and transfigured, sometimes battered horrendously like a victim of crucifixion, and sometimes opaque and beautifully elusive like resurrection. I was called to a lifetime commitment to Christ’s Body as a child, now serving as a priest. I have invested my life’s work in this definition of The SeventyTwo, and call upon you to dedicate (or perhaps re-dedicate) yourselves to a sacred, covenantal commitment to your local church this Epiphanytide. I don’t think we provide the supernatural healing power Jesus did as He sent those original The SeventyTwo out, though we can witness and cooperate with the Paraclete’s healing power when the Spirit heals. It’s not our message we proclaim, though we can bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to a world so desperate to receive it. We don’t have to wield mastery over demonic spirits…it’s enough most days to confess, vulnerably, to our Lord the spirits we ourselves wrestle against in the privacy of our hearts. Churches, at least these days and certainly our beloved Transfiguration, aren’t ivory towers. We are MASH units operating as far forward in the conflicted theater of this virally infected world as we dare to set up shop. If you are searching to be a better person, please…don’t come here. If you are searching for salvation and light and hope and peace, and need to be part of something far larger than yourself….come right in! If you despise organized religion, you’re going to love us!
- I understand how challenging it is to be a scattered Body right now, at least for many of us who cannot worship side-by-side. But, we are never truly alone. I need ECOT, my own The SeventyTwo, now more than ever. Please do not abandon, or slip away, or forget your local congregation. Your leaders there need as much support and connection as you and I both do. Watch, show up safely, be that support to your own church now.
- If you are reading this devotional (unlikely, but maybe!) and do not belong to a church family where you reside, please contact me and together we’ll find you a church home.
- Join me in praying, daily, for our beautiful Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration (ECOT) or for your own home congregation locally. We communicate even while distanced through prayer.