Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Emerging Church

The Emerging Church

One of the more significant initiatives that came out of General Convention, the triennial gathering of the Bishops and Deputies of the Episcopal Church, is of the re-imagining of the structures of the church. One of the options the church is entertaining, for instance, is the relocation of our National Headquarters from New York City (see below) to a more central location in the Mid-West, perhaps St. Luis. There is in fact some conversation with the American Evangelical Lutheran Church, not to be confused with the Missouri or Wisconsin Synods, about whether we might consider sharing a National Office, staff and so on. This makes some sense on the surface of things because we; the Lutheran and Episcopal Churches have already established full communion with one another. I remember like it was yesterday when Cindy and I attended the Service at the National Cathedral where we celebrated this Eucharistic Union.

The Church will probably need to do some significant re-imaging at all levels of its existence. At National, Diocesan, and at Parish Levels, we are in need of a profound re-imagining of our life together.

I began reading he biography of Steve Jobs a few days ago. Talk about re imagining! Here was a man that understood that it would take the combination of Humanitarian concern and technology to provide every human being on the planet with the ability to learn, communicate, and relate to one another from a desk top computer. We’re still learning what this “Digital Age” will do for us or may do to us. But now because of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard and other specialists in innovation, we live in a very different world than we lived in just twenty years ago. We live in a world of computers, cell phones and iPads. 

When I retired the second time, I went to the Apple Store to get my iPad, one of the kids there said; “You’ve got the trifecta now!” 

“Trifecta?” said I.

“Yes, you have a MacBook Pro, and iPhone and and iPad. We call that the trifecta”. When my dad took me to the race track as a boy, the word had a very different meaning.

I began to wonder what it would be to re imagine the church. I wondered if there were a way to put humanitarian ideal, liturgical joy, and technological innovation together as we breathe badly needed life back into The Church, which is the biblical name for the Body of Christ.

When Jesus said that he is the “Living bread that came down from heaven” as he did in today’s Gospel, I know exactly what he meant. I know how he lived his life. He  lived by feeding the multitudes with the Bread of Heaven. He fed his disciples with that same Sacred Bread at the Last Supper and his disciples recognized Jesus in the Breaking of Bread and in the Drinking of Wine. 

But the recognition of Jesus in Bread and Wine is not an end in itself. Rather he recruited to him those who hungered for something deeply in the heart and soul of life. They tended to be poor and struggling working people mending their nets. They were the sin sick prostitutes and tax collectors. They were physically and mentally sick; lame, blind, deaf, paralyzed, and demon possessed, a biblical expression for then current understandings of mental illness. 

Jesus organized his life around the needs of these people. He then said something extraordinary; “Whoever eats this of this bread will live forever”.

What is this bread? Remember how Jesus put it to Peter? 

“Peter do you love me?” 
Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”
“Then feed my sheep.”

Jesus had to repeat the question three times and Peter was hurt when Jesus asked him that third time. But Jesus had to drive home the point.

You may remember that near the end of his ministry Jesus said that he would divide the nations as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (You may read this amazing passage of scripture here.) The sheep he put at his right hand and the King will say; “Come you that are Blessed by my father, inherit the kingdom that has been prepared for you for from the beginning of time. For when I was hungry you gave me food, when I was thirsty you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me”.

“Lord when did we do these things for you?”

And the King will answer; “Insofar as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me”

Is the lesson not clear, then? It is as we organize our life around the needs of human beings that we discover the pathway to heaven. Our Bread becomes the doing of the will of God. This way of being and doing and living is indeed the way of living forever. And it is clear that as we live our lives that way, we build a pathway into the love of God, because we are building a pathway into the love of one another. The two are congruent with one another.

Celtic Christianity has become very popular among people because of its keen awareness of the practice of the Presence of God. It is the spirituality of the Celts that has caught the imagination of millions.

That spirituality, however, is built on a very practical basis. St. Aidan, who evangelized almost all of the north of Britain more than a thousand years ago, did so as he organized his monasteries around real human need. Lindisfarne or Holy Island is the most notable. (see below)

We will feed you if you are hungry. We will give you something good to drink. Those Irish monks were especially good with that. We will give you something to wear if you are ill equipped to bear the cold of winter’s winds. We will welcome you here as if it were your home. We will tend you when you are sick. We will visit you in prison. We will educate your children and we will share knowledge and the state of learning as it is in the world today. We will teach you about the state of the art in farming techniques. We will take care of you when you are sick. We will tend to your dying loved ones.

Is it any wonder they built such amazing centers of worship and service, because what they understood was that the raison d'ĂȘtre of the church was to be the Body of Christ for the sake of the world. That meant pure and simple that they were to tend to the needs of human beings. This is how they organized their life.

You see, I do not think it matters so much where we put our headquarters or who we share our national staff with. This is all well and good as far as it goes.

But not until be really begin to re imagine the church as organized not around denominational structure or doctrine but around the real needs of human beings. 

"Going" to church is not an end in itself. "Being" the church for the sake of the world is what will spell the difference if we are to have a future. It will be as we organize our lives around real human need; jobs, health care, education, the care and protection of the poor, the young and the is as we live out our lives like Jesus...this will spell out our viability as we live into the future. Yes, this is my prayer...that we "become" the Body of Christ aka The Church.

There is an emerging church, don't you think, one that is not tied to denominational boundary or even to doctrine or dogma. It is tied to being organized not around its structures but around human need. Once we learn this lesson, all our sad divisions can go to the back burner where they belong. Then we can become one in Christ as we extend ourselves to the needs of the Beloved of Christ...those he came to die for...for you and for me. 

And you, my friends, deserve a pat on the back. (St Gabriel's Church, Douglassville, PA) You're doing it! You saw a need for housing for the elderly, something that dignified the human being, and you built the Keystone Villa. You had the vision, the land and the joy to build it. You saw the need to care for children and you built the Learning Center and developed the Atria. You saw the need for young people growing up in a confusing world, and you built a marvelous youth program. You saw hungry people, you made meals for them at the Community Center in Birdsboro, you got practical, downright practical, and you made soup for the pantry at St. Paul's....60-100 quarts of it every month year round. You folks get it. You've built a good foundation from which we can continue to build the body of Christ from this point on.

As we do this, as we become the Body of Christ for the sake of the world, then the task that lies before us now is how do we commend the faith of Jesus to the world around us? We're going to figure that out too, mark my words.

This is what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit, as St Paul puts it: (also in today's lesson) "to sing psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs". It is as our lesson from Proverbs puts it: to walk in “the way to walk in wisdom and insight”. May we always walk in the way of Wisdom. It is the way to eternal life~

Peace be upon you all, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Fr. Paul 

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