I suppose I should take this opportunity to thank the music group MercyMe for retrieving our Christian imagination after John Lennon stole it from us. (I love the John Lennon song, btw, but there is no doubt his version of peace is hostile to that of Jesus. Yet much like Aslan taking Edmund for a short walk and talk, I hope that Lennon’s misguided desires, which were a natural response to his fear and disgust with war, can be rehabilitated with penance.) Nevertheless, just mentioning these things acknowledges that “the world” (and the principalities and powers therein) are at war for the heart and soul of human imagination.
Back in October, I posted a fairly in-depth introduction to my thoughts on Christian imagination. Today, I desire a chance to come into yours and explore the battle field of your mind with the maps they are using in heaven’s war room. When various Bible writers did this, not least St. John, they called it APOCALYPSE.
This morning, as I look out my window at Winter’s impact on Lubbock, and as I consider how more than 300 area churches (according to the local newscast) canceled services yesterday, I note that the only way to survive the storm that blew through here was to be prepared (or to be invited in by someone who prepared ahead of time for you).
Of course it’s that last part that is particularly “Christian” (John 14:2-3), if you know what I mean…. Jesus goes ahead to prepare for those he loves. The church today is his very body… the body of Christ (1st Cor. 12, Eph. 3 & 4 – among others) doing what the head directs it to do. We (together) have become the body of that one who traverses those dusty Galilean trails touching lepers, healing the sick, feeding the poor and all those good things.
Our mission is to tell “the world” (thus confronting the powers and principalities and authorities in the heavenlies) that, “This Jesus is in charge! Here is what his loving reign is like!” We don’t run from storms; we turn straight into them. We find peace in them and mystify “the world” when under his authority we tell it to “Hush! Be still! And KNOW that Jesus is Lord!”
I ask you to imagine how that is achieved by canceling worship during a blizzard?
I am not advocating for foolish recklessness. I totally get it if your elderly and fragile parishioners cannot attend the assembly because the snow is too deep. (However, I will wonder why we don’t all live at the assembly to begin with…. (House churches anyone???)) But these facilities we have constructed, supposedly to honor Jesus (some of which take the shape of monumental cathedrals and mall complexes), embody vast amounts of space under a roof which then sits empty while Jesus (in the form of “the least of these brothers” (Matt. 25:40)) wanders around outside.
This same “body of Christ” seems to find itself in the schizophrenic position of being ripped into pieces. We are not, in fact, one body. We are Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics, Pentecostals, “churches of Christs,” and Episcopalians – not to mention 1st Baptists, 2nd Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Holy Spirit Baptists, Black Baptists, Spanish-speaking Baptists, Fundamentalist Baptists, United Methodists, Free Methodists, AME, and so forth… still not mentioning Biker church, Cowboy church, Indian church, Chinese church, Metropolitan Church, and finally individuals who resist “organized religion” and supposedly worship all alone! Each one of these versions of the body of Christ seems to take some niche, or some piece of Jesus, from which supposedly to express his lordship over all and claims to honor that lordship without coming to the same altar, but rather ignoring, neglecting, or showing hostility toward all the other “servants” of the master.
Let me clue you in: That’s not the body empowered by the Spirit of God; that’s some other spirits that when they come together – to the extent that they do – manifests as a spirit of American independence as often as not. And there is no humility in that! In fact that spirit (those spirits) would rather look at a brother in a harsh circumstance (like say homelessness during a winter storm) and write him off as “lazy” so as to justify not reaching out to him!
Now of course there are individuals from all of these backgrounds who love Jesus and who want to reach out to the homeless and the poor. However, they are finding, for the most part, that their own “church” does not really do much. The “body of Christ” seems to be paralyzed in the face of the storm. Of course, no one really seems to notice this, at least not in these terms. These individuals from all these backgrounds largely still hold to those niches that keep the body in schizophrenic, ripped-apart, pieces. But when they reach out to the poor, they find themselves joining forces with the 501c3 ministries – the “para-church” ministries.
Keep in mind, here, that Jesus did NOT say, “On this rock I build my para-church, and the gates of hell will not stand against it.”
No. He said, “church” (Matt. 16:18).
The problem is that the 501c3’s are the only ones taking the outreach/ministry seriously.
Here is a God’s-eye view of the dilemma: We have a “body” that cannot worship together, but within that body, we have some hands and feet that seem willing to go and serve together. We have this unspoken wedge driven between worship and mission. And going into the world has a measure of unity about it, but worship of Jesus does not. And really, I hate to spell this out, but there is precious little difference between that spirit and the spirit(s) of American independence.
So… I am asking you, “the church,” to IMAGINE worship and mission together here, and then to devote yourselves to unity in the Body of Christ. It will mean giving up some deeply sacred cows to get there. Perhaps the most important will be the spirit(s) of American independence that has/have come in and found the house swept clean and then took over the place (See Luke 11:24-26 to catch my drift.)
Imagine with me, just for a moment, various churches around Lubbock designating themselves as outposts for this ministry. Imagine with all the churches of Lubbock supporting these outposts with volunteers and finances. Imagine them strategically chosen to be geographically accessible for poor people all over town to walk to them in a fifteen minute walk.
We might need as many as 25 of these outposts, but possibly as few as 10. But out of a city where just yesterday 300 some-odd churches canceled services due to the storm, I find either of these numbers easy to manage. And out of the 85% of the roughly quarter million people in this town who claim Christian faith, we could surely staff these 25 outposts with shepherds who follow a crucified Messiah sacrificially enough to tend to the sheep that would seek shelter in their midst.
Considering the facilities most of these churches in this town have – between the kitchens, pantries, family life centers, gymnasiums, laundry and shower facilities and ALL THAT EMPTY SPACE of sanctuaries and classrooms that go empty 6 days a week – surely we could adequately house, feed, mentor, and shepherd 300 – 400 homeless and poor people. And if we took it upon ourselves to do all that as part of our very worship of Jesus (for after all surely prayer, eating, singing, and dancing are all acts of worship), we would draw together worship and mission and the various parts of the Body of Christ that currently are schizophrenically ripped apart!
Now, lest you think I am talking about rewarding laziness of those homeless bums, let me first off note that your very salvation rides on how you respond to them (Matt. 25:31-46). Any of your blanket caricatures about laziness are just your manifestations of contempt for Jesus himself, and will land you in the company of goats! Secondly, there are many causes for homelessness that have nothing to do with laziness, which are suffered by the majority of homeless people in various ways – mental illness, physical illness, war-related PTSD, a down economy, alcoholism, drug addiction etc… etc…. Of those who are genuinely lazy, for certainly there are some, why would you treat them any different than you do your own teenaged children? Yes, the laziness needs to be addressed, but you don’t do it by writing these people off! And anyway, you need to get to know them like a shepherd knows his sheep before you can make that determination, and hopefully address it the way a shepherd would who LOVEs his sheep! And we American “Christians” have a LONG WAY TO GO before we get there!
But here’s the thing: I am asking you to expand your Christian IMAGINATION here! And surely that is a rich experience. But up to this point, I have merely been addressing the nuts and bolts of the problem and chopped up your anemic imagination leaving it in pieces on the workroom floor. I have not actually said anything particularly APOCALYPTIC yet!
So here goes: When we open our houses of worship to those hurting souls we encounter on our own version of some dusty Galilean trails… When we turn the boat into the storm and shout at the wind and the waves (snow in some cases) to “Hush! Be still! And know God is here!” … We do so in the turbulent lives of the poor and needy. And we do so by taking up the role of “the Body of Christ” in the drama of the storms of life as they unfold in Lubbock, Texas by coming together and doing the things we read Jesus doing in the Gospels.
At first this does not have relevance to the bankers and the city or state legislatures. But then everything Jesus did on those Galilean trails and waves went completely unnoticed by Rome too! In fact, it was not until Jesus picked a fight with the temple in Jerusalem and managed to get the official “people of God” angry with him that they took him to Pilate for Rome’s attention. In the meantime, Jesus raised armies (Matt. 14; Mark 6; Luke 9; John 6) of formerly hungry, poor people now healed of various lame diseases. The Kingdom of God was breaking in on Galilee long before St. Paul reached Rome with it. And with Jesus being both head and body (during his so called “earthly” ministry, prior to establishing the church as his body) the legions of Jesus were made up of just these humble masses!
But to them “who overcome, God grants to eat of the tree of life” (Rev. 2:7), and “will not be hurt by the second death” (Rev. 2:11), will be given “hidden manna” and a “white stone” invitation (Rev. 2:17) to the party in the Age to Come!
IMAGINE this: Imagine the Kingdom Reign of God is a party (like the feeding of the 5000) and your job is to compel the poor to come to the party! (Luke 14:21-23). Imagine what ever your version of “heaven” or “life in the Age to Come” looks like. Is it a party? Or did you think the goal of life was to become some slave of God on some cloud in the heavens? No! It always was meant to be a PARTY! And that party is a worship gathering… that worship gathering is a party!
No, I am not saying that just any old party is the worship of the One True God, but I am saying that the party of the CHURCH is! And the 501c3’s and other para-church ministries cannot by definition host that party!
This explains, in large part, why they are perpetually concerned with treating addictions, getting job training, passing out blankets or whatever…. And of course those things MIGHT play a bit part in the whole scenario, but at most only a part. And really you were made for a reason… your life was spared for a reason… but not just any reason… and not some reason specific to your own purposes… No, your life has a reason and that reason is to PARTY WITH GOD! And once you come to know that, once the poor come to know that, laziness almost cures itself! Suddenly you have a true “purpose-driven life” that seeks to take up your own part in the role of the body of the bride of Christ – and it is her wedding night about to come! And when the blushing virgin presented to the groom receives his caresses and tender touch, HE WILL HAVE HER FULL AND UNDIVIDED ATTENTION!!!
Now, that’s APOCALYPTIC!
So… what are you settling for? What is your “church” settling for?
How about we explore our Christian IMAGINATION together?
We can do that as soon as the church of Lubbock repents!