"What 'church' can be," it's more than a slogan. What Zion Faith Community boldly proclaims is Good News. Ah, but the world of Jesus is a world of Empire, of rights reserved for the moneyed, with poverty and illness seen as divine punishment, women as property, people living in fear and no room for love, justice, and generosity. Sounds a lot like today, doesn't it? And the Temple church pretended that all the injustice out there had little to do with the God who was proclaimed in here. That too, sounds all too familiar. Fast forward to 2017, where Lake Edge and Zion have the nerve to apply the Gospel to the injustice all around us. And we get punished for our trouble. That's right, "punished." But all of us who hear the good news between the Gospel preached in here and the need to make it real in our lives out there, are blessed. This is how church can be. But popular, that's gonna take same work.
In the Gospel story, John the Baptizer gets "handed over" to the powers of the day because he dared to hold evil men accountable for their corruption. And Jesus doesn't miss a beat. Rather than back down when his cousin John gets "disappeared" by Herod, Jesus goes public. Does Jesus back off in attacking the corruption, injustice, and evil of his day? What do you think? Jesus goes fishing, not for a couple of perch, but for his first seminary class. It's time to organize. It's time to stand against the cozy relationship between the polite church and the powers. It's time for "What 'church' can be."
And with his first group of students in tow, Matthew reports the crowds followed Jesus everywhere. The people were desperate for a savior, but the one they were expecting would do everything for them and fill their bellies with bread. Jesus sensing their anxiety and expectation leads his students and the multitude up a hillside to a quiet place for their first lesson. The setting already tells us what church can and must become under this new reign of God. In the Temple church there were sectioned off areas, courts, where entry was based on status and gender and a myriad of other rules and customs. There were lots of barriers. But when Jesus sits down with everyone around him, there aren't any barriers. No obstacles. The students sat closest to the Master, but the rest of the people were right up there in the next row. And this is how church can be. Jesus proclaims the Good News without opening his mouth. When it's clear by looking around that each person has value, each story important, the Gospel is preached. It's "What 'church' can truly be."
The Beatitudes, the sermon Jesus preaches; it's not a new set of commandments. It's about "how to be." What's inside informing what comes out. This Church isn't simply about a new set of rituals or traditions, but a new attitude. I love the paraphrase of Scripture written by Eugene Peterson called "The Message." Peterson knows the ancient words of the Gospel so well he can offer truth for today without having to translate every single word. Peterson wants our modern ears to concentrate on the message, not just the words. And what a powerful message it is.
(Read "The Message" MATT. 5:3-10) I believe our two faith communities have been brought together because we're ready to hear this revolutionary news and live it side by side. Jesus tells us, "...count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me...the truth is too close for comfort and they're uncomfortable." Why is it always our fault - we who hear Good News - when someone in church gets uncomfortable because the Gospel is preached? "Beware" Jesus tells us. "If you dare live my Word don't expect applause from the polite and comfortable church." Both our faith communities know the sting of rejection and loss when we fuss and fight over a Gospel that includes everyone, no matter who they are or where they are on their life's journey. Pastor Pat and I both know the loneliness that comes with such a ministry. As popular churches grow around us it's normal to wonder if our lack of popularity means we've somehow messed up. When the people of Jesus' time begin following him they had expectations too. Jesus' first act was to make them uncomfortable. "No," he tells then. "I am not going to be that kind of Messiah. I bring Good News to everyone left out and left behind. And you the comfortable aren't gonna be happy. Prepare for a bumpy ride as your own expectations get challenged. You can be glad when this happens," he says, "give a cheer, even! ...you and others may not like it, (but) I do! And all heaven applauds."
For Lake Edge UCC and Zion Faith Community blessed are we. Because we're "What 'church' can and must be."