Daily Office Readings – Gospel ( John 5:30-47 )
This past week I had been listening to a sermon by Fr. Terry McGugan from Christ Church Denver. At one point in the sermon he looks out to the congregation and speaks directly to some of the parishioners and tells them they are the church. This is something that I have heard repeatedly in sermons by various pastors, in different forms, but with the same general idea: if God will act in this world, he will act through us. The hand of God is you. The Church is us. A retired priest at one church I attended used the phrase, “The Second Coming of Christ isn’t so much something that happens to us, but something that happens through us.”
This comment about how each of us is the church forced me to think a bit more about ecclesiology, or the nature and structure of the church, when viewed in the context of theology. Because I’ve been a part of several churches throughout the years, both denominational and non-denominational, I stopped to think about some of the ways people have expressed church structure and organization to me.
When people have seen the church as an extension of God, the church has taken on the nature of whichever trait of God they see as most relevant or important. If they see God as a divine judge, then the church was viewed as an extension of God’s judgment. When they saw God as commander and warrior, the church focused more heavily on nationalistic and patriotic themes. When people saw the church more of an extension of the Holy Spirit, the church took on the role as purveyor of miracles in the world, as humanity’s defenders against the powers of darkness, or the distributors of God’s wisdom through prophetic messages they’ve received from God. When the people see the church as more of an extension of Christ, it seems they’ve seen themselves as defenders of the poor, and perhaps as those sacrificing themselves for others against the backdrop of the rich seeking to exploit those around them.
I think the answer is “Yes.”
God is a warrior, a commander, but also the sacrificial lamb. God is the divine judge, the final arbiter of truth, but also the source of mercy and grace. God displays power through miracles and divine messages, but also through the rather mundane consequences of our decisions and actions. God is present when someone helps out those less fortunate, but God is equally as present when a rich person comes to understand the love of God.
Focusing on these various aspects of God when attempting to shape our churches is what makes us human, and what helps to make God known to those around us. Each church or denomination may have a different focus, but when all are taken together it gives a clearer picture of who God is, and what God is attempting to do in the world. At various times, and in various places, different representations of God in the world will provide all those who are seeking the Divine to understand another aspect of who God is.
Some people attend charismatic or pentecostal churches because they need to see the miraculous to understand a God that provides healing, or understands them deeply, beyond what they share of themselves with the world. Some people attend churches that focus on social justice because they need to see a God that serves up justice and cares for the oppressed. Some attend legalistic churches because they need to experience order and clear cut rules amidst an otherwise chaotic life. And each of these churches provides an aspect of God to the world.
I do not think it wrong to have churches that focus on one aspect of God more than another, but I do think that we are doing a disservice to one another when we attempt to call out other collections of believers for failing to believe as we do, for failing to make our focus their focus. They may have been called to focus on another aspect of God in their work in this world, while we may have been called to another. To believe that others are not following or sharing God because they do not focus on the same aspect of God that we do is hubris, and brings us closer to our own downfall.
As I read this morning’s Daily Office, Jesus’ comments to the Jewish leadership helped to clarify my thinking. When Jesus confronts the leaders on their inability to accept him, he is speaking politically. The extent of his rejection by the leaders of the day is well known. And the rejection of Christ by the leaders of the day is a direct result of failing to acknowledge the literal hand of God standing in their midst. Why? Because they saw their way of organizing religion as the only way; as the right way. It was their desire to maintain their power by refusing to acknowledge the work of God in their midst that eventually found their work, their power, and their prestige diminishing.
At the point that they were having this conversation with Jesus, they were the church; the spiritual foundation of the day. Imagine the work they could have done if they had acknowledged Jesus and joined with him to do the work he had come to do?
Of course, this leaves me with some cognitive dissonance, because there are churches that I disagree with; whose focus is clearly different from mine, and where I might not even feel we are worshipping the same God. But I need to remind myself that even these churches are God’s hand in the world, and are serving a purpose that I may not currently understand.
Mike is a jack of all trades, master of none. He’s a data analyst, programmer, and loves to cook. If he doesn’t have his face buried in a book or is staring blankly at a computer screen, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride.
Mike holds a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary.