Beyond Church As Usual

In the Gospels, Jesus continually makes the point that salvation is not dependent on worldly status or religious observance. Jesus reveals in story after story that God purposely chooses the stranger, outcast, foreigner, sick and unclean—the wrong people—to show the limitless, unconditional, boundless nature of God’s love for everyone.  Jesus shatters the common assumption that we can and should exclude certain people by embracing the wrong kind of people and lashing out against the religious elite. Jesus offers us a way to let God’s grace disrupt the system to live by faith and see our story the way God sees it.

God simply acts and nothing is the same. This is both scary and unbelievable. It means accepting that God is not always as we see him and that nothing will be the same. The moment we accept Jesus our life is never the same. We are transformed and we live into our transformation.

In John 9, Jesus and the disciples come upon a man blind from birth. Jesus is asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”

Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

I have heard this text cited for the idea that sin does exist or that God does not count sin against us. That is wrong. Sin is all too real. We all know this to be true. We have all fallen short. I would never discount sin’s reality. This bible story, I believe is telling us that birth defects and illness is not God punishing us for our sin, but just part of life and that God can and will use anything to display the glory of God. Jesus as the light of the world means that he shows us the way to life with and in God. Jesus leads to the type of life we are meant to live. Life with God is not about conforming but transforming.

As Sara Miles writes, “None of us controls what God does. We can open our eyes and see what God is doing. Jesus says that in order to see the glory of God revealed, we have to look at the whole of creation: God is always among us, making us whole even as we try to divide ourselves, loving us even as we hate each other. Don’t call unclean anything God has created; do not exclude anything or anyone from your vision. It is all God’s work.”

No one is outside of God’s love. No one should be excluded from our fellowship. The glory of God is revealed most when we as one body busy ourselves doing God’s work. We become the body of Christ by embracing the wrong people extending God’s love and grace to the least, feeding and healing our needy brothers and sisters and looking past our differences to all we have in common. We shouldn’t exclude people from God, but invite all to come and see that God is good and his gospel is the really, really Good News. The gospel shouldn’t be quartered off. The gospel is universal, for all not just a few.

Church is not required. What is required is living fully, loving wastefully, and serving radically.

Stop going to church and start being the church.

Did you read that? Did I really write it? Even more, do I mean it?

Yes! Yes, I do. Now, wait before you get upset let me explain what I mean by that.

I am not trying to get you to give up church as if it’s a bad thing. Church is good. Yet, it can and maybe too often be a barrier to living fully, wastefully, and radically as followers of Jesus as possible. Stop sitting in pew, singing songs, listening to sermons and start being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world and living the sermon. If going to church does not make you a better person or even worse, maybe you should just stay home.

I am not saying that singing songs and listening to sermons is bad. It is good. I enjoy them. It can be transformative. If all we are doing is sitting in pews, can we really say that we are living by faith in grace.

Jesus never said go to church. He did say love and serve, take up your cross and follow me.

Sometimes, we go through the motions to look good or keep the peace. Our hearts aren’t changed. We haven’t given our hearts to God. We are there for pretense alone.

God wants us to love and honor him not out of obligation or to get into heaven, but because we want to, not to keep the peace, to appease God, or for some pretense, but because we are moved to do it. God wants us to love and honor him not with our words and rituals, but with our hearts and actions. Through loving and caring for each other, we worship God.

We are the church when we are following so closely on the heels Jesus that we are covered in the dust from his feet. Bob Hostetler writes, “To be the church means ‘what we do in here’—in the place where the community gathers—must ‘fill the streets out there’. It requires that we know—and act like we know—that the church does not exist for the sake of those of us on the inside but to be a blessing to those who are still on the outside.”

Our church should operate in such a way that if it were to disappear the people on the outside would miss its presence. I don’t go to church out of obligation, but because I want to show my love for God with all my heart, soul, and strength. I worship God not for my sake, but to affirm God is the source and ground of my being. Church is not a building I go to on Sunday morning, but a loving community committed to the way of Jesus, a group of people committed to being Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. The church is not made of stone and steel, but people gathered by Jesus saying yes to the Kingdom of God.

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