Monday, February 17, 2014

Knapsack - Newark Christian 2-20-14

Notes from my Knapsack 2-20-14


There's a saying that's often attributed in various forms to an original comment by the pastor and former chaplain to the U.S. Senate, Richard Halverson (1916-1995):


"In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise."


At heart, we are neither a business nor an enterprise, not a culture or form of entertainment, our faith is not best summed up in laws and a legal institution, nor is Christianity really a philosophy.


It often is said that our faith is a "world view" and that's closer, but I think it still misses the mark. We have received from the Lord what we would give to others, as Paul said (I Cor. 11:23), that we invite people to come and dine, to be formed anew in Christ's image, and then to go out themselves bearing this good news of invitation and welcome into the Kingdom of God.


Or to go back to Halverson's line, we are called to be "a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ." Thinking the right thoughts and obeying the right laws and living within a social norm are not as important as living in fellowship with one another, forbearing, forgiving, and lifting up those who have taken the name of Christian.


We do live in a world which has been shaped by Greek thinking and Roman law and European culture… and American entertainment. Those influences tug at us in a bewildering variety of ways. As your pastor, I get asked all the time to sign us up for this cause or that, to buy into a program or a package from a denominational source or a parachurch organization, and there are debates from TV and online that filter into questions asked in the narthex and parking lot.


Frankly, I smile and fend off 99% of all that, and often end up wishing I'd gotten closer to 100%. Everyone out there, from curriculum salespeople to pressure group spokespersons, wants us to take up their cause, their agenda, and either be in or be out, join or be excluded, get in the club or find ourselves on the outside.


But I believe our calling is first and foremost to be a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. How we show forth that centeredness, to use a slightly awkward phrase, is going to look different in different communities, but it starts in our own community, in this county, among our own fellowship. How can we focus together on Christ, and also reach out (as he commands!) to the world?


And the key to resolving that dilemma is to remember that Jesus is not a caged prisoner of the church, but a living presence in this world for which he lived, in which he died, and to which he brings redeeming power. We form our circle, as a congregation, facing outward, looking for signs of where Christ is already at work…and we jump in alongside whomever else it is that Jesus has gathered.


In this way, the fellowship, our fellowship, grows.


In grace & peace, Pastor Jeff

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