Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Community of Saints

“The community of the saints is not an ‘ideal’ community consisting of perfect and sinless men and women, where there is no need of further repentance. No, it is a community which proves that it is worthy of the gospel of forgiveness by constantly and sincerely proclaiming God’s forgiveness”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

If you have never read Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I highly recommend it as a realistic look at living in the Christian communion of saints.

 

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Environment #1

This month I’ll be posting parts of a Lutheran Via de Cristo talk I gave about Environments.  This is the first installment.

It’s has been said, and rightly so, that the Christian life is not a destination, but a journey.  You might choose to think of it as a train trip.  Our first talk spoke about the importance of having an ideal.  It’s just crucial–think about it–you might be at the train station, but you can’t get on the right train if you don’t know where you’re headed.  As Christians, we want to head toward the life of grace, a conscious and growing life in Christ.  This means a lifelong process of reforming and transforming our lives as our will is conformed to His.  Talks about piety, study and action gave us some idea of how to do this through personal spiritual discipline.  Our last talk ,Leaders, presented a picture of the truly dynamic Christian as a leader.  This talk goes a step further because Jesus called us to follow Him, not only for our own salvation, but for the salvation of the world.  This is the true mission of the church.  It’s not enough to get on the right train and sit quietly reading our Bible until the journey ends.  It’s not enough to interact in a friendly and helpful manner with our fellow passengers. We must get off at every stop and invite others to come along with us.

There’s a very good book you might want to read sometime, called “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In this book, Bonhoeffer says that Christianity means community and the fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters is a gift of grace, pure grace.  Then he goes on to tell us that the Christian’s calling is not in the seclusion of a cloistered life, but in the midst of the world, even among enemies!  In the book of Matthew, Jesus instructed his disciples, saying:

“….you are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house ….Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

We can’t stay isolated in our churches and in groups of fellow Christians. We must go out — to our families, our workplaces, our communities –and radiate God’s love into our personal environments.

A Quote from Reframing the Soul by Gregory Spencer

I reviewed this book earlier this week, and although it doesn’t specifically apply to our month’s theme, Laity, the author does have some important things to say about what he calls “engaging with others.”  To be successful as laypeople we must be able to get along and work well with one another. In any congregation there are differences:  differences in background, education, ability, understanding and more.  Sometimes these differences lead to conflict.  When that happens, Gregory Spencer points to the 4th Chapter of Ephesians for a guide to “reframing” our outlook.  Maybe you’ll find it helpful.

“An extended biblical passage that addresses “engaging with others” is Ephesians 4.  Paul reminds his readers of what makes for a strong community.  Overall we maintain unity by living peacefully (3) and fulfilling our various roles and callings (4-13).  We do this by putting off the old self and putting on the new self (22-34, some obvious reframing here), feeding certain character qualities–humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love(2) industriousness (28), compassion and forgiveness(32) –and by starving sensual indulgence (17-19), extended anger, bitterness, brawling, slander and malice(31).  I’m particularly taken with the admonitions to speak the truth in love (15,25) and to talk for the sake of building others up (29).”

T.E.A.M.

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”  1 Peter 4:10

You’ve probably heard this before:  T.E.A.M = Together everyone accomplishes more.  It’s true in the church as well as in business.  The laity of the church, along with the Pastor are a team.  Often the Bible speaks of the church as a “body.”  We have different gifts and different functions.  We do our best work when all the parts are working together.  If one body part isn’t doing its’ job, the whole body suffers.

I’ve had some of my best life experiences working with others in the church.  Years ago, I wrote original Vacation Bible School programs for my church.  It wasn’t a solo effort.  I did the curriculum, but my sister, who is artistically creative, suggested crafts;  a member who loved to sing chose and led the music; a preschool teacher gave us suggestions about which things would work well with different age groups;  a great organizer became the director.  We did this for about five years, and when I see one of those ladies today they often mention what fun we had pulling it all together!  I could never have done it all on my own.

This blog is another example.  Although my blogging friends tease me about being the obsessive blogger, Michele was the driving force in getting the blog set up and going;  Paula made it pretty and added some features we didn’t know how to do;  Beth Ann started me thinking about posting songs and music … and so on.  It is a true group effort and I just love it when God mixes with us in a way that creates something none of us imagined we could do.

The best thing about T.E.A.M efforts?  As Peter says in the quote above, they are a way to pass God’s grace on to others.  Isn’t that what the church is all about?  So, my advice is, dream big, and then find some others who will dream along with you.  Pray, work, and let God use you in amazing ways.

He loves you and so do I!

 

Sheep Give Birth to Sheep

My husband is fond of this saying:  “The Shepherd does not produce sheep.  Only sheep give birth to sheep.”  What he means is, it isn’t the Pastor’s job to evangelize.  Oh, he may do that as an individual, particularly if it is one of his spiritual gift.  However, his role is to equip and motivate us, the lay people, to spread the gospel in our own environments, outside the church walls.

I’ll tell you a story about how this happens.  Years ago, our daughter, Beth was friends with a little boy named Sean at her daycare.  When her birthday came around, she invited him to her sleepover party (we joked this was our first and last coed sleepover).  It was part of our family routine that if anyone spent Saturday night with us, we took them to our church on Sunday morning.  So Sean and some others went to Sunday School and worship before we dropped them off at their homes.  On the way back to his house, Sean kept saying, “I love that church.  I wish I went to that church.”  So we asked his mom if we could start picking him up and taking him along.  She agreed that would be fine.

As time passed, Sean’s mom and younger brother started showing up at church sometimes.  First at special events, then more often.  Finally his dad came, too.  In fact, eventually Sean’s dad became the President of the congregation.  When he gave his testimony years later, he did not credit the Pastor, the Cullers(our family), or even his son with his conversion.  He said he was simply loved into the church by the caring friendship of the people he met.  That’s what the laity can do!

You’re one of the sheep.  There’s someone in your family, your neighborhood, or your workplace who needs a friend to introduce them to Christ.  That’s all it takes.  Don’t be afraid.  He’ll do the rest.

A Motley Crew

If you look up the definition of this phrase, you’ll find that it refers to a loosely organized assembly of people who vary in appearance, background, and character but have a common goal.  Examples might be a band of pirates, or a western posse.   Historically, “motley” was the varicolored fabric worn by jesters — you remind what that looks like, right?  Kind of crazy and mismatched?

Well, you might say the disciples Jesus chose were a motley crew.  There was a zealot, a tax collector and some fishermen.  One of them denied Him, one betrayed Him, a couple asked for preferential treatment. They didn’t always get along.  They all seemed pretty clueless and dense about where Jesus was headed, even after He came right out and told them that He was going to Jerusalem to be killed.(Matthew 16:21)  Somehow, in the end, it all comes together in a way that is nothing short of miraculous.  This disparate group of men becomes a force that “turns the world upside down.”(Acts 17:6) How?  The answer is simple:  they received the Holy Spirit.

The same is true of any Christian congregation today.  We’re doctors and lawyers, janitors and cooks.  We’re black and white, Korean and Indian.  We don’t look like a , family, but we are. We get sidetracked, we quarrel, we mess up and we get frustrated with one another.  Somehow, though, with the help of the Spirit, and lots of prayer, we persevere and we accomplish things. We feed the hungry and clothe the naked;  we visit prisoners;  we teach and evangelize;  we maintain church buildings and support missionaries. We couldn’t do any of this on our own.  I think God planned to do great things through motley crews like us, just so we’d know we had to rely on Him and give Him all the glory.

“For consider your calling, brothers;   not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise;  God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”  1 Corinthians 1:26-30

A Quote by Eugene Peterson

For those who have not heard of him, Eugene Peterson is a Presbyterian pastor and author of more than thirty books. I have read quite of few of them, and would recommend him as a Christian author.  He is best know for his contemporary rendering of the Bible, The Message.  This quote comes from his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, and I think it addresses well the reality of living together as a Christian community.

“But, of course, the fact that we are a family of faith does not mean we are one big happy family. The people we encounter as brothers and sisters in faith are not always nice people.  They do not stop being sinners the moment they begin believing in Christ.  They don’t suddenly metamorphose into brilliant conversationalists, exciting companions and glowing inspirations.  Some of them are cranky, some of them are dull and others (if the truth must be spoken), a drag.  But at the same time our Lord tells us that they are brothers and sisters in faith.  If God is my Father, then this is my family.

So the question is not, ‘Am I going to be part of a community of faith?’ but ‘How am I going to live in this community of faith?’  God’s children do different things.  Some run away and pretend the family doesn’t exist.  Some move out and get an apartment of their own from which they return to make occasional visits, nearly always showing up for the parties and bringing a gift to show that they really do hold the others in fond regard.  And some would never dream of leaving but cause others to dream it for them, for they are always criticizing what is served at meals, quarreling with the way the housekeeping is done and complaining that the others in the family are either ignoring or taking advantage of them.  And some, determined to find out what God has in mind by placing them in this community called a church, learn how to function harmoniously and joyously, and develop the maturity that is able to share and exchange God’s grace with those who might otherwise be viewed as nuisances.”