Sunday, May 23, 2010

Kingdom-Oriented Relationships 2

In a recent post (Kingdom Oriented-Relationships) I tried to focus on the relational Kingdom-oriented community of believers that isn't essentially church-shaped. I wrote:
So the question is, out here beyond the church foyer doors, out between the stop signs of life, how do we train our relationships toward the Kingdom, toward a Kingdom orientation and Kingdom authenticity? The hope is that, out of the ground of ordinary "life together" relationships real Kingdom oriented, Jesus-shaped communion can happen.
In the wake of that post, I went to see an old friend who is dying. She called on the phone to tell me she didn't have much time, and she wanted to see me. I hadn't known she was even sick. My wife and I went to her house and found her frail and as "worn out" as I have ever seen anyone look. Her husband told us her immune system had been destroyed by radiation treatments for cancer.

She and I and many others had been a part of a tragic and frightening church conflict in a small Lutheran church back in the 90s. She was the victim of a campaign of pastoral slander, an evil that still makes me angry to this day. I'm not going to get into the details, but it was an experience that taught me to be extremely suspicious about authoritarian church leadership, and also of the amusing concept of "denominational oversight."

Anyway, in that church, it being a good liturgical Lutheran church, we "took communion" every week. But here's the thing: there was no communion! None. Not if you understand communion to be oneness in Christ. This failure, in my opinion, is what Paul was referring to when he said,
For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself (1 Corinthians 11:29 ESV).
Anyone, in other words, whose communion is mere religious box-checking and not a real participation with others in the unity of faith (while living, in fact, in disunity and denial of the oneness of the Body) is essentially despising that unity in favor of an empty ritual practice, which you have elevated above the reality of body of Christ oneness. You are just eating and drinking (communing) your way to judgement.

And recall what Paul wrote to the church at Philippi:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. . . . (Philippians 2:1-5 ESV)
Now just imagine a church that has, instead of heeding Paul, heeded the devil's counter-argument to Philippians 2:1-5. How would the devil ask a congregation to "complete his joy"? Do everything from rivalry and conceit. Let the same mind be in you that was in Judas, in Pontius Pilate, in the super-righteous Pharisees, even in Herod. And above all, think of your pastor as more significant than everyone else, no matter what evil he does. That's a portrait of what happened in that "church family."

My point is not to rehash church horror stories, but that visit to my dying friend has stirred up these thoughts and memories. I am more committed than ever to walking out faith in relationship, though I'm not always sure what that actually means. But here's a guess. When you come together with your believing friend, whether to have a beer, play bocce, watch a movie, or pray, do it in the name of Jesus, and have confidence that therefore Jesus will be there with you. You're going to church! That's what I mean by kingdom-oriented relationships.

Clearly, kingdom-oriented relationships are not necessarily more common in the church than in the wilderness beyond the church doors. In fact, the "much ado" that is church-life can be a convenient religious cover for our willful isolation from one another. So the task I've set for myself is to see relationships--all kinds of relationships--as the place where we walk out our faith. And in tandem with that the recognition that we do not always walk it out in our relationships, but simply pay lip service to it in our blogs, etc.?

1 comment:

n. davis rosback said...

good post.

i am glad that your friend called you, and that you went to see her.

when you spoke of what was going on in the church that you were going to, it seems that this time, i had more understanding of it.

it makes me look at how many ways in my life that i might say one thing yet, do another. things where i have willfully isolated my mind or heart from, because of my own desires or selfishness. places where i do not walk out my faith, out of anger, loneliness, fear, hurt, need, control, etc.

in an effort to see things that are beautiful and lovely, i don't always see the beautiful and lovely within the broken. and i am blinded out of a desire for things to be good, mended, well, not broken, not hurting, not messed-up.

i can get caught up in the much ado...and forget the real walk of faith and Love. it seems like both are happening at the same time.

through the much ado and the walk of faith, it is only God's Love that keeps me. it is my only chance, or way, of walking-out this faith, because i know that mine is a needy, selfish kind of love.