If you have been following this blog, you know that I have been reading Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together. I have taken a lot way from this book about what it means to be in community with one another as the body of Christ, but I still feel like there is much to learn. In preparing for Sunday’s sermon, I have been looking at 1 Peter 2:1-10 and in light of my interest in community have latched on to verse 5 specifically which states:
like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ. (NRSV)
I think this passage is significant for those who believe the church is nothing more than the building we meet in on Sunday. I have known many folk that are members of the body of Christ, but fail to see the church as more than the building in which they meet. If we hold this verse to be true, then God’s church is built upon the people who make up the body of Christ. Those who follow after Jesus, are a living stone built around the capstone of Christ.
Perhaps our churches would be much healthier if each member resolved to see themselves as a living stone, or brick, in God’s building process. There were many men and women of faith who came before us to lay a solid foundation for our church and there will be men and women of faith who will come after us and use our faith as their foundation to continue God’s building process. May we all allow for God to move us from individual living stones to a spiritual house where we all may serve Him.
I was reading a blog last week that I have just started following by Steve Liscum. Check out his blog here at http://steveliscum.wordpress.com/. In one of his recent blogs he asked the question, “can someone tell me why we try to earn God’s grace?” Its a pretty challenging question, and one I think the church should spend some time trying to find some answers to. Anyhow, I spent some time this week thinking about this question and I came across this passage in Bonhoeffer’s Life Together:
The root of all sin is pride, superbia (the Latin word for pride). I want to be my own law, I have a right to myself, my hatred and my desires, my life and my death. The mind and flesh of man are set on fire by pride; for it is precisely in his wickedness that man wants to be as God.
I think Bonhoeffer’s words make some sense in considering this question. If it is true that we want to be as God as Bonhoeffer asserts…and as I would assert as well, because of our sin/pride then the reason we try to earn grace is because we think we can give grace to ourselves by working hard enough to be good to earn God’s favor. Our culture teaches us that all we need to do is work hard and we will achieve whatever dreams we have. If our culture teaches this, it is no wonder this mind set has seeped into our churches. Our pride tells us that if we work hard at this thing called Christianity God will reward us with His grace, but the scandal of the Gospel and of Jesus is that no amount of work will earn us that grace. It is freely given. What a serious blow to our pride that is. That means that anyone can have that grace, despite their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or bank account size. That means that we are all on equal footing before the LORD. Most people’s pride won’t allow for that so we continue to create for a system that allows us to earn grace, because that means certain people will be kept out while others who did all the right things will be in.
Pride is a dangerous thing. Let us all humble ourselves before God and each other and grab hold of the Good News of Jesus Christ which tells us that we are all sinners in need of saving and reconciliation to our God. That grace offered in and through Jesus Christ is free to all and requires no work from us.
Confession is not only good for the soul, it is also good for the community. Bonhoeffer explains the value of confession to the community in Life Together.
In Confession, the break through to community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown.
To be in community is to be known to some degree and our sin rages against this. Our sin isolates us from those we would be in community because it want us to create walls and build barriers to keep who we really our secret and in so doing keeps us from every having to change our behavior. The Gospel demands something entirely from us. It seeks confession and full disclosure. It shuns the idea of hiding, preferring instead vulnerability and authenticity. The Gospel provides us with a choice: to continue to live in sin and therefore isolation or to choose full disclosure and community. Our natural inclination is to fear confession and vulnerability. Its frightening to imagine placing our trust in another, but in order to build a stronger life together, we must find the courage to confess to the Father in and through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. We must also find the courage to confess to one another so that we remove ourselves from isolation and into relationship and accountability. No easy task for any of us, but nothing Jesus asks of us is ever easy…its just right.
I find that I can be guilty of listening to part of what someone has to say and then either assume I know what is going to conclude the statement or begin to formulate a response before I know where the rest of the statement is going. That type of listening is hardly listening at all. Its dangerous and it can be hurtful to the party you are supposed to be listening to. In Life Together, Bonhoeffer reminds us of the importance of listening. He tells us,
The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love of God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only give us His Word but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to Him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.
What a profound statement. Many of the arguments that exist in churches might be remedied faster if we were more inclined to listen first rather than speak first. Unfortunately, we tend toward selfishness and do all that we can to be heard instead of doing all that we can to hear what others are saying.
May we as the body of Christ open our ears as God opens His ears to us. May we listen before we speak, not just in part, but wholly hear the heart of our fellow brothers and sisters.
I have been challenged a good deal in the last 24 hours after having read more of Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. I found these words to be particularly tough on my ego. Bonhoeffer states,
Because the Christian can no longer fancy that he is wise he will also have no high opinion of his own schemes and plans. He will know that it is good for his own will to be broken in the encounter with his neighbor. He will be ready to consider his neighbor’s request more important or urgent than his own. What does it matter if our own plans our frustrated? Is it not better to serve our neighbor than to have our own way?
If I am honest with myself…truly honest…I would have to answer that more often than I would care to admit, what I want tends to out weigh others needs. And in the interest of continued honesty, I would also say that it tends to matter a great deal to me when my plans are frustrated. I certainly believe along with Bonhoeffer that our worldview needs to shift from selfish to selfless. However, right along side the rest of humanity, I like my comfort, I like to be in control, and I certainly don’t like to be disturbed when I am watching my favorite TV shows (Doctor Who for anyone that might be curious). As usual though, Jesus asks more of us then we are usually in favor of giving. In our culture meekness is often considered a weakness, but Jesus understood as we all should that it is only when we consider the needs of others beyond our own that love is truly demonstrated. That is what He did for us and His creation on the cross. He chose salvation and redemption for the universe over His own pain and suffering. What a lesson in love and grace.
May we all show that kind of love for our neighbor, especially in those times when we are comfortable and when our hearts are unwilling.
“Thus it must be a decisive rule that of every Christian Fellowship that each individual is prohibited from saying much that occurs to him.”
This seems like a foreign concept. By nature, I tend to be a pretty quiet guy because I tend to keep most of my thoughts to myself because I want to maintain peace and harmony. I don’t care much for conflict so I try to avoid it by keeping my mouth shut whenever possible. It is my experience that some folks don’t have this kind of filter. There seems to be an increase in the number of people who who speak whatever comes to mind without much consideration for who they hurt or how their words might be perceived by those who are in a position to here them. We see this in all manner of places in our culture to include music, on the news channels, in congress, in newspapers, and in our churches.
Words are powerful tools. They can be used to encourage and brighten someones day, or they can be used to rip apart and destroy a person. These things can happen in a matter of moments and with just a few words. Bonhoeffer reminds us of the need to be careful with what we say. Our words are powerful and the capacity to both heal and destroy. Let us be more mindful of the words that we use and guard the harmony and fellowship of our communities by guarding what comes out of our mouths.
“We are bound together by faith, not by experience”
Nearly every article, book, or essay I have read about developing a stronger community inside or outside of the church mentions the need for shared experience. This kind of community is often marked by some type of shared activities meant to bring us all closer together. Its pretty tough to argue against this concept. It makes some sense. If we want better communities than it is necessary to commune together. This become significant we we share in partaking Communion together at the Lord’s table. It is an individual experience for sure, but it is also a corporate experience that serves on some mysterious level to foster a deeper connection between us.
However, Bonhoeffer reminds us that it is not simply the experience that binds us together. The experience itself play a role, but there is something deeper at work at the table. We are not simply bound by a shared activity, but by the faith we share in Jesus Christ that brings us to the table to begin with. The same is true for any activity that shared by brothers and sisters in Christ, it is never the event itself that connects us to one another, but it is the presence of Jesus that does the uniting.
This is also how we can be bonded to others in Christ that we have never met. Those Christians that live on the other side of the world are still connected to us not through shared experience but in and through Jesus. This make the church a truly global body. As Bonhoeffer makes clear we are connected by much more than our shared time together. Our communities are not defined by the accumulation of hours spent together, but through our head; Jesus Christ. I know Christians are often separated by denomination, culture, ethnicity, and any number of other things that we lean on to keep us apart, but maybe its time we spent more time focusing on the one thing that transcends all of those differences and unites us together in the body of Christ as its head…and just in case your not sure who that is yet, its Jesus.