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.
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“Innumerable times a whole Christian Community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream.” (Life Together)
I am not sure that I can come up with a word that conveys just how much I agree with Bonhoeffer on this point. I must also confess that I am guilty of this infraction as well. For that, I need to repent. I find that when I take to time to reflect on the positive and negative experiences I have had as part of the church, I come to the realization that the negative experiences most often where a matter of either unreasonable or unmet expectations by myself or someone else. On the other hand, my positive experiences have occurred when people where able to get beyond their expectations, whether they were legitimate or not, and show real grace and love when those expectations have not been met.
This is a profound point for as the church because all of us carry around ideas about what the church should be. A pastor has many hopes for his or her church; that people will grow in faith, and that they will share that faith, and lives will be impacted by their ministry. Similarly congregations all have hopes and dreams for the people and the pastor. But we must be very careful with those hopes and dreams, because the church really is not ours to begin with. the church is God‘s and what truly matters are God’s designs for the community, not our own. Bonhoeffer goes onto say it this way:
“Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive.” (Life Together)
Instead of working hard to see our dreams achieved in the church, let us accept the community that God has gifted to and blessed us with. Let us hand those dreams over to God and allow Him to fill us up with His dreams for His community, so that an authentic and Christ centered community would emerge in our churches instead of an egocentric idea of community that is nothing more than unrealistic fantasy. No church community is perfect and will never be perfect as long as human hands have any say int he matter, but God has chosen to work in and through the church and it is our responsibility and privilege of those who have chosen to answer Jesus’ call to follow after Him to be a part of that community with all of its good and bad attributes. May we lay aside our dreams and accept the reality of God’s gift of community and remember as Bonhoeffer reminds us:
“…that Christian brotherhood is not an ideal, but a divine reality” (Life Together)
Bonhoeffer’s first chapter in “Life Together” is titled community. I got about half way through the first chapter yesterday and had to stop because there were too many ideas to mull over. so I stopped to consider them. Here are my thoughts on a couple of the things that were especially interesting to me. Most of this at the moment is me just wondering out loud (I can say out loud on a blog if I am talking to myself while I type can’t I)
Here is a quote in the first chapter that really got me thinking. “The death and life of a Christian is not determined by his own resources; rather he finds both only on the Word that comes to him from the outside, in God’s Word to him. The Reformers expressed it this way: Our righteousness is an ‘alien righteousness’ a righteousness that comes from outside (extra nos). They were saying that the Christian is dependent on the Word of God spoken to Him. He is pointed outward to the word that comes to him. The Christian lives wholly by the truth of God’s Word in Jesus Christ. If somebody asks him, Where is your salvation, your righteousness? He can never point to himself. He points to the Word of God in Jesus Christ , which assures him salvation and righteousness.”
I find myself wondering if the church really believes that salvation and righteousness really rests outside of ourselves and in Jesus. Do I even really believe this? What would the church look like if we not only believed this, but told others about it? I feel like that despite my best efforts it seems like many if not most of the people in my congregations might verbally acknowledge the truth of “alien righteousness” but don’t seem to live like it is true. ( I must confess my guilt in this as well. Even the word effort that I just used seems like the kind of language that indicates that somehow I am not working hard enough to earn God’s favor). Most people that I talk to just want to be good. They try really hard to be the best people that they can. They want to be charitable, and loving, and kind. Those things are certainly noble pursuits, but they aren’t Jesus. Instead of pursing those kinds of characteristics individually or corporately, maybe we should think less about being good people or a good church and think more about what it means to pursue Jesus who will instill within us those characteristics.
It seems that far to often Jesus is taken out of the equation altogether in favor of a works based Gospel we know is untrue, but feels a little more comfortable to us because our culture teaches us things like: you have to work hard to get ahead, that we have to earn our keep, and that love is something you fall into and out of at the drop of a hat instead of a selfless committment as described in 1 Corinthians 13. If we believe that love is like this, then it is no wonder we find it hard to imagine that God has always and will always love us and that we do not have to do anything to earn it. What would the church look like if we all love like God loves; without condition or clause, but with selflessness and commitment demonstrating grace and mercy to others every step of their journey.
Anyway, these are just some of the initial things that I am pondering after my reading. Still more to come when I have time.
The church is a fascinating phenomenon. Despite its historical transgressions and its nigh limitless list of flaws, the church continues to survive and even thrive. Its an amazing testimony to the love, power, grace, and mercy of God that the church continues to participate in the churches mission and ministry. I have found myself after 3.5 years as Pastor with some inner turmoil. I found a profound love and appreciation for the church, but I also have a deep sadness when I look at the overall state of the church, especially in North America in Europe. As I survey the scene, I am left in awe and wonder at the handy work of God and the transformational power of Jesus Christ in and through the church. I am also frustrated with institutionalism that leaves its laity powerless and unable or unwilling to change in the face of continued decline.
With this in mind I have made a decision. I want to better understand how as the church, we can work to over come our flaws and transgression. I also want to learn how the church can work towards a deeper sense of community and fellowship both inside and outside the door of the church. I decided that I am going to spend some time reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together”. Over the coming days and weeks I will be reading through his book and posting about some of my discoveries. I read the book several years back, but after having had much more experience in the church, I am curious what I will find looking through new lenses.
My hope is to learn and share what I find and hopefully we can learn together how we might live together more fully the call to follow after Jesus.