GNG Weekly: 8.13.17 - Gathering as the Church amid Desecration in a Sacred World.

This blog post could go two ways: One way is for those who will quickly read this and try to get it and move on; and the second way is for the one who adores written words that create a picture, and may perhaps lead some to a physical action, perhaps even allowing them to dive into a deeper place of humanity.

 

Below are marked the two ways to read - go on as you desire - I personally am prone to go the quick way, as I often shift my focus way too easily - it is a weakness of mine, but perhaps you will consider the deeper way:

 

The Quick Way:

 

I recently took a kind of personality test called “The Birkman Method.” It was like someone was reading and probing my identity. In some ways it was painful to have this kind of mirror reflect back at me - magnifying things I normally don’t notice. One thing I found surprising, but probably true, is my lack of appreciation for the arts, music and literature. This “method” pinned me in as a pragmatist. I tend to only invest in things that have a clear purpose, meaning and will yield results - which is not always healthy and I miss a lot because of it.

 

I suppose my appreciation for the arts may have been even lower - if I didn’t see the point of them. However, I think there are incredible reasons to love, respect, and taste art and the beauty of so many created things. Wendell Berry in his poem, “How to Be a Poet” reminds me of that purpose and the deepness of life that can be experienced in every sacred space. For those of you who desire the deep, long route - please go on and take several moments and read his poem below. Otherwise, there is one point in the poem that Berry says:

 

“Stay away from anything   

that obscures the place it is in.   

There are no unsacred places;   

there are only sacred places   

and desecrated places.”

 

Currently as a church start-up we are discerning and imagining what it means to create a regular space of sacredness in which we are able to commune with our covenantal, creator, Triune God. The challenge is that as a church - we believe that every place is sacred:

That everywhere we go and every place we gather, the Spirit is dwelling there;

That we are communing with Him in all places.

That is why we are called, Good News Gatherings, in the plural - so that we continue to live out being the church in the places we live, work and play.

 

However… this is where Berry’s line comes in: “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” As a pragmatist, I often miss the desecrations, I often miss the sacred as well. So, here is the big question that I think would be helpful:

How are we to commune with God amid the desecration, in our sacred world?  

This is where I was tempted to stop writing. Just let the question resonate for you. However, I felt it necessary to trace a way forward to this question. This bring us to the next way, to wonder, together at the way forward.

We could boil this down in some ways by simply stating, "Jesus." We are able to rely on His power, grace and the hope he gives us through his death, resurrection and ascension. His grace is enough. He is able. The word made flesh will make a way.

However I believe we should wonder at the Deeper Way:

I believe the Spirit of Jesus is calling us deeper. Jesus calls us into his story through the gift of his Holy Spirit. So, this is where we will dive into a teaching on what it means for each person to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. Peter says in his first letter of chapter two:

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him,
will never be put to shame.”

 

There is a lot packed in here. Let me try to make sense of some things in bullet form:

  1. Jesus is the Living Stone - or also referred to as the Cornerstone -  the foundation.

    • This has incredible parallel to the temple!

      1. God instructed David to build the temple - the temple mount.

      2. The same place where Abraham gave his son, Isaac, to God.

      3. Yet, the Lord provided and Isaac became the Living Sacrifice. How cool is that? Do you see any parallel to Jesus?

  2. You also (the church) are like living stones being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood.

    • Do you see the picture here?

      1. The church… is not a building, it is a spiritual house - or temple.

      2. Instead of God’s people needing to make physical sacrifices for the various “desecrations” that kept them from the sacred place where God’s presence dwelled they were given a full, final, once and for all sacrifice, through Jesus. Who washed the desecrations clean.

      3. Jesus has the power to deal with the desecrations once and for all.

      4. So, through the power of the Spirit, the believers gather in Jesus’ name and there is a sacred place - and they themselves are holy as they commune with with God.

Before we get lost in too much of this spiritual picture. I also want to say that the theme of the presence of God is one of the baseline foundations of the scriptures. It is found throughout the narrative of our story:

  • From the Garden of Eden, which is truly a garden temple,

  • on through the tabernacle days of the wilderness,

  • on through the temple making, its destruction, and its remaking,

  • on through to Jesus promising its destruction and restoration in three days,

  • on to the temple being made up of all those who the Spirit dwells within -

  • to one day a temple coming down from heaven when Jesus comes back.

Whoa. There could be a 6 part series here through each one of these movements of presence. However, I would like to summarize these varied narrative steps of God’s presence as being directly correlated to how God is on mission to renew creation - and re-establish the sacred amid the desecrations. God is following through with this dream to renew all things through his presence.

The church, equipped with God’s presence is called to be a sign, instrument, and foretaste, of this renewal.

So back to the question: How are we to commune with God amid the desecration, in our sacred world?

It’s a big question, and I think it depends on your neighborhood, places of work and places of play. I want to though, give one definitive picture that may look different wherever God is calling you to be his church.

I recently spoke with David Fitch, the author of Faithful Presence. David mentioned three different circles in which the church should gather: a closed circle, a dotted circle and a semi-circle:

  • The closed circle: Is the space of the gathered people of God’s covenant- the place where God’s people commune with their God, are formed by Him and enter a deep, life giving dance together.

    • Power Dynamic: We are offering ourselves as sacrifices to the all-powerful God.

  • The dotted circle: Is a gathering place where the church is present in the world. This is a place of the church opening up their spaces with hospitality, a place where people who are not yet Christ followers are able to belong and be blessed.

    • Power Dynamic: The Church offers their power in terms of hospitality to others as a blessing.

  • The semi-circle: Is a place where the church believes they are sent to. It is part of the gathered church going out and being a guest in the world, receiving hospitality.

    • Power Dynamic: The Church goes into places with humility, and allows others to bless them, and teach them.

 

To wrap up:

Now may be a good time to stop, make a place to sit down, and find the quiet. Summon the deeper parts of yourself that you may not know you have. Allow the pride to shift away. Allow your thoughts about the writer of this blog to shift too. If you are reading on a device, after this next paragraph, go put it down. Get to that place of silence and listen to the Spirit. Acknowledge your mind, your emotions, and your physical being.

“Of the little words that come   

out of the silence, like prayers   

prayed back to the one who prays,   

make a poem that does not disturb   

the silence from which it came.”


 

How to Be a Poet

BY WENDELL BERRY

(to remind myself)

i   

Make a place to sit down.   

Sit down. Be quiet.   

You must depend upon   

affection, reading, knowledge,   

skill—more of each   

than you have—inspiration,   

work, growing older, patience,   

for patience joins time   

to eternity. Any readers   

who like your poems,   

doubt their judgment.   

 

ii   

Breathe with unconditional breath   

the unconditioned air.   

Shun electric wire.   

Communicate slowly. Live   

a three-dimensioned life;   

stay away from screens.   

Stay away from anything   

that obscures the place it is in.   

There are no unsacred places;   

there are only sacred places   

and desecrated places.   

 

iii   

Accept what comes from silence.   

Make the best you can of it.   

Of the little words that come   

out of the silence, like prayers   

prayed back to the one who prays,   

make a poem that does not disturb   

the silence from which it came.