Every January we have a Mission and Vision Sunday where I lay out my dreams for what I hope and pray God will do among us in the coming year. This past Sunday, I used four words to frame my hopes for our community in 2017.
You could say these four words are pictures of what putting on the new self looks like among us.
We want to be a deep community, one where we are calling one another to grow up into maturity, to no longer be “children, tossed to and fro” (Eph. 4:14).
Deep means we want to be a community that takes the words of Jesus seriously, where we are imperfectly, but sincerely, striving to live out the kingdom of God in LA.
Deep will always be subversive, unsettling to the status quo. It means we will stand against the cultural tides of individualism and consumerism, and the religious currents of unrelenting positivity, cheap grace or moralism.
Deep will mean we are hard to pin down — outside the lines of red state or blue state — because our ultimate loyalty is to Jesus. We give him our first pledge of allegiance, and because our hope is set on him, we are not afraid, even as we seek to be a living demonstration of a counter-cultural community, demonstrating the values of another kingdom, God’s kingdom.
Deep is a call to maturity, full of unceasing dependence on the Holy Spirit, and an uncompromising call to put off the old self and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Deep means that these are good, life-affirming words, and we don’t apologize for them.
But if we only strive to be deep…that can tend toward being cold and insular…
So we also want to be a WIDE community.
And by wide, I mean a community where lost, broken, hurting, and needy people feel safe, not judged; where they feel welcomed, even before they get cleaned up or come clean. Too many times, I’ve heard the sentiment, I wish the church were more like my recovery community. Because by the time you’re in a recovery community, who are you fooling? We all know why you’re here! There’s no use pretending. But there’s still a lot of old self pretending, here and in every church. And as long as that is true, as long as we refuse to be honest about why we are here, prodigal sons and daughters won’t feel welcomed in our midst.
We want to be wide because that’s what Jesus wants us to be, like him, we are “created to be like him”! And Jesus, we know, has a passion and compassion for lost people. He not only welcomes them, seeks them out, moves towards them because He loves them.
In fact, he says nothing fills his heart with more JOY than when the lost are found.
A wide community is one that is warm, welcoming, hospitable, vulnerable, and authentic; one where people who are broken feel safe because they sense I’m surrounded by people who are not going to judge me.
A wide community doesn’t just care about justification, it also cares about justice. We want to be both the proclamation community – one that proclaims the good news – and the demonstration community – one that embodies new values. We want to be a community who cares about the poor and the stranger from a position of solidarity, for we too were once strangers. Is this not true righteousness, Isaiah asks, “to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house?” (Isaiah 58:6,7).
Deep. Wide. We also want to be a WHOLE community.
And by whole, I mean two things. We want to minister to the whole person, not just to the mind. We want to reach the heart and the hands as well. We want to address the emotions and call the will to respond! We want to be a community of theologians, mystics, and servants.
But by wholeness I also mean the willingness to appear incomplete. Courtney Martin, a feminist writer, said, “It’s an act of rebellion to be a whole person…. It takes a certain kind of modern courage to stop crafting. To say, enough with the curation.” To show up as your whole self, especially the parts that are unfinished and non-curated, is uncomfortable, and a whole community is a community willing to endure this discomfort. Because as Christians we have a unique resource to be able to sit in awkwardness, while having a confidence in our brokenness that a new wholeness has been conferred. We have this hope that there is a hidden wholeness underneath this world’s very evident brokenness.
If we have this posture, of whole-life, whole-heartedness, it gives us what is so desperately needed today – it makes us humble listeners, it gives us the ability to listen to one another, especially those who think differently than we do. Instead of talking past one another from our silos, or instead of believing that the real problem with this world is them…those people…
A whole community welcomes people before they agree, and the true church of Jesus Christ can uniquely do that because we are founded upon a man who welcomed us before we agreed with him, while we were yet his enemies. And he didn’t castigate his opponents, he laid down his life for them, his whole life.
Deep, Wide, Whole and HEALING. We want to be a healing community.
Because we believe that we have been given – as a gift – what we (along with every other human being) were made for, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24).
Because we believe there is healing in the blood of Jesus, by which we can be healed of our old self. And it might feel like death – the death of your dream, or the death of your identity – but it’s healing you, by weaning you from those deceitful desires that were corrupting you.
A healing community is one where hurting people are helping one another. We are instruments in the Redeemer’s hands. People in need of change helping people in need of change.
A healing community does not collapse into quietism: I’m a mess, you’re a mess, it’s OK. It renounces perfectionism because the kingdom of God is not up to us to usher in. But it actively embraces the hope of healing for ourselves, our city, our nation, and this world, because we know where this story is headed, and that’s where our hope is set – the healing of the nations!
That may seem a long way off, but today, this year, a healing community is one full of grace and truth – both and in that order. Grace comes first, always first, because God’s love is indiscriminate and undeserved. Followed by the truth that for each one of us, some “putting off” is needful.
Because if we only announce grace, and never call one another to repent of sin, that only heals the wounds of people lightly, which is no healing at all. But if we only announce truth, sternly, where the putting off is needed, then frightened people will run away in fear and shame, unhealed, and continue to feel like church is the one place they can’t risk being honest.
Jesus never shied from calling people to repent, but they wanted to repent when they became convinced, as we must, that Jesus is better and knows better what we want and what we were made for. “This is my Son…listen to Him!” (Mat. 17:5 et al)
Deep, Wide, Whole and Healing. You may wonder, what about the word love?
Because love is the thread that stitches these values together. Love keeps them from becoming abstract, because there was nothing abstract about the way Jesus loved us. He showed us that death is at the center of love. And it didn’t just feel like death, it was death, and it must be, but it leads to a new life, if you want it.
So. Deep, Wide, Whole, and Healing, threaded together by Love.
How is that going to happen? Because that’s what Jesus wants for us. It’s the new life he died to call us into and redeemed us to become!
In his “Mission and Vision” sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” You may hear those words and drop your head, just one more reason to feel exhausted… But in an old letter written from prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer asks us to hear these words anew. Citing the original Greek word for “perfect,” Bonhoeffer urged a better translation: “Be whole as your heavenly father is whole.” And Bonhoeffer adds, we’ll never get to this wholeness without community.
This is no idealistic dream. This is God’s will for the new self – it’s what you were made for! And it’s the antidote to our exhaustion: whole-hearted devotion to Him.
Lord, may we know ourselves in order that we may know YOU. May we seek your kingdom first, and in finding you, find who you made us to be. In Christ. Amen.