Five ways to obey Jesus new commandment to his disciples. John 13:34: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” How does a church do that?
1. Romans 12:10: “Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” Invite 7 churches to enter into a year long contest to see who can show the most honor to the other church’s ministry.
2. Matthew 5:44: “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.” Choose a church in another denomination and at the other end of the theological spectrum. Choose an act of kindness that you can do for them and do it.
3. Matthew 5:46: “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” Choose church in neighborhood with whom you have no relationship and send them a small contribution along with a note explaining that though you have not done anything together, you consider them brothers and sisters in Christ and are praying for their ministry.
4. 2 Corinthians 5:18: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” Invite a congregation that is different from yours–in theology, denomination, faith practices, etc.–to dinner in their honor.
5. Ephesians 4:29: “Let no evil talk come from your mouth, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that our words may give grace to those who hear.” Choose a congregation that has recently expressed dissent with the denomination. Come up with 5 positive statements about their ministry, compose a litany of thanks for them. Send them a copy and tell them that it will be used in public worship on a given Sunday.
If you try this, I believe you will have a profound spiritual experience. I’d love to hear about your experience.
The counter-cultural message of the Christian faith is that a critical part of salvation is in discovering our true self through our relationships. The incarnation reveals that our faithfulness to God is expressed in the context of the finite time and physical reality of our world. If, as Genesis suggests, we were created in the image of God, then as God found expression through the relationships made possible through creation, do we reflect that image of the Divine through relationships as well.
The challenge of narcissism is the discovery that we are not the center of the universe. I am part of a matrix of relationships and life does not center on me. That does not mean that I should be a doormat and allow myself to be walked on. Jesus is never depicted as a doormat. Jesus knew who he was and remained true to the image of God within himself but he also came not to be served but to serve others. As was true of Jesus, so you are an important part of something larger than yourself. Within the confines of our finite reality, that truth is reflected in how we relate to family, neighbor, church, denomination, and world. We are connected.
To belong to the Body of Christ is to recognize that connectionalism in the context of our loyalty to, or worship of, God. “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” Romans 12:4-5. The Body of Christ, much larger than any one congregation, is the laboratory in which we experiment with how to live out those relationships that finally are to be lived out in the world that God loves. To abandon the laboratory is to cut ourselves off from the sustaining relationships that teach us how to live reflecting the image of God in the world.
The journey of faith is centered around relationships. To paraphrase Jesus’ summary, we are to love God and love our neighbor as our self. What we discover is that we are ennobled when we are part of something greater than our self. An athlete finds meaning in being part of a team. A person in the military finds meaning in serving his or her country. We find happiness in having good friends. In the Christian faith we speak of being part of the Body of Christ. The message of the Scriptures is predominantly in the plural. At the root of salvation is a healing or reconciliation of relationships with God and neighbor.
Yet loyalty to something larger than yourself can either give your life meaning or can devolve into idol worship. We can become too loyal to a sports team, company, or nation. Ironically, idolatry also finds its expression in the religious faith when we become too loyal to our perception of God, our understanding of Scripture, our image of Jesus, etc. So while commitment to something larger than our self can give life meaning and purpose, it can also be destructive, That is true for both the secular and the religious set of loyalties.
Think of loyalty as that to which we are accountable. Take the following 7 areas of your life and prioritize them according to whom or what you feel most accountable. SELF, FAMILY, EMPLOYER, NATION, CONGREGATION, THE LARGER CHURCH, AND GOD. Once you have placed them in priority order, write one sentence that is positive about such a loyalty and one that suggests a negative result of mis-held loyalty. None of them are bad in themselves and can give our life a greater meaning, but each, when inappropriately held, can become destructive. There is a sense in which each of these loyalties challenge the others and can help us maintain a balance.
Given the anti-institutional bias of our society, it may be important to re-examine what we mean when we as Presbyterians, and many other denominations, speak of ourselves as being a connectional church. Too often people hear that term in the midst of judicial questions with respect to property or ordination issues. There is a sense in which even the most independent of congregations, even one who claims to be a community church, is part of a connectional church. When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and therefore confess ourselves to be a Christian, we become part of what the Bible calls the Body of Christ. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews, or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
We can’t escape that reality by saying that it was different in the early church. As he says in 1 Corinthians 11:17ff, “Now in the following instructions i do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. for, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine.”
The truth that we are, even when we want to deny it, part of a connectional church suggests that we need to explore more fully why God in
Christ created a connectional church and how we might recognize the strengths of that reality as a counter-cultural reality in our society.
Since we are facing some rather shocking statistics on the decline of clergy health, it is important that judicatories, in our case presbyteries, look at what they can do to encourage clergy to take care of themselves physically. What follows are some scattered ideas to encourage judicatories to begin to think creatively in this area.
First, it would be a positive first step to occasionally have some simple health screening available at the gatherings. Even as basic as inviting a parish nurse to offer blood pressure tests, body mass index, carotid artery scans, etc.
Weight loss contests could be set up — sort of based on the biggest loser TV program.
Congregations could compete with each other to see who could come up with the best health maintenance program. The Lutherans (ECLA) have encouraged a denomination wide program to lift up great congregational programs for health.
A health checkup list could be developed and sent to the sessions of the congregation listing some basic practices — exercise, sufficient sleep, healthy eating practices, etc. that the pastor and session could take and then talk to each other about how they are doing.
Some of the programs offered by the Board of Pensions to encourage good health can be identified for the churches so that they can take advantage of them. There are programs on weight loss, smoking cessation, chronic illness management, etc.
A clergy health fair could be arranged with a series of workshops, screenings, etc. as both a way of informing the clergy and emphasizing the importance of caring for their bodies.
Keeping the bodies healthy within the Body of Christ is one facet of living out our faith.