Last week I opened my mouth a bit with my friend Nicholas Yoda, who is the chair of our Presbytery Council, where I serve as a member as well. I was a bit frustrated. I have loved being a part of Presbytery Council, a Presbytery transformation task force, and all the good work and the wonderful story that’s emerging out of our Presbytery. But, I’ve also been frustrated. So, he asked me to do the devotion at the next Council meeting, which I did, and here are some of those thoughts.
I know, frustrations come and go, we all experience frustration in all sorts of ways in the work that we’ve been called to do as faith and community leaders.
Where was my frustration showing up? Well, in a string of meetings. Now, if we’re honest, all of us have certain thoughts and opinions about meetings. We have momentary frustrations that come and go and can be influenced our day, situations not related to those meetings, issues we are dealing with, etc. Yet, those things pass. Well, my frustration has been growing. Really, into something else: restlessness in the church and with the church.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the church. But, I often find more encouragement for the work that I do from outside the church. I also find that there is life emerging all around this city and that life is being born out of God’s heart. God also has a heart for this Presbytery and the church universal, and this same God is calling this Presbytery and church universal to enter into the work God’s doing in the city.
But, that takes a sense of movement, on my part and our part as a church.
Many of us are restless, and that’s good. That can move us towards action and relationship with others if we are willing to be uncomfortable, and even go through some suffering with those inside the church and outside the church…and within us personally and in our communities. Suffering can often be a catalyst for change, and change is central to transformation.
Over the years, when this restlessness comes around, it’s pushed to try and see what God is up in the world around me, and in the world inside of me. I’ve been able to do some work with the enneagram (https://www.enneagraminstitute.com if interested to find out more info on the enneagram). I am a “3”, so I’m wired to work towards goals and I want to see and experience transformation and growth in my life and in the work that I am a part of.
But, as I sit in some of the church meetings that I’m called to be a part of, meetings where I can look around a room and see folks that I genuinely love and want to be with, I want to see transformation happen in my life and in the bodies in which I serve, and I believe others do as well. Transformation that leads to a sense that the Kingdom of God is upon us, that God’s Presence is being made real and communities are being built on an authentic sense of self, others, and God awareness that leads us towards depth, maturity, and a sense of biblical eternal life which not only gives witness to a quantity of time, but a much more meaningful and engaging quality of life.
In the church, it seems like we focus so much on how to get folks in the door, how to fill our pews, how to “win” folks over, etc. But, is that really all that the church is called to be about? Aren’t we supposed to be more about serving the world around us and sharing with the world a God who isn’t to be confined by four walls? Is it about “winning” and how does that measure up to Jesus’ imperative for us to “lose” ourselves?
Are we simply about building up an institution, or are we genuninely interested in what seems to be on God’s heart? The Hebrew word hesed is used often in the Old Testament to describe God. It’s a relational attribute that says a lot about God’s commitment to community, compassion, and character awareness. This is a God who wants to liberate us from our false selves, our lives that can be some so focused on our image, and give us the gift of Presence that calls us to be image bearers of a God who believes in us even in our deepest pains, struggles, as well as joys and moments of bliss.
My true Self as found in and through Christ is much more than what I often experience. As I was talking to my Spiritual director recently, I realized again, that my cynicism and restlessness is born from a desire to see the church be much better than what it is, that I love this Presbytery and my city, and want to see the Kingdom of God visible in our communities. I want what’s best. Really, what I want is resurrection. But, as we are reminded in Scripture, if we are to experience resurrection, if we are to gain life, real life, not only as persons, but as persons connected together as the church, then we must suffer, we must die, in order to experience resurrection or new life. I have to realize that my role, my calling, is to lose my life and to invite others to do the same.
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,[b] will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37
These are hard words. We are called to lose our lives. That could mean losing some programs in our church, chasing after ideas that may fail, and losing our image. Yet, the good news is upon us, the whole world is opened to us. Are we willing to risk everything in order for resurrection to emerge? I am restless for resurrection, and I know many of us are as well, even if we can’t always identify it. So are the folks in our churches and in our communities. Yet, I am also reminded that this death and resurrection is a cycle that brings change which leads to this beautiful transformation in our lives and neighborhoods…and, as a friend of mine reminded me lately, change, transformation is happening and it can’t be stopped.
My prayer: May we be restless, may that restlessness move us towards deeper and more honest questions about ourselves and our communities, especially our faith communities. And, may we be moved towards growth and action within ourselves and our communities towards transformation as we lose our lives in order to experience real life.