And praise the God who mapped the stars out in the sky
Gather ‘round with those who love and sing
God is our King, God is our King
No one should be left out.
Not sure of the author of these lyrics…but it’s a great song that my good friend, Rev. Troy Bronsink (PCUSA), Director of the Hive in the Northside neighborhood of Cincinnati, sang at my Installation as pastor at Fleming Road UCC.
Oftentimes I hear the words “vision”, what’s our vision as a church, an organization, or a community. From the church’s perspective, folks want to know if our vision will help us grow numerically or spiritually. I’m not sure if that should always be the goal. But, I do believe that the church is called to be an “alternative community” of personal and corporate growth bringing us towards a deeper sense of self, others, and God awareness. Developing spiritual disciplines such as meditation, Sabbath rest, and study are important. So, is moving “outside” of the church walls or what makes us comfortable and towards the work that God is doing/being in the world around us.
There’s a passage in the book of Hebrews in the New Testament of the Bible that talks about Jesus going “outside”.
The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. 13 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 14 For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. 15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
– Hebrews 13:11-16, TNIV
We have a high priest, Jesus, who represents us in his being as Son of God at the very center of God in the Trinity. This Jesus also represents to us God in his humanity. It was Jewish custom to offer a sacrifice of gratitude to God and to atone for their sins. Jesus pays the ultimate sacrifice by giving up his own life on our behalf.
In my faith tradition, we are called towards this God through the actions of Jesus. Jesus represents us in his birth, life, death, and resurrection. He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We also are born through him, live through him, die with him, and are resurrected into new life through him.
We are also called to follow Jesus wherever he goes. In his death, he was crucified outside the city gates. Jerusalem was where the Temple was, where Israel believed that the Presence of God dwelt. Yet, Jesus was, the very Presence of God in and to humanity, was killed outside on the city dump, in the messy dirty world that Jesus came to love.
In his death, we are called to also go outside. We are called to follow him outside the church walls into the world around us, oftentimes to places where we may not want to go. Places that are filled with the stench of death and darkness. Yet, we are called there.
It’s scary, it’s uncomfortable, and it doesn’t seem like this crazy world outside the church walls is very safe. It may cost us everything. Even our lives…yet, we are called to go there.
When we do go, we find that God is at work even in the midst of death. This is a God who brings new life where it seems like there is only death. Once outside, bearing our identity as Christ followers and out of a community of like-minded folks (the church…a community of persons, not simply a stone building), we find ourselves coming alive. It makes us want to praise God in wonderful ways, with our lips, with our actions, with our very lives. It makes worship real and not self-serving. It gives us vision for the church and “spiritual growth”.
Friends, this church, Fleming Road UCC, is experiencing growth! Growth that comes out of the death of Christ that leads to resurrection! I am seeing it every day as we see folks go “outside” into their neighborhoods. I also see us doing this in mission trips, projects, and simply practicing “neighborliness” or “honoring” friendships. Yes, this growth does cause change, it’s hard to understand or wrap or mind around, but if we are willing to release ourselves to the God who loves us unconditionally, we can experience life as it was meant to be lived!
May we remember these words from Galatians 2:20:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (TNIV)
Our identity lies in Christ who gives us life, and ignites agency within us to be the people we’ve always wanted to be, the people we were created to be. May we remember that always and not forget to “do good”, to share with others, and to be the Church to a world that isn’t looking for another building, but needs life transforming relationships that point towards a life transforming God!
Let’s “Go Outside”!