THE Church is a faith community governed by the love of Christ. It seeks to help people experience God and build quality relationships with each other.
As secularisation increases, paradoxically, there is also an increase in religiosity in the world. Is the Church positioned to address real human needs, promote true spiritually and build authentic faith community? Is there a new way of “being” the Church today that is faithful to Christ?
Our Church family is based on shared lives and stories. It is a hospitable place where we can feel a sense of belonging. This is a place of acceptance where diversity is expected and celebrated. In short, we open our hearts, our minds and our doors to others with different perspectives. Our fellowship is a widening circle which is expanding to minister to others. (Acts 1:8)
The alternative to the circle is walls. The problem with walls is that they not only keep other people out, they keep us in. Even when we put them up ourselves, they limit our freedom. We are kept prisoner by them.
Paul wrote about walls in his letter to the Ephesians. There were divisions within the church in Ephesus, disputes between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians, hostility between the old-timers and the newcomers. Paul urged them to put aside their disagreements and be reconciled with each other. He reminded them that Jesus came to break down the barriers that divide us.
Years ago Edwin Markham wrote a little four-line poem that points to a powerful truth:
He drew a circle that shut me out – Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle that took him in.
UMH 121 says, “there is a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea … For the love of God is broader than the measure of our mind.”
It is not God’s harshness that makes Jonah and the Pharisees angry. It is God’s mercy. It is too big, too wide, too inclusive. It is easy to spend our lives licking our own wounds and making nasty remarks about others. It is more noble to live a generous, kind and merciful life like Jesus. God’s love and care cross the boundaries and reach out to all humanity.
The movie, “A Beautiful Mind”, is based on the true story of John Nash, a mathematics professor in Princeton University. John was a brilliant lecturer who suffered from a mental illness which gave him a fertile imagination. However, the Princeton community continued to embrace him. Eventually he won the Nobel Prize.
According to the movie, at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Sweden in December 1994, he said: “I have always believed in numbers, in equations, reason and logic. After a long time of pursuit, I ask what truly is logic? Who decides reason? My quest has taken me through the physical, metaphysical, delutional and back. I have made the most important discovery of my career – the most important discovery of my life. It is only in the mysterious equations of love that any logical reason can be found. I’m only here tonight because of you. You are the reason I am. You are all my reasons. Thank you.”
‘Christianity is a sympathetic religion. Jesus is sympathetic. As God’s people, we reflect the compassion of Christ.’
John Nash found acceptance, wholeness and healing grace in the warmth of the community which supported him in spite of his handicap.
How do our Gospel and community relate to societal issues like the marked increase in divorces? How can we transcend the hesitation to care for people with Aids?
Fred Craddock tells the true story of a young man dying of Aids in the hospital. One minister came, stood out in the hall and asked the staff to open the door. Then, he yelled in a prayer. Another minister came, went into the room, and pulled a chair by the bed. She lifted his head and cradled it in her arm. She sang. She quoted Scriptures. She prayed. And he died.
Some of her friends said, “Weren’t you scared? He had Aids!” She said, “Of course, I was scared. I bet you I bathed 60 times.” “Well then, why did you do it?” And she said, “I just imagined if Jesus had gotten the call, what he would have done.”
Christianity is a sympathetic religion. Jesus is sympathetic. As God’s people, we reflect the compassion of Christ.
Some years ago, Henri Nouwen was a guest speaker at a church conference. He had dedicated much of his life to working with mentally handicapped people. He was a true servant in all he did. At this conference, Nouwen brought one of his mentally handicapped friends, Bill, up to the podium to help him with his speech. But Bill, in his nervousness, just laid his head on Nouwen’s shoulder and began to cry. At that moment, all the conference attendees were reminded of the real purpose of being church.
It is not about budgets, building programmes, or fancy sermons. Our work is to stand next to one another and provide a shoulder for weeping. There is so much hatred and competitiveness in this world – so many prejudices we dwell among – that we must proclaim a different way of life. Maybe we could carry around a little card that reads, “What Would Jesus Do?”
Christians are called to Community and Compassion which really are the foundation of true Spirituality.