Things are different today. It just didn't seem right not to acknowledge that little elephant in the room; that said, I don't want to linger on that point. Today is an exciting day for our community - it's the first day in the next chapter of our church.
Keep this notion of unity and fellowship in the back of your mind as we go through today, would you?
Imagine for a moment that you live on a piece of land out in the country, and at the edge of your property is a small stream. You've always wondered where that stream leads and had a desire to study it so that you might come to know every inch of it, so one day you begin follow it. You examine every rock and bend, every fish and frog as you wade through the babbling brook. Over time, the stream gradually becomes deeper and wider; the water begins to move faster and faster and then, to your surprise, it develops into a full blown river with a mighty current. You continue, more resigned now than ever to explore and know this changing body of water. Ever deeper, ever wider the river becomes; the once calm waters now roar over falls and swirl into eddies with a force that would humble even the most confident of explorers. Eventually, the river opens into a gulf, which flows into a massive body of water, an ocean of unfathomable depths that spans the horizon in both directions. Overwhelmed, you stare out at the seemingly endless body of water and recognize that no amount of examination or exploration is going to produce an ultimate understanding of what was once merely a stream. The more seek, the more you come to know, but the further you get and the deeper you go the more you recognize just how much there truly is to know about this body and, consequently, how much you truly don't know about it.
I think following Jesus very closely resembles this process. For me, the deeper I go in my faith journey, the more I recognize just how much there is to know about God. In a very real sense, the more I learn, I realize just how little I actually know. From my experience, this is where there's sort of a breakdown in a lot of churches - any sort of recognition in our limitations to truly understand God is often times perceived as faithlessness, a lack of conviction, or agnosticism. I imagine many of you have experienced this first hand or at least seen it. The unfortunate consequence of this is that often times people seem to turn to more a more absolute, concrete approach to Christianity because, well, it feels like a safer path. Ironically, though, this absolute thinking often yields a Christianity that's unsafe and unwelcoming. Absolutism, which I would argue is a human construct rooted in our own fears and insecurities, is an incredibly dangerous form of thinking, one that we've seen lead humanity down some truly dark paths throughout the history of the world. Think Nazism, Fascism, racism, and sexism - all extremist movements born out of human insecurities and our inabilities to cope with the beautiful and creative tensions that exist simply within the differences in our skin color, gender, or belief system - thus, an "I'm right, you're wrong, God's for me and against you" mentality begins to take root. Sure, these are some of the most extreme examples imaginable, but the same holds true in the day to day.
We've been asking ourselves the same question since Simplicity was born last year on September 26th; "Do we want to be the kind of church that makes a point or the kind of church that makes a difference?"
I think Richard Rohr put it brilliantly when he said, "A true mystic is always both humble and compassionate, for she knows that she does not know." Think about that for a moment; it's truly counterintuitive. What Rohr is arguing here is that knowledge alone is not the key to divine understanding; on the contrary, the path to deeper knowing of God, of wisdom and enlightenment, is found in extending grace and humility to those who may have very different thoughts or opinions than our own. True mysticism requires not only a conviction in God but also love for our brothers and sisters, most especially for those with whom we disagree. My understanding of The Gospel might be very different from Mary Beth's, and her's might be different John's or Lindsay's; not only is that not a bad thing, I would argue that these differences in understanding are essential to our ultimate understanding of Christ. Feel free to disagree; in fact, I hope some of you will, because if I'm right, perhaps through respectful dialogue we may find that it's only through our disagreement that we come to a deeper, more meaningful understanding of God.
Perhaps William Shakespeare was wrestling with this very issue when he wrote those famous words in Romeo and Juliet, "here's much to do with hate, but more with love". Assuming it's true that God is Love, substitute His name in that phrase; "here's much to do with hate, but more with God." All the misplaced anger and hatred that's permeated our existence for hundreds and thousands of years cannot overshadow the never ending, never failing love that was and is manifest in Christ. Have you ever felt something and known it to be true in your heart, but you get that logically it makes zero sense? There's a verse in the Hillsong United song, "Madness", that sings "Love makes a fool of what makes sense. You found my heart where logic ends". Beautiful! We must let go of everything we think we know about God in our heads and surrender to the faith that's in our hearts because little is ultimately accomplished by "knowing something" up here (brain), unless you consider wars, segregation, sexism and classicism as some big accomplishment. We've got to get out of our heads because real transformation takes hold when we know something in here (heart); a head approach to faith often leads to "making a point", whereas a heart approach is what permits us to "make a difference".
So much of what I love about Simplicity and what, I feel, sets us apart from a lot of other churches are our Core Values, with two in particular: God cannot be placed in a box and relationship precedes doctrine. 10 words that make up two simple yet profound core values, which, to me, perfectly encapsulate what church should be. Over the past few weeks, we've been discussing approaching our mission, Bring+Grow+Go, through a lens of questions, like "Who is God?" "Who and I?" "Where are we going?" Approaching our faith through questions, rather than absolutes, is what drives us into a deeper, more meaningful relationship with Jesus. I like to think of it in terms of mature faith. Rob Bell's asserts that "the moment God is figured out with nice, neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God." If our core value is correct, and God cannot be confined into any particular box because, as Rob Bell claims, it wouldn't be God, then that presumes we can never truly comprehend God - from this perspective, we are incapable of understanding Him due to our finite mental capacities. Remember the stream parable from earlier? As soon as we begin to feel like we've understand the stream, it flows into a river, and when we've explored the river to our satisfaction, it becomes an ocean, and so on. To some, that might be deflating, but I assure you that this is GOOD NEWS! God runs deeper and wider than we can even begin to imagine; there's never enough God. No analogy can adequately convey His majesty and no comparison can truly give us a context. The consequence of this kind of faith is recognizing that, while God is beyond our comprehension, He is all powerful and thus has the ability to right every wrong. He is very much in control, and that is good news.
We must, then, embrace Him not with the knowledge that's in our heads but with the faith that's in our hearts, which in Hebrews 11:1 is defined as "confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." - Hebrews 11:1. The beauty of this is that it allows for relationship to precede doctrine, the second core value that I believe is essential to any healthy church or human relationship. If God is too big to be placed in a box, we can love those with whom we may disagree, and we can learn from them, whether that takes the form of the strengthening of our convictions or the evolution of them - we can learn and grow from different perspectives because perhaps that's simply a side of God we've yet to come to know. The more we uncover about God, the less we ultimately know, which is why we must have faith.
One thing is for certain; the fact that we're all sitting in this room right now indicates that we're all on a journey. It could be that you're just starting out from the safety of the acreage on your land and beginning to follow the stream that runs through it, or perhaps you're years into your walk and miles downstream, swimming in an ocean of faith that runs deeper than most could even fathom. Or, perhaps you're somewhere in between. The point is that because we're all at different places on our journey, we're going to approach scripture from different perspectives and have different understandings of its meaning. Whether or not we'll all ultimately come to a consensus about some of the big questions, like "who is God", "who am I", and "what does it mean to follow Jesus" isn't necessarily what's important - what's important is that we keep asking questions and exploring our faith together, lovingly and respectfully. I'm not suggesting a watered down Christianity or a disregard for the word of God; that couldn't be further from the heart of what I believe Simplicity can become.
Life, and life to the full is what we're after, and radical grace, the kind of grace that was manifest in Jesus, is the path. A full life comes from loving and accepting everyone, especially those with whom we have the least in common, which, as we say, is always simple, rarely easy, right? We are all sinners living in a fallen world, and as such we have all been separate from God, which is a painful realization to come to terms with. It seems inconceivable to think of myself as in the same league as the person who steals, rapes, or murders; so perhaps I shouldn't. It's our inclination to justify our actions by placing ourselves next to people who we think are even more jacked up than we are - rather than engage in an introspective analysis and reflect on our true selves in Christ, we often look for meaning in all the wrong places. To compare the severity of how we've sinned, to use one another as the measuring sticks for a life well lived establishes a false, human constructed Christianity rather than one created by God.
Again, ask the question: Do we want to be a church built on "tit-for tat" with an eye-for-an-eye mentality where we compare and judge one another to establish our value or do we want to be a church built on a foundation relentless grace? Do we want to be an either-or, in-or-out kind of church or a both-and, all are welcome kind of community. Do we want to make a point or do we want to make a difference?
These are the kinds of things we need to meditate on in the weeks and months to come. I know what I'd like to see, but that may not necessarily jive with what everyone else wants. And that's OK! When filtered through love, all things are possible. We don't always need to agree; in fact, it's good if there are times we don't agree - that's how growth happens. What's important is community. Fellowship. Unity.
VIDEO 2: Francis Chan Facebook talk on why he left his mega church, what he's doing now and why he's doing it. While his exact model may not be what we're going for, but it's a great way to look at church and a truly a faithful approach!
What would a body look like if everyone was using their gifts? We're about to find out.
In closing, I thought a reading from Ecclesiastes would be befitting:
"There is a time fore everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace." - Ecclesiastes 3:1-8