“This is my body, broken for you.”
I Cor. 11:24
The above verse is part of the words of institution– spoken prior to Holy Communion. I cannot hear or read those words without welling-up a bit. In an odd sort of way they relate to my spiritual journey this weekend, and to the spiritual journey of my life–and perhaps the lives of many of us who are Jesus-followers.
Let me tell you about my ecclesiastical weekend: On this past friday evening I went to a Lenten season fish-fry at one of the local Catholic churches, St. Mary Magdalen. I go there frequently during Lent for the friday fish dinners. It a wonderful, inexpensive meal prepared by the Knights of Columbus. Boy Scouts in uniform bus the tables and bring refills. It’s definitely a family-friendly setting. Big Catholic families of all ethnicities are present, plus a good smattering of senior citizens–people who appreciate a good meal, cheap. I suspect that the yuppies and more affluent types eschew the fish-frys for “fine-dining” experiences. Beer and wine are available for purchase and 50-50 drawings are part of the festivities. Thankfully, there is a scarcity of the sanctimonious trappings one would find at an Evangelical event. Father Ed sits by the door in a wheelchair presiding over the ticket sales. I was too late for the blessing, but I suspect that he or someone said one. Some of the table-talk that evening was about the election of Pope Francis. The new Pope seems to reflect what’s best about the Church of Rome–social justice, ethnic diversity, the sanctity of life and a concern for the poor. My background is partially Roman Catholic and so being part of that world a few days a year is great.
On Saturday evening I went to a home church. This group falls into an increasingly popular genre called “organic” or “simple” church–typically, groups of 10-25 Jesus-followers who meet in homes. Everyone contributes to the worship and discussion per Paul’s directives in 1st Cor. 14:26. I started doing organic church about two years ago. I went at first out of curiosity, but I was immediately captured by how “real” the meetings were compared with the often staged artifice of big institutional church. Because I do not have much real family, this group quickly became my family. They offered me love, emotional support, as well as financial support for my mission trips. They were even open to my often not-so-conventional spirituality and ramblings on various topics.
However, this particular faction of our original group I hadn’t met with in about five months. There were two splinterings of our little group last year in just a few months period. There were disagreements about the size the group had grown to, the times to meet, and style of worship, etc–and for me it was like my family was breaking up. I didn’t react well–typically me, when feeling rejected or abandoned, I get angry. Myself and a few others formed a smaller, spin-off group. There was a lot of emotional pain for everybody involved. Per my friend Stan Hahn’s dictum: “Big churches have big church problems; small churches have small church problem’s.” It took me few months but I got used to the idea that perhaps this painful church multiplication was in fact God’s plan all along. One day I recalled something I’d read about the Roman legions under Titus destroying the Temple in 70 A.D.–they burned it to the ground leaving no stone on top of another. It was the end of Temple worship, and Jews scattered all over the known world in this the second diaspora–but everywhere Jews went there were pre-Christians. In other words, the Church was spread thru a mega-tragedy for the Jewish people.
Sunday morning, I decided that I would do “high church”–somewhere I hadn’t worshipped in almost a year, St. Andrew’s Chapel–the domain of the formidable, Reformed theologian R.C. Sproul. I went to R.C.’s church almost every sunday for about two years, shortly before I discovered the home/organic church. Concurrent with St. Andrews, I attended a small charismatic church 4 or 5 times. It met in a warehouse still being used as a machine shop down by the airport. It was interesting, but overall the style of worship was a bit distracting, and the folks lying on the floor praying their extremely repetitive prayers seemed excessive. Now at the same time I’m doing all these diverse churches in the morning I’m still attending Northland–A Church Distributed, every sunday evening. I’ve attended Northland now for going on 20 years, and I went again this past sunday evening, the Catholic fish-fry, the home church and high church not withstanding. When I started going to St Andrew’s I found it a refreshing contrast to the overly casual atmosphere of Northland, a church that is part of the latest fad in American Christianity, the non-denominational urban megachurch–church’s heavily marketed, “worship” that’s mostly entertainment and sermon’s that are topical. St. Andrew’s worships liturgically and strives for an atmosphere of holiness. Dr. Sproul’s preaching is expository, as opposed to topical. He spent over a year just preaching thru the book of Matthew, a few verses per week. To me, an exposition of the Gospel by a learned teacher, teaches me more than the weekly lessons on better Christian living offered by topical preachers.
Anyway, this particular sunday morning high church was what I needed–three traditional hymns by a 50-person choir clad in scarlet and gold, a chamber orchestra and pipe organ, Schubert’s Sanctus, the Lord’s Prayer sung, and a good teaching by Dr. Sproul on Luke 8:40-56. The service ran over by 7-min; normally, one could set their watch by it lasting precisely one hour and ending exactly at noon. Seventy percent of the men wear suits and 10% women wear hats or head coverings in deference to Scripture. When Dr. Sproul reads the text for the day all stand and he reminds us: “THIS IS THE VERY WORD OF GOD AND WE WILL TAKE IT AS SUCH.” Sometimes I need to hear that. I won’t be going back there this sunday but I will from time to time. Sometimes I need to be more in touch with church tradition and a focus on the holiness of God.
Anyway, saturday evening at the home church folks seemed happy to see me again, and I felt some healing taking place. The worship was sweet and the discussion was good. I felt a bit sheepish for not having brought anything to discuss. However, during the discussion Matt brought up the story of the woman who anoints Jesus’ head with expensive perfume at the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany (Mark 14:3). The point that struck me was that the alabaster jar had to be broken in order to pour the perfume out. What a powerful metaphor–Jesus had to be broken for His essence, His Spirit, to be released into the world–and so it often is for us as well. The image of the broken alabaster jar and the very expensive perfume being poured extravagantly on Jesus’ priceless head stunned me. I couldn’t get it out of my thoughts. He gives us beauty for ashes and we who sow in tears reap with songs of joy (Ps. 126). As is typical, my hyperactive mind went off a wandering, and at some point the thought occurred to me that perhaps the Church, the Lord’s Body, had endured all the breaking that would ever occur and that in spite of all its apparent imperfections and rampant, seemingly irreconcilable diversity, it is perhaps perfect. In Satan’s Top Ten Tricks, I lament about how fractured Christ’s Body is and how Satan seems to be winning the war on the church at present. Maybe I was wrong; maybe the diversity is exactly what the Lord wants. Anyway, it gave me something to think about. In some odd way the Church has been spread thru schism and apparent heresy, and I suspect He wants our attention, our love and our service to others far more than a singularity in beliefs. It is HIS church after all, and He puts to good use the devil’s schemes. And so my perception of His Church’s continued brokeness may just be an illusion.
Right at the moment I’m feeling a bit more broken than usual myself. As I’ve mentioned before in various blogs, depression (despair, acedia, etc) is sort of my default-setting and it doesn’t take a whole lot to stir those feelings up, and a few days ago I received some very unwelcome news. I was told that I would not be going on this year’s mission trip to Scotland. The past two summers a group of us from Northland’s Celebrate Recovery program have spent 10-days living in a Teen Challenge drug rehab ministering to the residents and doing some outreach in the local communities. Perhaps, it was greedy of me to want to go a third time, and I do realize that God may have something else in mind for me–hopefully, something far better. Nevertheless, the news was like a punch in the gut, but the rejection not totally unexpected. I know that the person in charge of the mission trip doesn’t like me. Part of what I do for a living as a counselor is read people and their unconscious communication, and it has been apparent to me for many years that I am not, to say the least, one of this lady’s favorite people. She offered “reasons” for why I was being disqualified but they were pretty lame and it boils down to she just doesn’t like me, and that far outweighs the skills I have to offer or my heart for the mission. I’ve acquired a dozen or more Facebook friends in Scotland whose lives I keep up with, and a few said they were looking forward to seeing me again this year. It will make me sad to tell them I won’t be coming this summer. Another friend said that excluding me from the trip “defies logic” and I tend to agree.
Like the home church, Celebrate Recovery has been like a family for me. I’ve been a fixture in the men’s codependency group almost every friday night for nearly three years. I won’t be going back for a while, and perhaps not ever. That makes me kind of sad but I need to cool down and pray about things. Actually, being excluded from the trip was just the last straw. I’ve been feeling for several months that my role there was marginalized, and that the folks running the program have major power/control issues, and are not really open to what I have to offer. Perhaps because I’m a professional counselor I feel like a threat to their power. Or maybe it’s because I don’t always march to the same drummer as everyone else. I don’t really know. But I do know that members of groups like CR and home churches run the risk of becoming idolatrous, cultish and clique-ish. There is a tendency to worship the group or the program and minister mainly to each other and forget Who we are there to serve and honor.
So I’m mourning a little right now–but I have to consider that this further “breaking” is just another part of the Lord’s plan. The sadness I’m feeling over losing another part of my family undoubtedly contributed to my reaching out this weekend–and this is a good thing. His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. And He ministers to us thru our pain and breaking and not just because of it.
“. . .do this in remembrance of me.”
I Cor 11:24