Fellowship (of Presbyterians et al.) in the Kingdom God

 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:9-21

Saturday night in worship at LNPC we gathered around this scripture and talked about times we had experienced these things in real life.  Mutual affection, weeping when someone weeps and rejoicing when they rejoice, extending hospitality to strangers or overcoming evil with good.  We shared a story, each of us, of just one time when we had been part of one of these things, and what it felt like.  And then we looked at a whole list of human needs/values that we all share, which also characterize life in the Kingdom of God, and we circled the ones we had experienced in that moment.  When human life functions as God designed it, and when the Church is truly being the Church, we participate in life-affirming interaction with one another. There is trust, joy, connection, integrity, mourning, compassion, clarity, contribution, and authenticity.  And we were designed by God to thrive in this way, to share in God’s purposes when we experience and contribute toward these things in the world, living into the wholeness we each need in our very core. 

This scripture text presents an impossibly beautiful picture of what life in the Kingdom of God is meant to be, what being the Body of Christ should look like – and it is easy to read it and feel paralyzed or despairing by the stark contrast with what most of us experience regularly.  

This week the Fellowship of Presbyterians gathered in Minneapolis – 2000 people grappling through how to be church in all its nuances with our various interpretation of scriptures or understanding of faith or desired practices as communities.  Twitter was going crazy with people from the outside, desperately seeking to get a sense of the discussion, or throwing in their own snarky judgments as the days unfolded.  And, as with any such gathering, there were some things said about (and at) the event that did not contribute to wholeness or reflect God’s intention for life in the Body of Christ.

But my week was centered around a side event, “Eats & Empathy,” that was designed to help anyone – regardless of nuances in theology, experience, interpretation, emotion, etc. – to stay grounded and present, open to God and one another in the midst of the discussion.  We practiced empathy – really seeking to see and hear one another, to understand the needs and values being expressed within the words that are spoken or the actions that are taken.  And we looked at our own needs and values, grieving those that may have been unmet in the experiences of the week - such as communication, connection, respect, mutuality or security - and celebrating the beauty of these God-given needs anyway.

On Friday, our second evening, we addressed “enemy images” – those labels we use that allow us to dismiss one another, most glaringly and prominently “Liberal” and “Conservative.”  Sitting there together, a whole eclectic bunch of us, with all the enemy images we bring to the table, across from and next to these very people we’ve categorized and dismissed, or others we’ve labeled and assumed to be just exactly like us, we found ourselves experiencing solidarity, hope, shared grief, community, inspiration, the sense of understanding and being understood. 

And we could acknowledge that within this debate our denomination has been waging for 25 years, some people are really in touch with the needs for inclusion and justice and others are really in touch with the needs for integrity and faithfulness. But in truth, we all share all of these needs, and the needs themselves do not conflict.  In God’s Kingdom there is integrity, inclusion, faithfulness and justice.  In God's Kingdom all people are made whole and God is glorified.  So no matter which needs any of us gathered there tend to hold more dear, we found ourselves able together to grieve the way we fall short of these things as the church.  And at the same time we were freed to celebrate together the beauty of what we are called to as the Body of Christ and the foretaste we glimpse of eternity when we experience them here and now.

On Saturday night, when our tiny rag tag group of Presbyterian Jesus followers in all our weakness and humanity left our church worship service, we were filled with hope.  Holding in front of us these ridiculously full charts of qualities of life in the Kingdom of God that we’re evidently regularly part of - often without realizing it – and feeling the significance of what we had shared the night before on behalf of the larger Church, we were profoundly aware that this is indeed the Body of Christ.  And that we are indeed individually members of one another.  And I, for one, am so very, very grateful to be part of such a holy and mighty undertaking.  Thanks be to God.

(For more on the Fellowship of Presbyterians, Romans 12, and being the Body of Christ, see last week's entry: Living Sacrifice)

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