Monday, October 27, 2008

The Born [again] Communion

On this Sunday before All Saints Day (November 1), we will conclude our examination of the Born [again] experience with The Born [again] Communion.

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. Jude 3

What is that faith for which we are to contend?

I believe in God the Father, Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
The third day he rose again from the dead:
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
I believe in the Holy Ghost:
I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
The forgiveness of sins:
The resurrection of the body:
And the life everlasting. Amen.

But who were the saints? The New Testament refers to "saints" more than fifty times. It is a term applied to Born [again] Christ-followers. It does not attach this word to super heroes with impressive resumes of super feats. It is the Bible's title for those who follow God with Simple Faith.
Believing in "the communion of the saints" means belonging to the body of Christ that not only extends around the present world (that's the catholic/universal church) but extends from this present moment to past and future Christ-followers. It refers to the union of the visible church at work building the kingdom on earth and the invisible church already at rest from their labor with our God. Without us, they are incomplete. Without them, so are we.

What GOOD Thing Must I Do?

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." "Which ones?" the man inquired. Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'" "All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?" Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

This is the universal question of humanity: What must I do? We seek to do something to correct our alienation from God, our world, others and even from our true selves. The damage is extensive and we have a gut feeling it will take a lot to pay for repairs, to right the ship again. We want to DO something.
In Jude, Matthew and Micah 6.6-8, the answer to this question is clear: God has already told us what to do. In all three (we try to follow the traditional use of multiple Scripture portions each week, often directly from the Lectionary) we find humanities stark realization that there is so much needed to right the wrong and amazed disbelief that God has worked it all out and only asks us to cooperate with His work.
With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6.6-8
So what has God told us is beneficial and required? What do the members of the Born [again] Communion do? They ACT, LOVE and WALK.
They ACT...
The first is to act. God is VERY concerned with our actions. Being one of the Born [again] Communion does not simply change "the way God sees me." It literally changes me. This is the witness of every generation of Christ-followers. Believing alters behavior.
They act...justly. A member of the Born [again] Communion holds himself or herself to a strick standard of treating others rightly, of acting the right way in all circumstances. The ideals of fairness and respect and order and decency are applied to all human interactions. We do not excuse our unrighteousness with the flip "I'm not perfect, I'm just forgiven." Being forgiven starts us on a journey of being perfected.
They LOVE...
The second is to love. We are to love God, of course, but this love is more human directed. On the heals of God's requirement to act justly, we are told to love mercy. Those of the Born [again] Communion hold others to the standard of mercy. When confronted with unrighteousness or unfairness, we give the offender the benefit of the doubt. We hold ourselves to a strict account as we act justly. But loving mercy means we try to take into account all mitigating factors that may have contributed to someone else's misbehavior.
Typically we apply justice and mercy in the reverse. When wronged we want justice to fall on the offender. When we are in the wrong, then we cry out, "Lord, have mercy on me a sinner!" God is saying that the opposite is beneficial and what he requires. We are to want mercy on the other guy or gal and judge ourselves based on the "rightness" of our actions. Only then does our character flaws and fallenness come to light and, in the light, find wholeness in Him.
They WALK...
Members of the Born [again] Communion have always understood the experience as a process. We walk with God. This is not a once-for-all experience. The first instant of belief launches us on a life-long process of growth. We have not reached the end with our conversion, we have only crossed the starting line. The goal is not to get someone to believe, but to help them believe and start becoming the children of God. We are called to make disciples, not just decisions.
They walk humbly...All that we are or ever will be is a gift from a gracious, merciful and loving Father-God. Even with its emphasis on seeing grace worked out in the life of a believer, Wesleyanism declares that all we do is really "...God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." Philippians 2.13 We are always humbly grateful.
They walk...with their God. Herein is the heart of the matter. We walk in a personal relationship with our God. We keep in step with His leading. We hold His powerful hand. And like a child dependent on its father, we must stay at it to keep pace. But as we grow and mature, the struggle to keep up is replaced with the joy of the journey. God, our loving Father, pauses at the proper places to allow us to catch up and to catch our breathe. But we are never far behind, only the length of his outstretched hand. Confidence, calm and comfort are found here.
Along the way, our faltering footfalls join the rhythm of His. We march now to His cadence. Our will more and more is synced to His. Being with God is to walk as He walks, to reflect His character more and more.
His is to lead and guide and set the pace. Ours is simple to trust Him and walk His way...

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