Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Why the Church?: Proclaiming the Gospel in Stories (Acts 8 BLOGFORCE)

The Church
To Spread the Good News
A future hope realized now
All made one in Christ

Sitting down to write this I was tempted to stop with the haiku. I felt it was obvious that the church’s purpose is to spread the Good News of Christ. As the Psalmist writes “Sing the Lord and bless his name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day” (96:2). It appeared to be a simple answer to simple question. 

A simple answer, yes, but with complex application. For the Gospel, the Good News, isn’t something that fits neatly into a tweet, a picture or even a story. It is the totality of human history, the ageless chronicles of a people reaching for God and a God who dared to reach back. The Gospel is the serenity of the Solemn High Mass and the exhilaration of campers singing one more round of “Rise & Shine” to greet the morning. It is the bustle of an inner-city soup kitchen, and the shouts at the protest. It is our laughter at ourselves and bitter tears as we share a pain that is beyond speaking. It is songs of joy and loving silence. It is a story of mistakes and forgiveness, revelation and mystery. It reaches across all times and all places, and speaks to all people in all languages.

All of those experiences are the briefest summary of my own experiences with the Gospel as expressed in the Church. Just one person’s limited understanding, out of how many millions throughout the centuries!
Yet perhaps things aren’t as complicated as they appear. As a librarian and bard, I see the church’s purpose to proclaim the Gospel, the Eternal Story, as being linked with the preservation and dissemination of all stories.  

This understanding of diversity led me to the collect for Proper 16 which speaks to the intersection of unity and power. There are two main ways of looking at unity. The first is an eradication of individuality. We are united because we all look, act, and think alike. It is this understanding that repeatedly leads us to destroy knowledge, to slaughter peoples and obliterate cultures. 

The second is the total opposite, a belief that unity is the coming together and sharing of our fullest selves. It is in the second definition that we understand that unity is impossible if any one person, story or culture is lost for they were already a part of us. In this view of unity, we as a whole suffer the pain of any part, even if the part denounces our very existence.

Far too often we as the church take the first approach to unity. We limit ourselves the language of the culture we know, speaking a jargon of salvation and evil. In so doing we miss the fact that our words now have a double meaning, to such an extent that even the name of Jesus can bring forth trauma in the very people we seek the help. We often ignore this, shouting our story, again and again. Determined that if we speak the same thing a little louder, our secular power will be secure.

Yet if we consider the church as the curator of stories which carry the Gospel; we are drawn toward the second approach, a unity that embraces the fullness of creation. It is from this place that we understand that we are absolutely called to tell our story. Yet if that is the end, the Gospel dies with us. 

The thing about stories is that the good ones bring forth more stories. When we speak of the places the Gospel touches our lives, those around us will inevitably find themselves drawn to the Holy moments in their own story. If we are living into our purpose, they should feel safe enough to bring this part of the Gospel to the table. It is only then, as we listen, that the Gospel truly begins to be heard. For none of us is capable of grasping or sharing the Good News on our own. The Gospel we’ve been given is that which brings about the fulfillment of all things and by its nature summons all things to fullness. To miss anything, to ignore any story is to deny the Gospel we've been given.

Our purpose as Christians, as the Church and as the body of Christ is to proclaim the Gospel. We begin by speaking, just as the Word was once spoken to us. Then we need to listen, and let the chorus of voices of all those around us speak their stories. We must listen to the loving wisdom of the founders of our traditions, as we also listen to those in our own day who associate the traditional Christian terminology with fear and pain. We are to listen without judgment, just as we would seek to be heard.  We listen because in Christ we have all been made one.

Their stories, from all times and places, are our story. Are we ready to hear it? To speak it?

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