I have been thinking. Something about the way we do our "meetings" as a church group seems strangely out of date and irrelevant and counterproductive, and we are one of the more contemporary and relevant churches in this city. Some say the space we are in is not so good. Some say the day and time might be an issue. Some say we are too much unto ourselves and not global enough. I don't know. There is some truth in all of those concerns, but they also carry some hint of excuses. I don't know exactly what we can change, but I do know that just tweaking the location or the time or putting out more info about other ministries is not addressing the core issues. And I don't even know what the core issues are. One thing I do know is that deliberate gatherings to learn, pray, worship, be changed and turn ourselves to God with vulnerability in the presence of others are very important. But, hmmm, beyond that, I don't know exactly what it should look like at this point in time in this place for this group of people.
I was reading Ezekiel 43 and 44 today. There are some very distinct rules and principles God sets forth regarding space and place: the sacred and the common, the clean and the unclean are not to be confused. I am used to this way of thinking and talking because it was how I was raised, but I know there is more. The Temple is a picture of something much greater, not merely a set of floor plans and practices to keep us on good terms with a rather picky God.
Tell the people of Israel all about the Temple so they'll be dismayed by their wayward lives. Get them to go over the layout. That will bring them up short. Show them the whole plan of the Temple, its ins and outs, the proportions, the regulations , and the laws. Draw a picture so they can see the design and meaning and live by its design and intent. This is the law of the Temple: As it radiates from the top of the mountain, everything around it becomes holy ground. Yes, this is law, the meaning of the Temple. (from Ezekiel 43, The Message)
If our gatherings and activities do not show people how to live by their very design and intent, they are lacking. If they do not let the glory of God radiate through them and make everything holy ground, they have become obstacles instead of inviting places. There needs to be something more fluid and invitational, less stop and start, more avenues for how one can participate, and less heavy tasks that a small group of leaders do to make it all happen. And this Sunday, one day a week thing is just strange, don't you think?
There are many that are connected to us who do not come to our meetings. I don't know what to do with that. I only know that the meetings are not the standard to measure who we are and what we do. But where do we look for guidance? We have the examples of the Temple, the meetings of the early Christians in the New Testament, and centuries of church history, both catholic and protestant. In all of these, there are good elements and bad. Each system, or rather group of people using a particular system, was rife with problems (just read some of Paul's letters if you think that modeling ourselves after the New Testament church is the answer to all our struggles).
But amidst all the questions, there are some things that I know are true.
1. We must hear what God is saying to us. His message is unchanged (come to ME), but how it is spoken and shown and lived is different in every culture and time and instance.
2. Nothing is sacred or unchangeable except God himself. Everything else can be tossed out or modified or burned to the ground with little real consequence.
3. Just because it has been done that way before and there have been some good results does not mean anything.
4. Where Jesus rules, there is life, and life is growth which means things are always changing.
The one line that stuck with me from the film, Prince Caspian, was from the mouth of Aslan: "Things never happen the same way twice." And that is a wonderful thing, because it means we have to rely on God's guidance in every situation instead of history or our experience or knowledge. There is never a formula, a ritual, a liturgy, nor a set pattern to God's interaction with us. He is infinitely creative and ingenuitive and will always surprise us with a new nuance of his character if we will have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Let everything around and in this living temple, this body and soul sitting here in Montreal, become holy ground because I have responded to what God has shown me and invited the glory of God to radiate down.
This is a picture of my new office, where the cats and I sit and think deep thoughts.