Lesson 12: Now

I suspect most people think the role of the Church is to offer the means of grace made available by Christ Jesus. They associate this primarily with local gatherings where people worship but also with the larger, even international institutions to which these belong. Some might also speak of the Church as a theoretical body of all those who profess some kind of belief in Jesus.

For the most part, this idea of Church has little or nothing to do with that found in the gospels. The evangelists are talking about communities, not institutions. It is very clear in their accounts of the resurrection that the promise is not only that Jesus lives on, but because of that, his community does as well. If Jesus is still present, they can still gather as friends to continue his mission. And that mission has nothing to do with enlarging an institution, but rather, on offering more and more people a satisfying way of living together with God and each other.

The Church is certainly a gathering that is enriched by her worship of Jesus, but too often it appears that she is a Jesus’ admiration society. She worships Jesus and respects his values, but has no intention of joining a group that follows him. The picture of the Church in the New Testament, on the other hand, is a community that represents Jesus in the world. She is salt and light, an example of what it is to live as God’s people.

The Church’s job is not so much about teaching people precepts about good living, but showing that it is possible to live by them in the present. People pretty much know what is involved in the Kingdom of God. The Bible describes that community from start to finish: the peaceable kingdom, the just society, and the beloved community. Jesus accepts the community described in the law and the prophets, perhaps presenting its spirit a little more radical than is generally understood.

Just about anyone knows the gospel community is supposed to care for one another, to share what they have freely, to forgive those who hurt them, and even to love their enemies. The gospels describe this as feeding and clothing the most insignificant member of the community, caring for the sick among them, and visiting those imprisoned for standing up for the community’s values.

Jesus’ call had more to do with timing. He proclaimed the Kingdom had started because he is present. It is time to go beyond respect to love for one another. In Jesus’ community, all are beloved.

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