Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” - Mark 3:31-33
I was excited to see this week's lectionary texts. In the Gospel we hear Jesus claim this new household based on faithfulness to God's will rather than biological and societal commitments. In 2 Corinthians we hear Paul elevate this concept to talk about our new household, one that is of the heavens, or as I read it, a household in the nature of the Triune God.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about the nature of our congregational meetings, or just simply our church. I've been thinking about Incarnation Holy Sacrament, what our purpose is as a parish, and why we even exist. Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic - with all of the changes to the way we've been in community the last year, the way we're emerging back to public worship, and the new context we find ourselves in - we have an opportunity to rethink not only what we do, but our how, what, and why. I would say this gives us a chance to re-think our practical ecclesiology, that is not our stated ecclesiology but the way we actually practice what it means to be the Church in this specific place at IHS.
What does all of this big language mean? What I'm trying to say is that I think we've been thinking about what it means to be a church in a very wrong way for a very long time. Look at Mark's Gospel. We see Jesus practicing his ministry of freedom and reconciliation, casting our blaspheming spirits, freeing people from oppression, and gathering around himself those who are living in God's way and following God's will. Jesus gathers those folks around him as a new family, a household of God. Paul tells us that in this life, God is transforming us, making in us and for us a home that can never end.
So what does it mean to be a congregation, a church, given all of that? I think it is time we think about our congregation as a gathering of God's people, those who seek to truly follow the Way of Jesus as our Teacher and our Master. We're a people being transformed to engage the world in a mission of healing, freedom, justice, and reconciliation. That transformation happens through the grace of the sacraments, given by God to the Church. We birth new members of our household in the waters of baptism. We consume our Teacher and Master Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and simultaneously we are consumed by Him. We go out into the world filled with His own Spirit, carrying the same authority that cast out demons and spirits to continue his work.
As I've said many times, church is not a social club, it is not another cultural gathering, or a group of like-minded or similar people who enjoy each other's company and so continue to meet. There's a lot of metaphors we might use instead. We are a tiny embassy of God's household or kingdom, spreading his will and his way in our lives and neighborhood. We are a sending station, a place to be fueled for our daily walk of faith.
We are those who have experienced God's forgiveness, grace, and love, who have been transformed by it, and continue to be transformed day to day as we chase after this New Life, this New Creation. We are misfits, outcasts, we are those society gives up on, rejects, discards, and cancels. Those are the kinds of folks we see gathering around Jesus, and who he continue to call today.
If we rethink the way we see ourselves as a church, it frees us to make many important changes. We can choose substance over form. We can make changes that further God's mission. And each person who is a part of our family of faith can see themselves as an ambassador of the Gospel, as an agent of the Good News of God's love. Our mindset ought not to be that just the priest, the trained, the educated, the staff members are the ones who "work" for the institution of the church. Instead each of us is an equal member of a community gathered around God's will, but each of us has different gifts, different vocations, different roles to play. And we can find freedom and strength in discerning what those gifts are and putting them to use.
None of this is esoteric. Now is the time for us to reimagine, reevaluate, and reclaim our congregational life. Now is the time for us to listen to the Spirit's call. Where is God going ahead of us and where is God calling us to go? Let us join hands and go after him as a household, the family of God.