Monday, August 2, 2010

Time, or What it takes to realize the goal of all human history

This week during the Art Project we're going to be talking with the kids about how genuine community--togetherness that reflects God's best intentions for his people--takes time.  And after reading Acts chapter six, I'm reminded why.

Because sometimes its really hard to be together.

Acts 1-5 recounts the miraculous, surprising birth of the newly redefined "people of YHWH"...the ekklesia, the called-out ones.  It's big and it's bad. People are speaking in languages they've never heard before, sick folks are being healed left and right, people are joyfully selling property and sharing everything they've got with the poor among them, formerly timid disciples are handily trouncing the religious "Ivy Leaugers" in public debate...who wouldn't want to be a part of something so dramatic, so radical,!

Then Acts 6 happens, and we're reminded that though this new movement is so earth-shattering in its genesis, it's still made up of normal, every day folks like me.  See, already, in spite of the fact that Jesus was pretty clear that the reconstituted people of God had absolutely nothing to do with whose blood was running in your veins, division had arisen (if it had ever gone to sleep) between the Hebraic and Hellenistic Jews that had decided to follow Jesus.   Mind you, at this point the division was probably less about religious custom (being that these Hellenists were probably Gentile converts to Judaism, or at the very least "God-fearers" [converts minus the more "painful" requirements for conversion], who, following THAT conversion, were beginning to walk in Jesus' way) and probably almost exclusively about ethnicity.  This wasn't a "new" division.  It was one imported from the past.  When we come to Jesus, and I mean WE, old patterns of relating tend to come with us...

Not only had this division, imported from pre-conversion Israel, tagged along, but we find that a complaint has been voiced by the Hellenists that as the church, under the direction of the disciples (see Acts 5), has been redistributing the money brought by its members to be shared among the poorest among them, certain ones of the Hellenists' widows have been overlooked in that redistribution.  Luke gives us no reason to think that this overlooking is a simple mistake...he leaves us to assume that there is some measure of intention in this overlooking, and that ethnicity is at the heart of it.  So not only has this anti-Jesus division found fresh life in the incredibly young community, but so has the tendency for us to provide for the needs of those most like or closest to us, to the detriment of those with whom we feel some "natural" division.

(I won't touch it now, but it'd be very interesting to study the role of the disciples in their response about the priority of scripture study and prayer to "waiting tables" a noble defense of their apostolic role? or is it an excuse to get out of a spot they got themselves in to?  Remember that chapter 5 seems to assign them the role of redistribution.  And then to think that Stephen, one of the men chosen for the less important task of "waiting tables" is actually the first Christian martyr, and all the debate that will rage among the apostles themselves about the place of Gentiles and Gentile converts to Judaism in the coming chapters...I said wouldn't touch that now!)

What I'm seeing in all of this is that after the joy and drama of conversion comes the difficult work of learning to live together as God's people.  After the Acts 1-5 comes Acts 6.  After the book of Acts come all the letters of Paul and John...  Becoming the people of God for the sake of the world is a difficult task that takes TIME.

But we are a people who do not respect time.  More and more we are becoming a people who expect things (including relationships) to work perfectly the first time.  We find ourselves presented insistently with an unending multitude of options.  If one isn't working, you probably just need to switch to another.  Don't like your preacher?  Google the name of a famous one and listen to his podcasts.  Don't like your husband?  Jump on Facebook and try another round with an old high school flame (or the dude that was your best friend's flame)...or just hop on one of those Christian dating services!  The glut of options available to us, while having some positives, is, for the most part, killing our ability to stick with, fight for, and truly experience Kingdom-of-God community.

What I notice is that there are lots of Christians who are willing to talk about the importance of "fighting" for our marriages, or fighting for our families, or fighting to make sure that our kids don't become homosexuals.  But there are few, it seems, who are as interested in fighting for our churches, our Jesus-families, the institution that Jesus died and rose again to create.  And I don't blame them.  Because it's not easy.  And we don't have the "blood tie" that makes the genetic family a unquestionable essential (or just makes us feel so guilty that we have to do something).

As I reflect on this, the consequence of neglect suddenly appears, simple and severe; we, in our over-land-and-sea efforts to win a single convert are in danger of making them twice as much sons of hell as ourselves.  The problem with the Pharisees and religious leaders that Jesus was in constant debate with was not that they were evil, ill-intentioned villains knowingly parading as pious saints.  It's that they were unable and unwilling to embrace and work at Jesus revelation of who God's people truly are and what they're supposed to be like together.

Time.  Community takes time.  Will we give it?  Will we see it through?  Will we keep celebrating even if sometimes if feels inauthentic or difficult?  Will we keep respecting one another as we find out how unworthy of respect we sometimes are?  Will we continue to empathize even when we feel misunderstood?  Will we be committed to doing good even when it sometimes exhausts us, or when we feel like others aren't giving as much as we are?  Will we vigorously seek to include all kinds of people, even as their addition reveals our prejudices and forces us to deal with them?  Will we respect that all of this is going to take TIME?  Maybe days...maybe weeks...maybe months...probably years.

But the end is nothing less that the what God is up to in the world.  The creation of a people who look and smell and talk and act like Jesus...together.  May we hold on and see the glory for which we labor.  He has promised to see it through, and He is faithful.

Love in Jesus, the Risen One who pleads for us to keep going,

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