14 August 2016

Nympha: Make This House Your Own

"Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house." (Colossians 4:15)

O Lord our God
who has brought us together,
turned this hodge-podge mix of people
into a family -
take this house, we pray,
and make it your own.

May this be a place
that strangers call home;
an open door
to the far and the near,
the lost and the seeking,
sinners and righteous,
Gentile and Jew.

May this be the place
where we can show our true face:
be ourselves without fear,
confess and find forgiveness,
be radically accepted
into bottomless grace.

May this be the place
where we learn to love each other
as you have loved us,
where enemy becomes brother
and stranger becomes friend.

O Lord our God
who has brought us together,
take this house, we pray,
and make it your own.

Save us from the temptation
of making it a fortress,
fenced off from the world,
from which we defend
our values and beliefs.

Save us from the temptation
of shutting ourselves in
and keeping for ourselves
what we were meant to share.

Save us from the temptation
of trying to create
a perfect kingdom here on Earth
at the cost of the broken
whom you have come to heal.

O Lord our God
who has brought us together,
take this house, we pray,
and make it your own.

May it be a refuge
from the storm of persecution,
a safe haven
in a world that's torn apart,
a rock for the castaways to cling to.

May it be a greenhouse
where your children can grow
ever deeper in the fullness
of your love and your mercy,
bringing fruit to feed
those who hunger for you.

May it be the table
at which we are strengthened,
prepared for the task you have set us to do,
from which we carry your gifts
to a waiting world.

O Lord our God
who has brought us together,
take this house, we pray,
and make it your own.


[14. August 2016]

A prayer for a church...
In the early church, Christians met in each other's houses. More well-off people offered their houses to be used as meeting places. Nympha is one such "benefactress" who opened her house - probably quite a challenge, because the Church was and is truly a "hodge-podge mix of people", not all of whom would have been pleasant house guests.

Writing this poem, I had to think about what the Church is, or is meant to be. I believe that Jesus came to reconcile us to God and to each other, to heal broken relationships and begin reconciliation in this broken world. Jesus came to save everybody. The consequence of belonging to Jesus is, then, that I will be part of a very mixed group of people (the church), PLUS I have the call (together with this community) to bring reconciliation and the love of God into the world - to people who are different from me and whom I might prefer to avoid. A major challenge in the early church, for instance, was a cultural / racial one: overcoming the gap between Jews (the "original Christians" were all Jews) and non-Jews (Gentiles).

I believe the church is meant to be a community, like a new sort of family - but a family that is open to all, not just self-obsessed and closed off to strangers, or so tight-knit it's hard for people to get into. (Sometimes, I've realised, we Christians have developed a kind of language that non-Christians don't understand. We talk about the Gospel but our explanations make no sense because we don't speak the way non-Christians do; we throw around vocab that they don't really know the meaning of - and maybe we don't know the meaning either!) I have experienced church most strongly there where I was a visitor and felt completely adopted into the community. E.g. this April I visited an Anglocatholic church with a friend (beautiful church service with incense!! Loved it! Will go again!). In the prayers, people from the congregation were mentioned by name. When the priest found out that my friend and I are getting ordained later this year, he said they would pray for us. That's what I call Church. It doesn't matter whether your worship service has a band or incense or flashing lights or whatever, but it matters that we care for each other as the worldwide Christian family, no matter whether we know each other "personally" or not.

Another thing about church as family is that it is open for all. We need to learn to accept all the way Jesus accepted us - no matter the background, political leaning, race, "sinfulness", etc. The great miracle of the Church is that it is the place where "enemy becomes brother / and stranger becomes friend". Our old enmities or boundaries that we had in our "worldly thinking" no longer should count! Because Jesus wants us to love others the way He loved us.

And that is a challenge! But I believe that is what Jesus is calling the church to... not just to celebrate our salvation in comfortable groups of like-minded people we get along well with, but to go where it's dirty and invite more people into the embrace of Jesus, and to celebrate together with people who are different from us - an even greater celebration, don't you think?

One more thing: Church is where we can "show our true face". I realise that is not at all easy. Churches are often the first place we expect to be judged in. Why, though? Why has the church become a place where we feel the need to "fake ourselves"? I'm not saying there should be no reaction to sin in the church - where we hurt each other or make choices damaging for ourselves and others, it is right for the church (and with that I mean the people, the members, the "family", not "church leadership") to step in and say something. But any correction should be done carefully and in love. The Church needs to be a place where we are not afraid to be ourselves, where we can also be open about our mistakes and sins. I think a first step is to take away the pressure to be "perfect"... then also, to take away the fear of being shamed. Best way to do this is precisely by being the loving family I believe the Church is called to be. We are not the perfect elected, but people growing towards Jesus - and all supporting each other on this way, not punishing each other for every slip-up.

For me, the Church is the community of reconciled people who have come into touch with Jesus and want to follow Him. We are all at different stages of our walk with Him, we all come from different backgrounds, we might even be "natural enemies" if not for Jesus. It is a challenge to overcome old assumptions and old boundaries, but that is a first thing Jesus calls us to when He calls us into the Church. The second thing is the call that goes to the Church as a whole: we are to be messengers of reconciliation. I believe we do that by living the love of Jesus (by fulfilling the first calling of accepting each other within the church) and by sharing it in the world through word and deed. That is my personal "ecclesiology" for you, in a nutshell... ^^;

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