get rid of all ideals of community and self

…we, who are many, are one body in Christ…

Romans 12:5

Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

What is meant here is that we must drop all the idealizations we have of church, of others, and of ourselves. That’s not easy to do, nor does it even make sense to us. Aren’t we supposed to hold to ideals for ourselves and others? Maybe on a certain basic level, yes. We have to get up in the morning, fulfill our responsibility during the day, care for our family, take care of ourselves, etc. What is spoken of here is something else. Expecting others to measure up to some ideal we have. Or turning away when people don’t.

We’re all in this together, for better and for worse, indeed one body in Christ. None of us measure up to ideals we impose on ourselves. What God has in heart and mind will prevail. But it will be worked out in this life only if we’re committed to hanging in together through thick and thin.

What we need to be about is simply committed to following Christ together. Realizing that throughout that will be the necessary confession of sin, caring for each other, even putting up with each other at times. But believing that God is going to do it, is in the process of conforming us together into the likeness of God’s Son.

In and through Jesus.

back to the nuts and bolts

א Aleph

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the LORD.
Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart—
they do no wrong
but follow his ways.
You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.
Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying your decrees!
Then I would not be put to shame
when I consider all your commands.
I will praise you with an upright heart
as I learn your righteous laws.
I will obey your decrees;
do not utterly forsake me.

Psalm 119:1-8

Every day, and particularly at the start of each week after a kind of short sabbatical from normal life, one has to remain where the structure and life is found in Christ, Scripture. Psalm 119 is a fascinating psalm, especially from the Hebrew.

It’s interesting in this first section how the ideal is presented, and then how the psalmist seems to lament that they don’t live up to it. While their heart is set on that, they find themselves not entirely living up to it. And yet that ideal remains embedded in their heart and mind, so that they continue to pursue it.

It is interesting too, to note that there’s ongoing learning. It’s not like we know it all, not at all. But our learning and endeavor is with the goal of obedience to God, specifically to God’s word.

God’s word, Scripture is the primary way God speaks to us. But through that, God speaks to us in other ways as well. Scripture opens the door to learning from God. We need to walk through that door and find our way into God’s way for us. In and through Jesus.

falling short of the ideal

Luke Timothy Johnson in his excellent book, Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church: The Challenge of Luke-Acts to Contemporary Christians, makes what might seem to be an odd suggestion, but I think is true to life. He thinks that the narratives of what happened in the story of the church in Acts are idealistic, not in the sense that it did not happen that way, but in the sense that the narrative presents a picture which does not necessarily take into account everything (my own words in expressing my understanding of the point Johnson was making). Of course the narrative does bring up some notable matters which depart from the ideal such as Ananias and Sapphira, and the sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas. The point is that the Spirit saw fit to bring out aspects of what God was doing. All of that should be taken in context of all the rest of scripture and indeed of life. We know God moves through broken jars of clay, cracked pots. And that there is no person (apart from Jesus himself) or community which has arrived.

The idea of falling short of the ideal does not at all mean we should simply shrug off the possibility of really living out the truth as it is in Jesus, or that living God’s will is not attainable in this life. Actually this idea rather should be an encouragement to us. That in spite of our weaknesses, and at times, even sins, which we do need to confess and turn away from, that in spite of everything, God is at work in us to bring out nothing less than his will. That indeed we are God’s workmanship, or handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works.

This idea doesn’t give us a license to sin since we will fall short anyhow. It just goes to show that the break out and break through of new life in this life will often be messy and at times seem weak at best. And yet God is at work to make something beautiful both for the long term as well as for where we live now. Jesus is made known even through people like us, who indeed haven’t arrived.

And so we go on as we are, as God works to remake us in Jesus, and brings out the beauty of Jesus even through us together in him for the world.

limitations

I work at RBC Ministries and have begun to daily post the reading from Our Daily Bread on my Facebook page. Yesterday’s post has me thinking along the lines of what I’ve been thinking on lately, sort of forced to do so, actually, by circumstances.

What happens when one’s own ideal of what should be is utterly shattered? I’m thinking of a church context, though more specifically of relationships between believers. What happens when someone in your mind undoubtedly sins against you, you wait a few days (maybe too long), hoping they might repent, but finally you lovingly confront them, and they remain set in their way? I am not referring to online stuff, but in person, though it could pertain to any relationship which is in public.

Yes, we need to strive to obey Jesus’ commands. And we need to consider carefully both their context and the context we are in. All of that, prayerfully. That should be our goal. But we may need to keep in mind limitations we all have, remaining in prayer.

An openness to what we can learn from an ordeal may open up to us ways that we can do better in love. Ways that may have been offensive to another. I can’t help but think of hardness of heart. We all suffer from it to some extent at least at times, I’m afraid. Certain times in our lives it may be an issue that the Lord is going to make evident, even if to others, but in time hopefully to ourselves. That is why in love we may need to simply accept what we think is wrong in a given context. Provided we continue to pray for ourselves and the person involved. “Love covers over a multitude of sins,” but it does so with the goal of the best outcome for everyone. Sometimes it’s not necessary to bring up a matter, we can simply forgive and go on. Other times we may need to, and so we prayerfully do. And if there is still no repentance, we may need to follow through on the steps our Lord gave us, for their own good, and for the good of the church. Or in certain cases we perhaps should back off. In those cases maybe the Lord is trying to teach us something. And while what they did may indeed be wrong, and sinful, they may be right in ways we don’t understand. We may make the judgment that we should humble ourselves and acquiesce to their terms. Even when we don’t believe they did entirely well in what they did. Grace is what we’re to live in and embody. But it is a responsible grace. It forgives, but it also wants the ideal which is found in scripture.

Coming from a more Anabaptist perspective (and I’m sure this thought doesn’t belong to that perspective alone, among Christians) I like practices routinely carried out when need be as a matter of course. If I sin against a brother or sister I’m to repent to them, and they’re to forgive me. And other matters Jesus mentions in scripture such as blessing those who curse us. But it is evident that this ideal is not accepted by everyone. At the same time we all need to work through difficult matters. Yes, in our heart we need to forgive others. And we need to think of the very possible best in regard to what has happened, trying to put the best construction on their own action or words which was hurtful. In the end, we want to do what our Lord has commanded, but we do so imperfectly, to be sure. As those who must submit to the Lord’s judgment in the end, on everything. Thankful for his grace to us in and through Jesus, meant for each other. That he is at work in everything for our good. Together in Jesus in all of this, for the world.