by Cary Youmans
Through the years, I have encountered a few individuals who share my birthday, May 23. The first was David Manweiler in the first grade. Everybody except David and I had to color two birthday cake pictures. We each only colored one, which we exchanged. Another was a young man whose parents hosted me during a college choir tour. I discovered we not only shared the same birthday, but his name was the same as my nephew, Damon. This year, I share a birthday with a different kind of "person." This year, my birthday falls on Pentecost Sunday. This year, I share a birthday with the Church.
As a soon-to-be 60 year old, please allow me to share some insights I've picked up along the way about being the Church . First, to be the Church is to be the Body of Christ. I've adopted "follower of Jesus" as the label I use to describe myself over the last several years. While I don't actively dislike the term "Christian," I find the literal definition "little Christ" too... little. I don't want to be a little Christ. I want to be a big Christ. I want to be a full measure Christ; a "pressed down, shaken together" Christ; an "Eternal Life" Christ. To me, being the Church means to be like Jesus as much as we are able. To be LIKE Jesus, we need to BECOME like Jesus. To become like Jesus, we need to follow Jesus in the path and example He shows us. THAT path begins with our baptism. Just as Jesus was Baptised with water and with the Spirit, so our journey as the Church begins with our baptism with water and with the Spirit. We are launched, as Jesus was, into our new life as the Church with God's proclamation, "This is My beloved [child]." We ARE God's beloved children, filled with God's Own Spirit.
My second insight is about acting like the Church. The evangelical tradition I began my journey in emphasized personal salvation, proselytizing, and "making disciples of all the nations." I was indoctrinated that faithful, Bible-believing Christians are to "seek and save the lost." Barely two decades ago, I was introduced to Jesus' self-described mission:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
After reading this passage from the prophet Isaiah, He then proclaimed, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He identified Himself as the One on whom God's Spirit "is upon," and anointed to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. As Christ's body in this time and place, these tasks are the Church's mission; OUR mission . We are called to liberate and recover; to proclaim good news and God's favor. It is now up to us to fulfill these scriptures in the world’s hearing.
The third insight (because I was a pastor once and 3 point messages were EXPECTED), is about loving like the Church. We have a new commandment: to love one another as Jesus loves us. I've found that this one can be a bit tricky. Most of the time, Jesus loves us like "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more." But other times He loves us like, "Get thee behind me, Satan!" Sometimes we're offered the promise of God's house with many mansions where a place is being prepared for us; other times, we're driven out with a scourge after our normal daily routine has been completely overturned. The tricky part is knowing when to love in which manner. Sometimes, we who are the Church get it wrong, and we whip when we should welcome, or welcome when we should whip. We need to be like Jesus and recognize those instances when "tough love" is the most loving, liberating act we can perform.
My final insight (a "summary" insight, lest I violate the expectation of 3 points), is that, if We the Church become, act, and love as Christ's body in this time and place, maybe, just maybe, we would find ourselves accidentally preparing for our "Bridegroom's" sudden, surprising appearance. I wouldn't have had this insight if not for context provided by the last 4-5 years. I was jaw-drop agog at the profession of some Christians, many of whom I used to study and pray with, that the election of a former, orange-hued, White House occupant would somehow motivate (manipulate?) Jesus' return to earth. In this absurd context, I had to consider, IF We the Church COULD have ANY influence on when Jesus returns (I know, we can't, "...only the Father knows..."), wouldn't a liberated and recovering world/society be more inviting than the horror show created over the last four years? Wouldn't God bid the Only Begotten to return to a world that would welcome and celebrate Jesus' return, rather than reject and execute Jesus all over again?
Therefore, let us be the Church. Let us be Christ's Body in the world in this time and place. Let us be Jesus' heart and hands and voice manifesting God's transforming love upon the earth, upon our culture and society, and upon the relationships we share with every living thing. This Pentecost Sunday, remind yourself, "I AM the Church, and the Church is me." And since WE are the Church together, this May 23 is ALL our birthday! Happy birthday, Church!
This blog is run by the council members of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Logan, UT. For more information, check out our church's website at princeopeace.org.