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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the ChurchSearching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Rachel Held Evans and I have several things we disagree. She believes same sex marriage is Biblically acceptable, she believes women can be pastors; I disagree with both of these issues. By thw way, Rachel is happily married to a man. She is not a lesbian. However, Rachel does make me think and for that I am grateful. She grew up believing the same things I believe. She went to Bryan College in Dayton, TN. Her Dad taught on the staff of that college. I read this book because I enjoy reading this author (see her other book I reviewed, Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions) and I am trying to understand the reasoning of those Christians that accept same-sex marriage as Biblical. The quotes I’ve listed below are very good and should be a challenge and/or an encouragement to all believers.

I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security … More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which makes us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, “Give them something to eat.” ~Pope Francis

We need to stop building our churches around categories and start building them around people.

Contrary to popular belief, we (millennials) can’t be won back with hipper worship bands, fancy coffee shops, or pastors who wear skinny jeans.

The church is the last place we want to be sold another product, the last place we want to be entertained.

Millennials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity.

We’re (millennials) looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity.

Like every generation before ours (millennials’) and every generation after, wer’re (millennials’) looking for Jesus – the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places He’s always been found: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these.

No coffee shops or fog machines required.

Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; it’s meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people.

I can’t be a Christian on my own. I need a community. I need the church.

In an age of information overload … the last thing any of us needs is more information about God. We need the practice of incarnation, by which God saves the lives of those whose intellectual assent has turned them dry as dust, who have run frighteningly low on the Bread of Life, who are dying to know more God in their bodies. Not more about God. More God.

The church tells us we are beloved (baptism).
The church tells us we are broken (confession).
The church tells us we are commissioned (holy orders).
The church feeds us (communion).
The church welcomes us (confirmation).
The church anoints us (anointing of the sick).
The church unites us (marriage).

Of course, the church can also lie, injure, damage, and exclude, and this book explores its dark corners as well as its stained-glass splendors.

We religious types are really good at building walls and retreating to temples. We’re good at making mountains out of our ideologies, obstructions out of our theologies, and hills out of our screwed-up notions of who’s in and who’s out, who’s worthy and who’s unworthy. We’re good at getting in the way. Perhaps we’re afraid that if we move, God might use people and methods we don’t approve of, that rules will be broken and theologies questioned. Perhaps we’re afraid that if we get out of the way, this grace thing might get out of hand. Well, guess what? It already has. Grace got out of hand the moment the God of the universe hung on a Roman cross and with outstretched hands looked out upon those who had hung Him there and declared, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

We could not become like God, so God became like us. God showed us how to heal instead of kill, how to mend instead of destroy, how to love instead of hate, how to live instead of long for more. When we nailed God to a tree, God forgave. And when we buried God in the ground. God got up.

We are not spared death, but the power of death has been defeated. The grip of sin has been loosed. We are invited to share the victory, to follow the path of God back to life.

I’m a Christian because Christianity names and addresses sin. It acknowledges the reality that the evil we observe in the world is also present within ourselves. It tells the truth about the human condition – that we’re not okay.

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed,” instructed James, the brother of Jesus (James 5:16). At its best, the church functions much like a recovery group, a safe place where a bunch of struggling, imperfect people come together to speak difficult truths to one another.

Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable. Image if every church became a place where we told one another the truth. We might just create sanctuary.

It wasn’t shared social status or ethnicity that brought Jesus’ followers together either, nor was it total agreement on exactly who this Jesus character was – a prophet? The Messiah? The Son of God? No, there is one thing that connected all these dissimilar people together it was a shared sense of need: a hunger, a thirst, a longing.
It was the certainty that, when Jesus said He came for the sick, this meant Jesus came for me.

It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love. ~Billy Graham

Church is a moment in time when the kingdom of God draws near, when a meal, a story, a song, an apology, and even a failure id made holy by the presence of Jesus among us and within us.

The Holy Trinity doesn’t need our permission to carry on in their endlessly resourceful work of making all things new. That we are invited to catch even a glimpse of the splendor is grace. All of it, every breath and every second is grace.

Whenever we show others the goodness of God, whenever we follow our Teacher by imitating His posture of humble and ready service, our actions are sacred and ministerial. To be called into the priesthood, as all of us are, is to be called to a life of presence, of kindness.

“To be a priest is to know that things are not as they should be and yet to care for them the way they are. ~Barbara Brown Taylor

With all the conceptual truths in the universe at His disposal [Jesus] did not give them something to think about together when He was gone. Instead, He gave them concrete things to do – specific ways of being together in their bodies – that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when He was no longer around to teach them Himself … “Do this” He said – not believe this but do this – “in remembrance of me. ~Barbara Brown Taylor

When [Jesus] wanted fully to explain what his forthcoming death was all about He didn’t give a theory. He didn’t even give them a set of Scriptural texts. He gave them a meal.

This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.

But the gospel doesn’t need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners, saved by grace, committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors, and shouting, “Welcome! There’s bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk.” This isn’t a kingdom for the worthy; it’s a kingdom for the hungry.

Scripture doesn’t speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God.

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. ~Henri Nouwen

Walking with someone through grief, or through the process of reconciliation, requires patience, presence, and a willingness to wander, to take the scenic route. But the modern-day church doesn’t like to wander or wait. The modern-day church likes results. Convinced the gospel is a product we’ve got to sell to an increasingly shrinking market, we like our people to function as walking advertisements: happy, put-together, finished – proof that this Jesus stuff WORKS!

But if the world is watching, we might as well tell the truth. And the truth is, the church doesn’t offer a cure. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation.

Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived. ~Helen Keller

When the people of God abandoned the covenant of love and fidelity, drawn as we are by the appeal of shallow, empty pleasures, God removed every possible obstruction to the covenant by being faithful for us, by becoming like us and subjecting Himself to the very worst within us, loving us all the way to the cross and all the way out of the grave.

What each of us longs for the most is to be both fully known and fully loved. Miraculously, God feels the same way about us. God, too, wants to be fully known and fully loved. God wants this so much that He has promised to knock down every obstacle in the way, enduring even His own death, to be with us, to consummate this love.

What makes our marriage holy, what makes it “set apart” and sacramental, isn’t the marriage certificate filed away in the basement or the degree to which we follow a list of rules and roles, it’s the way God shows up in those everyday moments – loading the dishwasher, sharing a joke, hosting a meal, enduring an illness, working through a disagreement – and gives us the chance to notice, to pay attention to the divine. It’s the way the God of resurrection makes all things new.

This is the church. Here she is. Lovely, irregular, sometimes sick and sometimes well. This is the body-like-no-other that God has shaped and placed in the world. Jesus lives here; this is His soul’s address. There is a lot to be thankful for, all things considered. She has taken a beating, the church. Every day she meets the gates of hell and she prevails. Every day she serves, stumbles, injures, and repairs. That she has healed is an underrated miracle. That she gives birth is beyond reckoning. Maybe it’s time to make peace with her. Maybe it’s time to embrace her, flawed as she is.

This kingdom knows no geographic boundaries, no political parties, no single language or culture. It advances not through power and might, but through acts of love and joy and peace, missions of mercy and kindness and humility. This kingdom has arrived, not with a trumpet’s sound but with a baby’s cries, not with the vanquishing of enemies but with the forgiving of them, not on the back of a warhorse but on the back of a donkey, not with triumph and a conquest but with a death and a resurrection.

So church is, essentially, a gathering of kingdom citizens, called out – from their individuality, from their sins, from their old ways of doing things, from the world’s way of doing things – into participation in this new kingdom and community with one another.

Not knowing when the dawn will come I open every door. ~Emily Dickinson

If you like to be challenged to think I would recommend this book for you!

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