Last night, a meeting was held for the parents of children who will be participating in Confirmation classes this year. At the meeting, Pastor stressed that Confirmation was not just an activity on the checklist with other activities children participate in, like soccer, swimming, music lessons, cheer-leading, etc. Confirmation, he said, focuses on building and connecting the community of faith.
What does it mean to be the community of faith? For many, the church is just another activity on the list. It is a once-a-week recurring event on their Google Calendars lasting 1 hour (and is allowed no more than an extra 15 minutes). It is an activity and a membership club with dues that are entirely too high. Thank goodness they are optional!
For some, the church is a non-profit charitable organization that, like all sensible and rational organizations, must first and foremost draw up a balanced budget, addressing internal fiscal needs like administration costs and bills, before it can decide how much it can spend on mission.
When did church become so… ordinary? I wish I could say that back in the good-old-days (disgruntled church member speech for the 1950s) the church was nothing like what it has become today for so many. But the truth is, even then, the church was relegated to just another activity, just another organization.
What Pastor was trying to illustrate last night was that the church should be different. The church needs to be different. Our American culture is extremely individualistic and independent. It shuns community in favor of the individual. The many ways we have of keeping in touch and networking (Facebook, Twitter, iPhone, Blackberry), ironically, have separated us more and more from each other. Even gated housing communities are full of people who wish not to be involved with everyone else, inside and outside the compound. In this environment, community struggles to survive.
What will it take, then, for the church to be the community of faith? The second lesson for this weekend, from Paul’s letter to the Romans (Rom 14:1-12), has an idea–focus on what is important. When the church divides itself over the most inconsequential of details, it ceases to be the community of faith. This applies to local congregations as well as national and international church bodies. That I can identify myself as a Lutheran speaks to the divisions in the community of faith.
It does not matter if communion includes wine or grape juice, leavened or unleavened bread (or wafers). It does not matter if Christ is philosophically present, truly present, or symbolically present (or, dare I say, present at all). The community of faith gathers anyway to sincerely attempt to carry out God’s work in the world. The community of faith offers mutual support in an environment of mutual interdependence. Here, faith is nurtured. Here, all people are welcomed, comforted, challenged, sustained, called out, and nurtured.