There has been much debate about the nature of the church in recent days. What is church? Why have church? Why go to church? What is church supposed to be do? What is church supposed to be about? What is a church community? What is a community church?
The Scriptures tell us that Jesus loved to tell stories (personally, I think that’s probably why children loved hanging around him so much). I won’t claim to be anywhere near the level of Jesus when it comes to telling stories but perhaps you will allow me to try to answer some of these questions with an attempt.
A long time ago, before the west was “settled” word drifted east that there was land aplenty and the opportunity for much wealth for those who were brave enough to seize it. Given the dangers ahead, and the value of numbers for safety, a group was formed that was made up of various individuals. Some were after the promised land, others were pursuing wealth, still others were just looking for a place to set down roots. As with all such endeavours the journey was fraught with danger, disaster, frustrations and hardship. However, each person kept focussed on their “prize” and continued to move forward.
Eventually, as they travelled the more experienced among them began to notice the weather patterns signalling the changing seasons. There was much debate about whether they should stop travelling and prepare for the oncoming winter. The debates took place around campfires, over meals, among friends and family. Some started congenial others were heated.
In time, it seemed like they all became heated.
To be fair, there was more than one issue that was debated. In fact, it seemed that the community was always arguing about something or the other. They fought over the direction they were heading. They fought over when to stop for the night. They fought over when to get up in the morning. They fought over the noise made by the children. They fought over seniors who weren’t “pulling their weight”. At times it seems they fought just to fight. When they finally acknowledged the need to prepare for the oncoming winter they fought over where to stop. They fought over who should get to name the “town”. They fought about town limits and the location of a school, a general store, a mill, a church.
Eventually, it became common for members of the community to head off on their own in the wee hours of the morning. Some left in anger, others left in frustration, still others left thinking they stood a better chance of achieving their goals on their own. Most though, left as a result of hurt feelings associated with whatever topic was being raged over at the moment.
When winter finally came they were so busy fighting each other they had failed to adequately prepare to “fight” their common enemy. It wreaked havoc on those who had remained. Though it was hardly a tough one as winters go, the group was so poorly prepared they suffered terribly. Some took to stealing from their neighbours to survive. Others hoarded so selfishly they callously watched those they had once referred to as ‘friend’ die, even though it was within their power to help. The stories from that first winter were shameful and horrific. Many died…
What I mean is, in the end, even those who survived… didn’t.
Jesus would often end his stories by saying something like, “Are you paying attention? Really, paying attention?”