I am not always happy with The Message‘s translation of Scripture, but often am able to appreciate the words that help me get a new perspective on, well, the message. “Make yourselves at home in my love” certainly is an invitation I don’t want to pass up. Accepting that invitation is one in which I may be able to breathe and thrive, experience joy and gratitude. Other translations just don’t tug at me as this one does. The movie Waiting to Exhale comes to mind where, finally, we can be who we are called to be — warts and all. Isn’t that what being home is all about?
What are the times you have felt at home in Jesus’ love? God’s love — not thinking of your shortcomings or not feeling as if you aren’t quite measuring up, but rather feel the embrace of this incredible, unconditional love — just as you are. There is no “I love you, but . . . ”
Jesus said: “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love.” Can you feel that? Can you feel that love? Can you feel that embrace? Sit with it for a moment.
The context of biblical storytelling and writing was certainly set in a patriarchal society. And that is the reality of the society in which Jesus was born, and where he grew up and in which he shared his identity as the Son of God. Our translations have only reinforced these views of God as male through the centuries. As a person who has made a commitment to a more gender-inclusive language I thought perhaps we could use the following: “I’ve loved you the way my Father and Mother have loved me.” This to me represents the broader aspect of the reality of God, the Creator. I still make these types of translations for myself. Maybe you do too.
But within the context of today’s passage, the focus is conveying the important aspect of a personal nature between God, the Creator, and Jesus, the child. Before Jesus’ time God had been viewed as distant — a God who was up there or out there somewhere — certainly not personal. Jesus helped the world begin to come to know God in a different way. This language of Father and Son represents a real and close and loving relationship between parent and child. One in which we, as children of God — boys and girls, women and men, are invited to embrace.
I read mysteries regularly. I find I am able to learn much about the world and people through them especially when set in another culture. Currently, I am reading The Hand That Trembles by Kjell Eriksson, an author from Sweden. As I was preparing for today’s sermon I happened upon this section in the book and thought it was a story reflective of today’s focus. The character, Berglund, a local detective, is in hospital.
He sat up in bed, pulled out the drawer in the bedside table, took out his glasses but replaced them immediately, pushed his covers aside, and swung his legs over the edge.
I survived, the thought suddenly and was filled by a singular feeling of gratitude. He was uncertain to whom he should direct this gratitude, to God or science? Perhaps a combination of the two? God had always held a place in his conceptual world, ever since his first experiences in childhood of something mysterious that connected him to his parents, his little world with the big world, and the incomprehensible universe outside his windows, which had given way to the secure knowledge of mature age of a higher order that simply was there. No mystery, no jubilant salvation, no punishing Lord, just a feeling of connectedness, resembling the one he had felt in his younger years with his teammates on the bandy field, in the locker room, and later in life with his colleagues on the job.
It was the relationship with those who stood closest to him that was like God for Berglund. It was a closeness that arose out of the goodness and willingness to cooperate with others. It was the goodness of God. He could not explain it any other way and he did not trouble himself to seek a deeper answer. It was enough as it was, enough for him to become a human being.
We are enough. In the process of becoming a human being we strive to become who God calls us to be. Perhaps we too can recognize we are loved and we are called to love. Simple. Love as Jesus loves us. It is about relationships — close, upfront and personal. Whatever words we use to describe Jesus’ relationship with God, it has to be personal, close and intimate. It certainly wasn’t untroubled, but it was real. That is what God desires of us — a real relationship — warts and all. It’s that connectedness that Berglund describes: “It was enough as it was, enough for him to become a human being.” And that was done in relation to and with others.
Now, the tricky part seems to come when Jesus shifts the relationship with his disciples from that of servants to friends where the commandment — the heart of the matter — “love one another the way I loved you” takes on a very different flavor. You too, can put your life on the line for your friends.
Jesus’s relationship with his disciples just continues to go deeper and deeper still. He trusts them enough to share, at this last meal together, insights and truths that they just aren’t always able to grasp, but Jesus doesn’t give up on them. Friends share with each other in a much less superficial way — their crazy thoughts and feelings and desires, and in that shift to a deeper and real relationship comes the cost of friendship.
We’ve been called the children of God and disciples of Christ, but as with the disciples of old, Jesus wishes a deeper relationship with us. “Make yourself at home in my love” is the invitation.
As a congregation you too are invited to make yourself at home in Jesus’s love — individually and collectively. You have developed relationships with each other. I’ve seen that in the short time that I’ve been here. Some of you have become real friends, and I’ve seen that too. During this interim time you have an opportunity to go deeper with each other as you wrestle with the questions about what comes next. One of the bigger pieces of work during this time is about looking at who you are and where you want to go as a congregation.
Roy Oswald has done lots of work identifying church system models based on church membership size and his work may be helpful to us in this process. Churches are known to be family churches, or pastoral churches, or program churches, or corporate churches. You, I believe, are a pastoral church. Part of your discernment will be if you want to remain a pastoral church or start thinking of yourself as a program church, or whether you want to move to a family church model.
I’m sketching out quickly these models so you can get a taste of each. The family church is pretty much what it sounds like — a close-knit group where new members are welcomed but there is a desire not to change the dynamics too much. The group is intimate and sometimes it’s difficult for a new person to feel their ideas are even heard in such a close-knit group. Much is decided in the family church by the patriarchs and matriarchs of the congregation who have been doing so for generations. The family church is a congregation of 50 or fewer members and functions like a family.
The pastoral church has 50-150 active members and clergy are usually at the center. The leadership circle includes the pastor and a small group of lay leaders who replace the patriarchal and matriarchal model of family church. Spiritual needs and guidance are met through personal relationship with clergy, and there is still a sense of itself as family.
The program church has 150-350 members and grows out of the necessity of a high-quality personal relationship with the pastor to be supplemented by other avenues of spiritual feeding and intimacy where programs fulfill that role in addition to worship experiences.
While primarily a pastoral church, you currently reflect the beginnings of a program church. In a church setting with a larger number of members, programs are offered that meet a variety of needs that bubble up from within the congregation. You have that in place with the Sunday morning conversations group. In other congregations, I’ve seen a knitting group that gathered weekly where a piece of scripture is read and folks share their insights about the reading while their hands are creating blankets or sweaters, or caps, or socks or prayer shawls. In one congregation a hiking group was developed with 20 minutes of intentional silence at the mid-point of the hike, bringing nature and spirituality together. These programs offer opportunities for church members to find intimacy beyond the Sunday morning experience and where we can make ourselves at home in God’s love.
The corporate church reflects membership of more than 350 people. Those are some of the mega-churches that we hear about. I don’t think we need to spend too much time on this model — not right now, anyway.
Each church system model, no matter the numbers, seeks to find spiritual nourishment for its size as it seeks to accept the invitation to make yourselves at home in my love. This discernment time is a wonderful opportunity for First Christian Church to wrestle with the “what next” question and what will emerge from that.
This discernment process is also helpful as you come to a decision about your next settled minister. Maybe you’ve realized that ministers are not in a one-size fits all category — although some would argue that point. Ministers who are well-suited for corporate congregations lack the skills needed in a program church. Ministers who are well-suited for a family church may struggle in a program church. But no matter which category First Christian Church is in, “make yourself at home in my love” is a real invitation to relationship.
And speaking of relationship — the Berglund character comes to mind once again as he ruminated: “it was the relationship with those who stood closest to him that was like God for Berglund. It was a closeness that arose out of the goodness and willingness to cooperate with others. It was the goodness of God. He could not explain it any other way and he did not trouble himself to seek a deeper answer. It was enough as it was, enough for him to become a human being.”
Jesus said: “You didn’t choose me, remember, I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. But remember the root command: Love one another.” And may it be so. Amen.
Copyright DMC 2018.