Being without the usual activities and programs associated with an institutional church, gathering with just a few instead of many, and meeting mostly in our homes instead of a larger building dramatically shifted where I spent my time, who I spent it with and how I began to see the world around me—especially God in that world. Without a large group or community to belong to, I began to really seek out relationships with those with whom I crossed paths. And as Mark Scandrette so well articulates, the community so many of us long for is all too often right where we are: we just need to work with God to become the best neighbor, friend, parent, coworker, sister or brother that we can.
There is a beauty and wonder in entering into the lives of those around you and allowing them to enter into yours instead of working to form community into what we think it should like—and one of the biggest and most humbling delights was finding God already there. I shouldn’t have been surprised; I knew (at least in my head) that he is omnipresent and working ever and always to bring creation back to him, this Kingdom-coming, but somehow that knowledge had not sunk into my heart. I think a part of me was still working under an assumption (found among many of us evangelicals) that we bring God to a hostile world. While there may be forces and those who are indeed hostile, the vast spaces surrounding all of us are not.
The reality is that the space around us is not a place from which we must hunker down, hold the line, fight against or go out to overtake because it is a place where God is already so beautifully and wonderfully present and at work—and, wonder of wonders, he invites us to join in. He is there before we are. He has always been and is even now working his creation and all in it back to himself, bringing Life and Light, working in the hearts and minds of his creations, and that means that no matter where we go, we walk in his work and presence—the Kingdom-already-coming. We are not the ones who “bring” or “create” the Kingdom (God is doing that). Our work is to walk with God and love others—and that will express the Kingdom-already-coming’s Love, Light and Right-ness.
We simply walk in the Kingdom wherever we go. It’s a reality we could see all around us—even in the darkest corners of our neighborhoods, cities and world—if we could but lift that second eyelid we are learning to lift as we walk with Jesus. It’s as if we are all the blind man Jesus healed, who first saw people walking around like trees until Jesus touched him again. When we begin to see God’s work and presence already in action as we go, we walk in wonder in the midst of a world in the pangs of birth because he is already there.
All this gives me a new appreciation for Jesus’ respectful surprise at the faith of the Roman soldier and Peter’s awe at God’s work in Cornelius—and how Cornelius was then used to teach Peter and the rest of the early church. God’s work isn’t limited to the proximity of his people but is pulsing and bursting and pressing up through every centimeter of creation. And the amazing beauty of it all is that he allows us not only to witness it but also then participate with him in it all. That's the way it was intended from the very beginning.
All this has begun to affect how I relate with others. Everyone I encounter and each moment becomes an opportunity to not only witness and join in the work of God but also learn from and be ministered to by those around me. I recently read this quote from Pete Rollins’ blog at Caveman Dave, which hits on this:
I am big into re-discovering the gospel as evangelising me as much as other people, inviting me into a transformed mode of being. By giving up the desire to reach the ‘other’ with what ‘I’ possess I want to explore metanoia* as something for us all. Instead of trying to ‘reach’ others one simply creates spaces for the Event of faith to be born in all of us. Giving up mission can become the most effect space for mission to take place.This reminds me of Jesus’ invitation to Andrew and John when they first met him and asked him where he was staying: “Come and see,” Jesus says (John 1:39). Later, Philip invites Nathanael along with the same words (1:46). We, like the disciples, are invited to witness God’s work and presence, invite others to see his work and presence and also learn about and from his work in, through and around others as well. And all this is possible because God is already abundantly present and at work in his Creation long, long before we get there.
*Metanoia is repentance or changing one's mind
There’s a lot more I could write about this, but this post is already a little long. I hope to write more in the next few months.
If you want, come and see with me.
(Image: made at Addletters.com)