On Sunday we worshipped by walking. Several of us blessed the earth beneath our feet; others walked the prayer labyrinth; still others went on a reflective neighbourhood stroll (which I will describe here at a later date). Afterwards, someone said, “You don’t need to be at church to do this: you could do these walks anywhere,” to which I replied, “Yes! Absolutely yes! And that’s true of most of what we do here.”
Of course, this is a radical departure from centuries of institutional control. Here at Sanctuary, we are dissenters through and through. In other words, we dissent from the powers and principalities which insist that the institutional church holds the keys to the kingdom and that ordained people have special access to God’s truth. Instead, we trust that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God may speak directly to and through any person.
But this doesn’t mean dispensing with church altogether. For most of us, church is both training ground and primary place of encounter. For it is the most usual time that we attend to the comforts, challenges and demands of Scripture, practice prayer and forgiveness, and dwell in the healing rhythms of corporate worship: certainly, it is our training ground.
And it is also the place of two forms of encounter. First, Christ has promised to be present whenever we gather in his name to wrestle with the Scriptures and take communion together: so church is one place where we encounter and are changed by Christ.
Second, and related, church is a place to encounter people we do not choose. For it is not our friends, but those people who allow themselves to be drawn together by the Holy Spirit on any given Sunday, who form the church. And so it is a place of encounter with people we might not much like or agree with, but whom we are nevertheless charged to love and be loved by, serve and be served by, forgive and be forgiven by, and seek the face of Christ in, just as they seek the face of Christ in us.
Of course, we can do most ‘church stuff’ at home. There, we can invite others to gather with us in Christ’s name to listen to the Scriptures, pray, take communion, and practice most of the ways of faith. But there is one important exception. At home, we do not encounter the unexpected local ‘other’: the person we do not know or choose or invite into our home, and yet who turns up at church.
So walk in the ways of faith, wrestle with the Scriptures, and pray, pray, pray at home — but then join with us on Sunday. For our Sunday gatherings should encourage you to walk daily in Jesus’ footsteps, open your eyes and heart to the Spirit wherever you go, equip you to exercise wisdom and discernment in your own life — and provide you with those discomfiting local others: the companions called by the Holy Spirit to walk with you as together you form the body of Christ.
Emailed to Sanctuary 2 October 2019 © Sanctuary, 2019.
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