“Our call as a congregation is to turn outward”

Dear Members and Friends:

When we speak about spirituality a lot of attention gets given to the “inner life.”  We will speak of meditation, personal beliefs, getting right with the self.  The religious tradition that most clearly emphasizes this thought process is Buddhism.  In Christianity spirituality builds on Moses spending time on a mountain top, the Prophet Elijah going into the wilderness and finding refuge in a cave for an extended period, Jesus going into the wilderness for 40 days and nights, and Jesus periodically going off by himself in prayer.  As Christianity developed, this “retreat” spirituality inspired the monastic movement out of which has grown an extensive array of spiritual practices.  And yet “retreat” or focusing primarily on the “inner person” was not Jesus’ primary focus on religious life.  His was a call to engagement.  For Jesus, the purpose of turning inward was to gain strength and perspective, in order to turn outward to serve others in the community and world.  St. Francis of Assisi will make this the bedrock of monastic order he founded, one that sees the prayer life as serving other people.

So one message I offer is that the life of being a follower of Jesus is one where we are aware that it isn’t “all about me”, rather it is about “you” and “us.”  Be reminded, that as Jesus speaks about engaging with others he cautions against such things as being “judgmental, self-righteous, placing an undue burden on others”.  He tells his disciples to “move on” if their attention is unwanted.  That is what it means “to shake the dust off your feet.”  It’s a nice way of saying, walk away.

From a personal perspective we should have personal practices of spiritual reflection, seek balance, model self awareness, and have a personal relationship with God.  We then spin outward to being involved in the world, helping to make our world a better place.  Attending worship is personal, but ultimately it is about the community.  We go not just for ourselves, but because others may need our strength, presence, wisdom.

What is true on the personal level is also true on the congregational level.  It is tempting for congregations to focus on taking care of those who are present, and having a harmonious environment.  This is needed, and yet when it is taken to an extreme as is true of too many congregations, it becomes “don’t rock the boat,” we ought to emphasize the needs of those who come”, a list of topics gets developed about which one ought not talk, resources are primarily used to maintain the status quo, people are invited to join primarily because of they can give to or do for the community.

The reminder is that our call as a congregation is to turn outward.  Our invitation to others is about sharing the message of Jesus Christ and an invitation into a life of discipleship following a loving, gracious God.  Our facilities exist to serve the needs of the gathered community AND to be the base for serving the wider community.  Our location is the base for the community to gather for learning and worship, but also the base from which we care for those in need.  Our worship service exists to care for the needs of those who are present but is also concerned about the needs and desires of those on the outside.

The good news of this congregation is that many in leadership recognize the importance of looking outward.  Almost every committee of the church thinks about the importance of not only serving the needs of those who come, but also about the needs of the wider community.  As a result many non church groups use our facility, we are intentional about hosting a weekly neighborhood meal, we think about how our building and grounds can serve, we try to make visitors feel welcome.  We are working at how our worship service might appeal to a broader cross section of society.

This thinking has led to trying to find a way to say “Thank you” to emergency responders, i.e. the Pig Roast.  A church member, Mollie, recently asked permission for planning and hosting a Thanksgiving Day meal with the primary focus being people who otherwise would be alone.  Permission granted.  As we planned for Vacation Bible School, we kept asking “how to reach out to the unchurched.”  Individuals are coming forward to become a second team that serves at the Neighborhood Supper.

Quietly the conversation is taking place, questions are regularly being asked:  Who do we serve?  What is our community?  While all are welcome, how do we make that functionally true for a larger segment of our community?  How do we adapt the message of Jesus Christ to this community and world?

Blessings to each of you as you receive inward strength that causes you to turn outward.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Bruce