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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

No Commas, Part 5 (Click here to see parts 1-4)
March 11, 2010

This week I bring this series to a conclusion by quoting Paul addressing emerging divisions in the church – one group emphasized this, another group emphasized that, and soon they were forming separate factions around their differing emphases. In the face of this fragmentation, Paul asks a searching question: “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13)

In Paul’s view, for the church to be divided is no more thinkable than for us to have more than one Savior. This is because the church is nothing other than the very body of Christ. When we see the church, we see Christ himself.

One of the spiritual disciplines associated with Lent is contemplation – gazing upon the face of God revealed in the person of Jesus. We contemplate Jesus as a nursing baby, as a child in the Temple, at the Jordan, in the wilderness, healing the sick, eating and drinking with sinners, teaching in parables, preaching the kingdom, loving the children, training his disciples, bearing his cross, suffering death and rising again. We take our time to take him in – in all his humanity, in all his humility, in all his divinity, in all his glory. Some of us do so strictly with inward reflection on Scripture; others find the contemplation of great art or icons greatly beneficial in this vision quest.

I recently met a young pastor on a remarkable Lenten contemplation journey – contemplating Christ as he is seen in his living body, the church. He has committed to living with a different congregation each week of Lent, lovingly watching and listening and touching, seeking to learn more of who Jesus really is.

He has deliberately chosen as wide a range of congregations as he can imagine. He wants to cover as broad a socio-economic, theological, racial-ethnic and liturgical span as he can manage in eight weeks, so he can more fully see “all” of Jesus.

I don’t know what will come of his journey, but I find his plan so moving that it has brought me to tears. What a beautiful thing – to gaze upon the church with such love that we see the revelation of God incarnate. We must choose this love, or we’ll never see Christ when we see the church. All we’ll see is what’s all too easy to see – its many flaws.

Might this be something we could try in the remaining days of Lent, at least with our own congregation, to contemplate it through eyes of love for Jesus? What might we learn about Jesus by prayerfully surveying our own congregation, which is indeed the very body of the One who loved us to death?

As we behold the church as the body of Christ, we begin to see how important it is that the church embodies the wholeness that Jesus came to reveal and restore to a broken world. Embodying wholeness – it sounds wonderful, but it is much more difficult than it is simply to go our separate ways when we don’t see eye to eye. That is the easy way, the broad way, and many travel its path. Sticking together as the one body of Christ amid all our differences is so much more demanding, yet so much more rewarding, because it is true to our identity as the one body of the one Christ.

To live together as one holy catholic apostolic church is to reflect and reveal the wholeness of Jesus himself. Is Christ divided? No. Can we embody singleness of heart and life as his body? Only in the power of the Spirit. Let us never tire in dedicating our life and witness toward that end, so the world may know that there really is good news in this Gospel we proclaim.

For the love of Jesus,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Presbytery

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