Resurrection Life. Living with an understanding and transformation caused by the reality that our God not only came as a human, died…but rose from the dead. All of that is staggering. I know that I do not know this deeply enough in my soul. I’m not sure if any of us ever will completely…but we catch glimpses, don’t we.
We have those moments when the reality of eternity sneaks up on us, or grabs our attention…those moments when the reality of following Jesus overwhelms our inadequate minds and souls and we become enlivened in ways we can never manufacture ourselves.
Continuing in Chapter One from Eugene Peterson’s Practice Resurrection. I need to make sure to highlight the subtitle:
Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ.
This is not just some formula to set ourselves up to encounter the Resurrection. This is about a life that encounters God and is transformed…into maturity. And for Peterson, this happens only in one way…in the midst of Church.
Seriously, I know there are so many who are immediately thinking either that this is going to be boring, or that there is no way this will translate to our actual congregational situation. Some have been bored by the church, some have been annoyed, some have been frustrate, some have been abused.
But this, argues, Peterson, is right where we encounter Resurrection Life. Not because of accident…this is God’s design.
Maybe the church as we have it provides the very conditions and proper company congenial for growing up in Christ, for becoming mature, for arriving at the measure of the stature of Christ. Maybe God knows what he is doing, giving us church, this church.
Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 180-182). Kindle Edition.
This Church. Named people in a specific place, in specific congregations. This Church.
Peterson challenges us to look at the similarity between the coming of our Savior (Luke 1-2) and the coming of our salvation community (Acts 1-2). There are great similarities.
In the same way that God could have chosen to come in glory, to come doing miracles that drew enormous crowds and swayed the nations to follow him…he could also have chosen to establish a Church where there was success and where there was power and where the world would want to come.
We talk a lot about Christ killed on a cross as a scandal, “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23). I want to talk about church, this actual congregation that I attend, as stumbling block, as scandal, as absurd. The Holy Spirit could have formed congregations out of an elite group of talented men and women who hungered for the “beauty of holiness,” congregations as stunning as the curvaceous Tirzah and as terrifying to the forces of evil as the army with banners. Why didn’t he? Because that is not the way the Holy Spirit works. We know that is not the way the Savior was brought into our lives. Why would the Spirit change strategies in bringing the salvation community, the church, the congregation, into our lives?
Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 327-331). Kindle Edition.
So, this church with all its inadequacies and all of, well, us. This is the place we are to grow into maturity and to know what it is to walk in Resurrection life.
That is, possibly, a little disappointing. I have been involved in fellowships where there just seemed to be a lot of people there because they felt obligated. Or a lot of people who were pretty messed up. Like me. This is the place? Really?
Yes, really. Because it is not all about us. Our salvation was not about what we could do or work or accomplish. Our growing up in Christ, being the Church…is not about our abilities. The power of the Church comes from God.
but the essence that is behind the appearances: God’s will, Christ’s presence, the Holy Spirit’s work. This, not what we do or do not do in belief and doubt, in faithfulness or betrayal, in obedience or disobedience, is what we simply must get through our heads if we are going to understand and participate rightly in any church that we are part of.
Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 191-193). Kindle Edition.
Resurrection life is to be found in the local congregation. With all our insufficiencies and all our problems…even there….and Peterson uses the letter to the Ephesian church to help us “get” this. He explains that this was the congregation Paul was with for 3 years, and this is the only letter to a church that is not addressing a problem. Not that there weren’t problems there…but this letter is more about the true identity of the church, and in it we find a vocabulary we need:
But the dominant concern in this Ephesian letter is not to deal with the human problems that inevitably develop in church – no church is exempt – but to explore God’s glory that gives the church its unique identity. The letter also gives us an adequate vocabulary and large enough imagination for living in the fullness of God’s glory, living to “the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:14).
Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 206-208). Kindle Edition.
We are a little handicapped, though…we have actual faces looking at us, and voices talking to us…and people who annoy us or who delight us. People who form our understanding of Church, and it is sometimes hard to separate our marred congregation from the intention of God to use this place to establish His kingdom.
When we who follow Jesus enter a church and participate in its life, our understanding of the place and company we are in is strongly conditioned by what we observe and experience in this congregation and its local history, these people with their personal and collective virtues and faults. That means that none of us ever sees the church whole and complete. We have access only to something partial, sometimes distorted, always incomplete.
Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 213-216). Kindle Edition.
Some, as I have come to know through my friend Michael’s blog, have been deeply wounded by their church. Wounding, abuse, disillusionment…these stack up against our seeing the church as something where God is establishing His glory. Sometimes it is hard to think with imagination and wonder when we pull into the parking lot.
We have the Ephesian letter before us so that even though we are surrounded with immature and deficient and incomplete churches, we can acquire a feel for what maturity is, what growing up in Christ consists of. By means of Ephesians we get an accurate account of what God is doing and the way the Spirit is working at the heart of every congregation.
Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 217-219). Kindle Edition.
Resurrection life. In the Body. In the Church…in my congregation. Growing up to maturity in Christ…right there, with my rear in a seat and the person next to me bumping into me and the other person hugging me and the other person singing behind me. Those actual people.
We are in this together. We are the Body….and we cannot fathom Resurrection life or maturity in Christ apart from these other travelers.
I have to admit…I was hoping for something more. I was hoping Peterson was going to wow me with some truth that would suddenly bring me to a new understanding of the Resurrection…something that would fix this longing I have.
He doesn’t. He points us to what God is doing in our midst…and just like the surprise and mystery of the Crucifixion and Resurrection redeeming us….there is mystery in how the Church will be the place we will encounter God and be transformed.
It doesn’t usually happen in a flash and in some spectacular way. God works in subtle ways and with patience.
Still…the Spirit is stirring something within me. I love my fellowship…I love worshipping together and I love interacting. Still, I do not know that I have fully grasped the reality that this is the place…this is the structure…for my maturity to establish. How about you? Does this spark your imagination for Church, or does it just irritate you because the expectation is too high? Does it ring true that God would work in a Church in the same way He came in the Incarnation…surprisingly humble and not in great power and show?
What does this mean for us when we gather together next? How do we internalize these truths in a way that impacts our approach to being part of the Church?