Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Remember Who You Are!
Isaiah 30:21 And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it."
COMMENT: We are being reminded these days, how important the past can be. Yesterday's inaugural ceremonies regularly pointed us to the past as it aimed us into the future. The "past" came alive yesterday... from Rick Warren's opening invocation in which he declared that "history is God's story" to the oath of office taken with a hand on Lincoln's Bible, to the climactic ending of President Obama's address in which he quoted George Washington: "Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it)."
In times of crisis, transition, and uncertainty, we need to remember who we are. Most of the crises facing the church today are crises of identity. We simply have not remembered who we are. We have forgotten the story that shapes us. We don't know which way to turn, because we have shut our ears to the voice of "history" that reminds us of who we are, who God is, and who we are to be now that we have been graciously invited to walk in covenant with the holy, loving, God.
When Jesus was tempted, the first thing called into question was his identity (If you are the Son of God, an identity just recently affirmed in his baptism...) And how did Jesus respond... by turning to the ancient texts, the trusted paths, the tested story of a God who sojourned with Israel in thier desert experience, teaching them to love and trust God and God alone. And, of course, that is the context of Isaiah 30 - as Israel is considering self-help and secular alliances rather than trusting in and following the God of the covenant. The prophet teaches a history lesson - so that God's people will not forget who they are - or forget the God who owns them, claims them, and has promised to protect and defend them.
Recently, I have spoken with several young ministers who are sensing God's call to a ministry with the poor - not following traditional paths of small church (build a building), move to medium church (build a building and hire staff), big church (build a building)... you get the drift! And when you ask them about this, one of the places they point to is the origins of our denomination in Los Angeles, with a ministry that thrived among and with the poor. These ministers are simply remembering their story, their identity, and their calling - a gift from the past.
For years I taught church membership classes that reviewed our history - an interesting story of coming together, joining forces with others, and even compromise for the sake of unity. Perhaps, in light of all the current church squabbles and splits, we need to remember our story.
Many churches and people are re-discovering the importance of small group ministry, learning in community and accountability to others. Perhaps, in light of the growing immaturity and the tragic shallowness of our discipleship, the church needs to remember our story.
Missions has always been a priority for our church - but usually at arm's length (foreign missions we used to say). Perhaps, in light of the growing need of the inner city and the suburban flight of the church, we need to remember our story.
Most of our present crises are the result of a severe identity crisis - we have forgotten who we are - what it means to be the people of this kind of God in this kind of a broken and hurting world. This God does not run away from the madness or mess of the world, but runs toward it with arms stretched wide to embrace and transform the world in holy love. Church, this is our story, this is our identity, this is our vocation. The time is urgent, church. We must remember who we are!!!
Soli Deo gloria