By Father Joseph Kovitch
29:7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
A devotion for the church in community…a path to congregational reclamation:
Such is the way of the Jesus movement and an exile people among people in exile. No more will we settle for merely inviting the world to join the church by insisting they satisfy assumptive criteria of membership, for we will now join the world and become members of the community in which we reside – first. Our church will be built upon living stones of human relationship, and our sanctuary will be found in, with, under, and among neighborhood. We then realize that all is sacred and that every act of sacrificial love is a sacramental act. Through the lens of Jesus, all that we have and all that we are is offered through the recognition of exiles who are “captive-free.”
Racheal Held Evans writes in her book, “Searching for Sunday,”
“’Sacredness requires specificity,’ says Milton Brasher-Cunningham, a minister and chef. ‘The grand esoteric themes of theology have their place, but love takes root in those specific moments when we voluntarily and intentionally enter one another’s pain.’ Or enter one another’s joy, one another’s family, one another’s messes, one another’s suppers. Indeed, the word sacrament is derived from a Latin phrase which means ‘to make holy.’ When hit with the glint of loves’ light, even ordinary things become holy. And when received with open hands in the spirit of eucharisteo, the signs and wonders of Jesus never cease.” (pg 156)
When we accept the fact that it is idolatrous to assume any ownership of time and space, and that we are to die to self and live as crucified redeemed children of God, it is then that we recognize that the church is public property. To manifest a public practice of faith is most evident in the Eucharist, for the only way to participate in the breaking of the bread and the offering of wine is to give it away in public. We must see that walls divide and property ownership that is private creates a protectionist isolationism. Thus, we use language of “new member,” “old member,” “unchurched,” “us vs. them,” etc. To see the church as a community of exiles among a community of exiles releases us to a mutual welfare relationship with all, and we see that all that we have belongs to all.
And so it goes that our welfare is bound up in the welfare of our community. When we respond by surrendering our possessions to the community we then become possessed by God. In this public display of God, our church buildings are reimagined as community space first and given away to the needs of the neighborhood. If we were to re-imagine our sanctuaries turned inside-out, then we see that our pews are strewn among side streets, alleys, and main streets to give rest to the poor and outcast and publican and enemy and stranger and friend. We would find our baptismal font in the local pub. We would find our altar in front of the local grocery and our pulpit on the steps of city hall. It is as the prophet Jeremiah speaks, that the welfare of the people of God is bound up in the welfare of the city. So, as this generation cries out for hope, finally comes the prophet to call the church to account for every spiritual refugee and all exiled lives.