Show & Tell or What is local church?

Mary Magdala Community

“Show & Tell or What is local church?” ©

by Rev. Jim Ryan,

Homily thoughts on the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 31, 2016

Way back in the day I taught 2nd Grade. My career as 2nd Grade Teacher lasted one semester. It was, no question, one of the great experiences of my life. One of my top o’ the list favorites of 2nd Grade was Show & Tell. The children (and I’m thinking today is no different) loved to show off their favorite toys and pictures of their pets, and the like, and tell everyone about them.

When I read today’s Gospel it immediately brought back to my memory the power of Show & Tell. It is a little backward, though. In this case we have Jesus doing the Telling and the local synagogue folk, especially the leaders, only wanting a proper Show.

Jesus is announcing that the promises of God are fulfilled in his appearing. He is basically telling people they must act as God acts – namely, free the captives and proclaim God’s favor and all the rest. And oh, by the way, Jesus does acknowledge that this is not what the folks are looking for. They want a Show and do not want to just get a lesson on God’s fulfillments. This “no-Show” Jesus causes an upset – provoking irritation and anger from the locals (and some of them, presumably, were Jesus’ relatives.)

This confrontation leads me back to take a look at this story and to ask the question for our time, “What is local church anyway?” What are we to make of the invitation by Jesus to gather and to act in his Name. The second reading today from Paul’s first letter to Corinthians puts a deeper hold on this invitation based upon the gifts that each person receives freely from the Spirit. We hear from the Apostle that one person receives the gift of prophecy, another interpretation, another healing, and so on, and so on, and so on – all for the purpose of putting these gifts in service of and building up the common good.

So, “What is local church.” this gathering made up of those who are called by and respond to the Holy Spirit? We are presented today with freely given gifts and the command to spread them just as freely.

I’m thinking of the makeup of local church in two ways – the first is freedom and the second is order, as in putting structure to this freedom. Our own community has risen from an impulse for freedom. We choose to act upon gifts that compel us to act. My question is, “What guides this freedom?”

Right now there is a group of people in Oregon who several weeks ago took over a building that is the property of the United States Government. I haven’t been following this situation too closely, but it appears that this takeover is an assertion of freedom on their part. They also are acting upon an impulse for freedom.

So, here’s my question. If we and they are both acting upon an impulse for freedom then what is the difference between what we do here and what they do in Oregon? Sadly, the Oregon situation has become violent causing the shooting death of at least one person. But this, I don’t think, prevents us from asking, “What’s the difference?”

Well, I can only come up with one response so far. And that response is, “The difference is virtue.” I do not propose by saying this that we build any pedestals for glorification. What I see, though, is that one who acts in the name of freedom ought to do so in a way that speaks to responsibility and accountability. We form community to freely act upon the Spirit’s gifts, and to do so in a virtuous manner. This means we act with integrity, honesty, and openended care. To freely exercise gifts of prophecy, interpretation, healing and all other gifts that Paul speaks of we must do so nonviolently and ungraspingly.

Virtue, difficult to adopt and to make one’s own, is the difference. What a blessing in community to celebrate this grace-filled gathering of the virtuous.

This brings me to a second question concerning the makeup of local church – keeping in mind Jesus’ encouragement that “where 2 or 3 are gathered in my Name, there I am in your midst.” Based on this recollection and acknowledging the freedom of the Spirit it occurs to me to ask, “Why would a community gathered in Christ need permission from an authority beyond itself?”

This is the question of order. It’s response is not about the Show of institutional nor even communal structure and bonds. The response to this question says that we structure ourselves. We come to our own decisions. It is the response of a community that receives gifts of prophecy, of interpretation, of healing, and the rest. The Holy Spirit, as it turns out, is radically democratic about things like order and structure.

“What makes up local church?” I’m proposing two questions, one asking about freedom and the other asking about order. The responses, I also propose, require a focus on virtue and a commitment to self-forming community bonds.

These questions and responses require a community setting in which members share their life stories and life commitments. These bonds are not hierarchical and neither are they institutional. One trusts that they are, nevertheless, real.

So, each Sunday our Show & Tell gathers us in, forms us as local church, and patterns us for fulfillment.

Come, join us. Receive what you are. Body of Christ.

A Prayer (JR)

Holy and Immortal One, Source of Life and Love,

call us through the face of the Other

to a new beginning. A beginning in time that

celebrates your presence among us. A beginning

in this place to celebrate your challenges to us.

and finally, a beginning to be grateful for every day.

Hear us and heal us, comfort and provoke us

that we will neither divide nor exclude but

rather act with your grace.

We pray through Jesus Christ, whom hatred

cannot touch.   Amen.

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