We started in small groups.
Q1: Prayer: How is it going? What are you noticing? Barriers/gifts?
Q2: Learning: How did you incorporate it into your life. What did you notice? Did you do an inventory of your life of what is “junk food” and what is “only the finest”? What did you notice.
We shared the story of Gordon Cosby, founder of Church of the Savior in Washington D.C. Gordon had been preaching since he was a 15-year-old in Lynchburg, VA. Raised Southern Baptist, he went into the seminary and then became an Army chaplain in Europe in World War II, an experience that reshaped his faith perspective.
He said he came back feeling that denomination and race were artificial constructs and that people should live in regular life as they would in war--willing to lay down their lives for their neighbors, viewing their faith as an urgent tool to change the world. He and his wife, Mary, began to craft an unusual church structure: Members had to commit to an inward journey of daily quiet prayer, meditation and courses on Christianity as well as an outward journey of social justice work. People would be held accountable by working in small groups.
Never more than 200 members, the church actually seemed to discourage growth. You can only join for one year at a time. If you do not re-apply each year, your membership automatically lapses. You have to attend the School of Christian Living one evening a week for two years before you can move from apprentice membership to full membership. No congregation has ever taken more seriously the path of discipleship.
What were the results? Hundreds of faith-based ministries have been started over the years, including a community health center, a residential treatment center for women with AIDS, hundreds of units of low-cost housing, a jobs program that placed 800 unemployed individuals last year, FLOC (For the Love of Children, a movement that revamped how foster care is done in DC), Alabaster Jar (a movement of artists who are people of faith and express faith in their art), the influential Wellspring retreat center, a small college, and Potter's House, what many consider the original Christian coffeehouse ministry which still operates in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood on Columbia.
Cosby interpreted the call to discipleship as the integration of two journeys in community--an inward journey to grow in love of God, self and others and an outward journey to help mend some part of creation.
The foundation was small groups – but they discovered the groups need a mission focus or they become support groups. Nothing wrong with support groups, it's just not discipleship.
The inward journey without the outward journey becomes self-centered.
The outward journey without the inward journey becomes rootless activism.
Service is not just because we’re “supposed to” or to earn points to heaven. Original sin is self-focus/putting self in place of God. Life in Christ is “love God with heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as your self. It is God/Christ-focused (inward journey) and other-focused (outward journey). Self-focus is seductive. Jesus really did say “get over yourself.”
This is true from the early church. It comes through perhaps most clearly in Philippians 2 (click here to read):
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus – Inward journey
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross. - Outward journey.
Therefore, God highly exalted. - The combination of the inward journey and the outward journey is glory.
The outward journey is about one word - Kenosis - self-emptying. We are called to live kenotically.
How do we empty ourselves? By making a big internal shift: Our lives are not our own but are given to us to be given away. That’s radical thinking. We think of MY LIFE. But that’s not the baptized life. The baptized life is dying with Christ and rising to new life -- the resurrected life. We die to the old way of “my life” and we rise to the new life of “God gave me this life to live kenotically, to give it away.”
When we believe we own our lives, we believe we have to protect it. We believe it is a scarce resource that we have to hoard. That invites fear. But our lives are not our own, they are God’s ... and that means our life springs from an infinite abundance. “I have come that they might have life and have it in abundance.” We don’t need to fear losing our lives ... in fact we are told that we have to lose them to save it “Whomever will save their life will lose it, and whomever will lose their life for my sake will save it.”
Giving our lives away is our salvation, but we are afraid so we do it as if it were painful extractive surgery. We give of ourselves with eyedroppers. God is inviting us to give like a firehose.
But we do it. And we do it more than we know. We serve, we give ourselves away all the time. A lot of times in the church we think that things only "count" as Christian service if they are church ministries. Not true. The primary locus of ministry is not the church but the world.
We then did a service inventory. Everyone named every ministry or organization or act of service they had participated in the past year. It easily filled up a sheet of easel paper.
This isn't to say "OK, we're all cool, we're fine with service, what's next." It's to expand our thoughts of what service is.
Frederick Buechner said, "Service is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."
Most of us are well aware of the world’s deep hunger. It’s all over the place. The challenge for us is to help each other find the deep gladness. The sense of deep connection.
"We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.” Archbishop Oscar Romero
That is a process of discernment. What is it that we are called to do very well? What is that place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet?
At Church of the Savior, the small groups gathered around a mutually discerned mission. They gathered not around geography or time they wanted to meet or any other criteria save sharing that hinge point of deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger.
This week’s homework:
*1 hour of worship
*1 hour of learning
*Ponder and listen to where your deep longing is. Spend time looking at the world’s deep hunger. Come back with an idea of where God might be calling you to give your life away.