Following an Itinerant Messiah

I follow quite a few blogs, and I like to post some across to mine as I quite often find they write things that express many of my own thoughts…. but they do it so much better! Here is one – follow the blog if you like it.


People of the Way - Cover

“…In many churches today, the primary question being asked is,how do we get more members?Behind this is often a painful awareness of the patterns of institutional decline and the need for more ‘bodies and bucks’ in the pews to sustain things. This is not the primary question we should be asking. Instead, we should be wondering, what is God up to in our neighbourhoods? How do we join up with it? What is our unique calling, both personally and communally? How are we gifted to contribute? This is a very different kind of question to answer, for it forces us to attend prayerfully and carefully to God’s life and movement in the biblical narrative, the wisdom of faithful Christians through the ages, in our own midst, and in the lives of our neighbours. Instead of strategizing about how to attract or include those neighbours into our churches, we are pushed out, into the world, to rely upon their hospitality. That is how Christ comes to us.

One of the things that the paradigm of establishment did to the church was to try to fix the sacred geographically – within consecrated church buildings, tended by consecrated people (clergy). While Christian theology has historically affirmed God’s presence and movement beyond the assembled community in the wider world, establishment tended to deemphasise it. If you wanted to meet God, you ‘went to Church’ – meaning to a building set aside for this purpose. If you wanted to introduce people to God, you invited them ‘to church.’ Outside the ‘church’ was secular space, seen as ambiguous, threatening, or at the least indifferent to the sacred. 

When we gather around Word and Sacrament, we receive vital, life giving, tangible expressions of God’s presence that allow us to interpret the divine outside of the assembled community. Yet this narrowed imagination about God’s presence, which corresponds with the rise of Christendom during the Middle Ages, bears some responsibility for so many people leaving the church today. They reject a God domesticated to rather arcane rituals done by designated ‘holy people’ set apart from them and confined in antiquated buildings. They seek ways of experiencing God in daily life, in nature, in ordinary relationships. Despite its best intentions, the church has often failed to offer these people practices and language that would help them recognise the sacred faithfully in their world. The church has also communicated the message (explicitly and implicitly) that God primarily shows up on Sunday mornings or in church meetings and not at the job site, during the daily commute, at the office, or around the dinner table at home. 

In the incarnation, God entrusts Godself to the hospitality of the world. The Word, ‘who was with God and who was God’ came into the world, ‘yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him’ (John 1:1, 10 – 11). 

This messiah spent his ministry as an itinerant, going where the people were in various villages and towns. He didn’t stay in one place and expect them to come to him. He depended upon their provision for his daily meals, for a roof over his head. Sometimes, this was provided by members of his inner circle, such as the sisters Martha and Mary of Bethany.

Other times, he rather scandalously invited himself to dinner parties with ‘sinners,’ such as the notoriously corrupt tax collector Zacchaeus. He ate at the homes of the prominent and religiously pure, such as Pharisees, as well as among the great crowds of the poor. He violated multiple social taboos by asking the Samaritan woman at the well to give him a drink of water. Even the Last Supper was held in a rented room. In his resurrection appearances, he asks for food from the disciples. God, the great host of the universe, comes among us as a guest…” 

Dwight. J.Zscheile – People of the Way. Morehouse Publishing New York, 2012. 75 – 77

This entry was posted in Christianity, Church, Community, Culture, Discipleship, Evangelical, Hospitality, Institution, Integrity, Jesus, Postmodernity, Preaching, Spirituality, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

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