online book group: What’s the Least I Can Believe, chapters 17 and 18

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Chapter 17: Resurrection Hope

“Hope” is a word we toss around regularly, using it to mean anything from “want” to “wish” to “plan” to “idea”…but what is Hope? And how do we get it, and what do we Hope for?

Someone told me one time to stop using “hope” when what I meant was “wish” or “want” because I was devaluing our real hope–hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. While I still use the word hope a lot, I often think about this admonition. What do you think about it?

Our hope, as Christians, is in God, made known to us in Christ, and sealed by the Spirit. What exactly we hope for…probably varies person by person! Some hope for life after death, some hope for life before death, some hope for something vague and some for something specific. How do we know the difference between Hope and Wish?

Using the framework the author sets up in this chapter, Hope is something that saves our lives day by day, just like the box with the angel picture in Castaway. Hope gives us vision for the future, the will to go on, the ability to move forward into God’s kingdom. And our hope is IN Christ–wrapped up like a present, both fulfilled and yet springing eternal. We have hope because God is doing a new thing, with life springing out of death. The resurrection of Christ is our best symbol of hope–that death is not the end of God’s story, but that God’s own hope for the world is still taking shape.

A friend of mine asks on Facebook every day: “what is saving your life today?” She gets answers ranging from “sunshine” to “cheetos” to “baby giggles” to “church”…What might your answer be?

Chapter 18: Is the Church still relevant?

I confess that this is one of my least favorite questions. Part of me just wants to say “really? relevant? what IS relevant? Who gets to decide?” and the other part of me wants to shout “of course we are!” while also shouting “we’ve never been relevant, and that’s the point!”

So we’ll start with the question: Do you think the church is relevant? Why or why not? What does “relevant” mean to you?

The author’s assertion that “nothing mattered more” to Jesus than establishing the church is, at best, far-fetched. The gospel evidence, in my opinion, is that Jesus’ main issue was the Kingdom of God–its nearness and our ability to see and live in it. The kingdom of God and the church are not necessarily synonymous terms, however much we might like to think that. The teaching, healing, and feeding outweighs the “church” in Jesus’ ministry by about 150x. However, I will concede that Jesus was interested in gathering a community of followers who would then go out and participate in the kingdom of God. Community was an important aspect of Jesus’ life and teaching and healing, and not to be overlooked. In that sense, it’s true that church was his objective…but in the sense that we generally think of “church,” not so much.

What is a church?

It’s not a building.

It’s not just a group of people who come to a building on Sunday morning, or Sunday and Wednesday, or who run youth groups and confirmation classes and weddings and funerals and potlucks and talent shows.

The church is the Body of Christ, the incarnation of God in the here and now, the people who follow Jesus and live Kingdom lives.

This may or may not include talent shows.

It definitely DOES include participating in God’s mission, which Jesus’ reveals to include such activities as: feeding the hungry, healing the sick, comforting the afflicted, afflicting the comfortable, challenging unjust systems, changing the way things are done so that no one falls through the cracks, building diverse communities, caring for one another regardless of our socio-economic status/race/creed/gender/health, and living lives marked by Good News instead of the bad news our world is already so full of.

It is true that it is impossible to be a Christian without Church–in that, the author is right on. There are no hermits in the gospels, no one who professes faith but stays away from the community of disciples. The book of Acts shows us the first gatherings of the church as a community–from the moment of Pentecost the community was already not optional. Just as you can’t have one grit or one grain of bread or one molecule of juice, we are gathered together to be the body of Christ, and no one can do it alone.

What do you think “church” means? What does it mean to you? How has your Christian life been helped or hindered by the Christian community? How has the church helped (or not) you maintain hope?

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One response »

  1. The church is a gathering of followers of Jesus. We gather to hear, study, pray, support, encourage, worship, praise, etc., but then the church (Jesus followers) is sent out into the world to be the hands and heart and eyes and ears and feet of Jesus today wherever his followers are living. Gathering and sending are the two main purposes of the church. It’s been said, “I’m a Christian, but I just don’t go to church.” My reply is, “You don’t understand what it means to be a Christian.” I’ve heard it said, “I follow the ten commandments, so I’m right with God.” As this lesson points out, requirements are not what following Christ is about. What it’s about is loving God with all your heart, strength, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.

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