Belief, Behavior, and Belonging (part 1)

February 20, 2011 Belief, Behavior, Belonging I Cor. 3:10-11, 16-23 Matt.  5:38-48
We.
We are.
We are human.
We are white, we are Black, we are Asian, we are Hispanic.
We are rich, we are poor, we are the middle class.
We are proud.  We are humble.
We are confident.  We are insecure.
We are teachers.  We are students.  We are farmers.  We are retired.
We have never had a job.
We are married.  We are single.  We are divorced.  We are widowed.
We are parents.  We are children.  We are friends.
We are strangers; each in our own way.

We are young.  We are old.  We are somewhere in between.
We are wise and we are foolish.
We are dreamers.  We are realists.
We are optimists.  We are pessimists.
We are angry.  We are joyful.  We are happy.  We are sad.
We wound; and we are wounded.
We confuse and we are confused.
…We are Christians.  We are seekers.  We are just …not …sure.
…But here we are.
Together again, and for the first time.
We are the church.
We are the people of God.
We are the Bride of Christ.
We are the Body of Christ.
We are disciples of Christ, followers of “The Way”.
We are the fellowship of the unashamed.
We are servants.  We are kings.  We are peasants.
We are high and we are low.  We are strong and we are weak.
We are faithful and we are not.
We are the church.  We are a church.
We are church!

We are messengers who bear glad tidings and news of Great Joy!
It’s like Paul writes to the Corinthians, Jesus is the only foundation…and so we are the gold and the silver and the costly stones being laid upon it.  We are also the wood, the hay, and the straw that he goes on to talk about.
We are many things to many people.  Some we can be proud of; some we should repent of.
But we are the church, for better or worse, til death takes us to our home.

So how should we talk about this thing we call ‘church’?
Are we talking about “The” church, or “A” church?  Are we talking about a building, or a people?  Is it an identity, or a club?  Is it visible, or invisible?
Is it something like an army bent on a mission, like the world saw during the crusades?
Or is it more like a monastery, a place of refuge where Christian people flee from the unholy influences of the world around them?
We know church has to do with God, and the Bible and Jesus…but how much; exactly?
It’s got boundaries, for sure…and membership; people can either be in or out…but what’s the minimum requirement to be considered ‘in’?
How far can you go before you’re finally considered “out”?
What’s it take to join up?  What’s the purpose?
What…Is… “Church”?
As a pastor, you’d think I’d know, wouldn’t you?
I mean, I know how I would answer that question if you came into the office this week and asked me these questions.
I’d talk about how important it is to come together and worship God with other people.  I’d talk about stuff that we do when we come together on Sunday morning and other times during the week.  I’d talk about the role of confession, forgiveness, and the shaping of lives that happens when this community of faith gathers under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
I’d talk about the role of sharing time and prayer and how we need fellowship with other believers if we take our faith seriously at all.
And if you pressed me for biblical material, I’d go on using biblical metaphors; things like the bride of Christ, the body of Christ, the chosen people, the people of God, the new Israel.
I might point to Acts and we could read the part where the Holy Spirit comes with power and forms a new people; how the apostles divided the work load among some chosen leaders so that human need was met more effectively and they were freed up to preach and teach the living word of the resurrected Christ.
From there I might go to Revelation and look at the letters to the seven churches…we could see what we could learn from them about the role of the church in the world today; and then if we had time, we could trace the journey of the people of God through the Old Testament, and try to learn how that identity as a chosen people; a people set apart…how that has changed in response to all kinds of situations.
If we had enough time and willpower, I’m convinced we could put down on paper a pretty compelling definition of what the church is, and what God means for us to be about today.
…But I also know that all of that would look a lot better on paper than it looks in practice.

In reality, the idea of church is muddier than those statements could ever acknowledge.
We are a movement, but we are also an institution.  We are a family, but we are also an organization.
That’s why I keep coming back to the most basic definition that I can possibly think of…
We are the church.  There’s no other helpful way to think about it.
When you’re tempted to make statements such as “the church isn’t…” or “the church just doesn’t…” or “I wish the church could…”–I’m asking you to re-think what you’re saying.
Turn it into a we statement.  “I wish we could…” “We aren’t…” “We don’t…”.
The challenge I’m giving us is to shift the ownership of our gripes and take responsibility for this church-thing we’re a part of.
We are the church; and that means the church of our dreams AND the church of our nightmares is right here among us.

As some of you have heard me say, I’m starting to see church as involving a trinity of its own.
It’s not an idea that’s original with me, but I really like it.
The trinity I’m talking about involves Belief, Behavior, and Belonging.
Traditionally, we the church have taught that first, an individual must believe in the good news of Jesus Christ so that they can be saved.
As a result of that changed belief, we have traditionally looked for evidence of a changed life; that is, changed behaviors that reflect the belief of the salvation offered by Jesus.
Only after Belief and Behavior have fallen into line have we traditionally been comfortable as a church offering the Belonging aspect of Christian faith.
In other words, first comes Belief, then Behavior, followed by Belonging.
Well, there are problems with that model.
For instance, what about the mentally handicapped?  People who can’t physically understand like we think of understanding?  What about addictions…people who fall back into poor behavior not because they don’t believe the right things, but because they’re physically unable to cope with a new stress or situation?
Should these people not belong to our church, since their beliefs and their behaviors aren’t nailed down with certainty?
There needs to be a better way, and I think Jesus points to it in Mattew 5.
He teaches the people to “Turn the other cheek, go the extra mile with your oppressor, give more to the one who sues you than what they were asking for”.  In other words, he tells the people not to let anyone boss them around; rather meet them on THEIR terms with your dignity intact, even when they manipulate or hurt you.
He’s teaching some really significant behaviors.
The things he’s talking about in the first part of this passage, they don’t require any belief at all, except the belief that what he was teaching would actually work.
It’s completely behavior.
But then he goes on to talk about loving our enemies.
And the line between belief and behavior gets a little fuzzy.

“Love your enemies” he says…”and pray for those who persecute you.”
…I can’t help but wonder if Love is a belief or a behavior.
Is Prayer a belief–or is it a behavior?
And what’s Belonging have to do with it?
This is black history month; we’re at the tail end of it.  And at the risk of just giving a token reference to Martin Luther King Jr and the whole civil rights movement; I have to wonder, was that movement rooted in belief, or behavior?  Who belonged?
I have to think the trinity was at work; not only the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but the interplay between belief, behavior, and belonging.
Life is never as clear cut as we try to make it.  Church is never a straight shot to redemption, and faith often looks more like a maze than a highway.

Is there room in this thing called “church” for people who emphasize either behavior or belief at the expense of the other?
I was at a camp a few years ago, where the music leader for the weekend shared a testimony about how she came to join the church.
If I remember the story right, she shared about how she saw a flier somewhere around town advertising that a church needed someone to play guitar on Sunday mornings for their worship service.  She played guitar and she needed a job, so she applied and joined this church’s worship team.
Sunday after Sunday, she showed up and helped out with the music.  Sunday after Sunday she attended services, taking her spot in the worship team and playing music.
As time went on, eventually the until the teaching and the preaching and the relationships there found their mark and she became a believer.
She got it backwards according to the traditional model; but does that really matter?
We are a church and we are the church.
We have no other options.
For Christ is our foundation; We are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

Therefore I’d like to suggest we define our gatherings as the place where belief, behavior, and belonging all rotate around Jesus Christ, who we profess to be Lord not only of heaven, but also of earth.
We are the fellowship of people seeking to align all three “B’s” with each other and with God’s purposes for all of life.
We are broken, we are dreamers, we are saints and we are sinners, and I think that’s somehow exactly what God had in mind.

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