Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How we Transform our Church Culture

(this was a sermon i preached a few Sunday's ago. I'm not completely satisfied but hey, we are supposed to improve from time to time. This was not what i said word for word from the pulpit but this is somewhat a summary. )


There are disturbing similarities of the cinema/Cineplex and the church. I remember while watching the movie, everyone in the Cineplex was engaged with the giant screen up in front. Engaged in a sense, when there was a joke people would laugh kind of thing. The crowd was also engaged when there were glitches when the movie was played. Everyone seemed to be engaged for as long as the movie played. And when it was finished everyone rushed back for the fact that we were strangers. We were engaged at one point but were back to normal after that. I feel like it is church all over again. Sometimes I think that kind of thing is not what the church is supposed to be; just a service, just some place we go to on a Sunday morning, just a religious experience.
And that is a way of life that the church in modern times acts. I call this culture. Culture is in a nutshell- a way of life. The church has adopted the cinema’s way of life, that we are mere strangers seeking for the same thing: God. The church has, because of this, lost a very vital thing in the process.
Now a while back pastor talked about transitioning a church culture .It is something that we as a church are somehow working towards. Because we often get preoccupied with the big stuff, all too often, we get lost in the maze of actually doing things that reflect the transition. Today I will talk about how we how we start to change the culture; being cultural creators.
But before we can be people who create culture- what we do in transitioning a church culture we have some sort of model to follow. In this case we look to the one who change a culture- Jesus in the gospels.

The core of Jesus’ vision (what motivated him to change the culture around him)

If we want to know what brought about Jesus’ strong conviction of his mission (how he changed the culture), in reforming Israel (calling them to repentance and follow him), we have to somehow grasp the core of what spurred Jesus to action.
I know we don’t have any particular creed that we ascribe to. ‘Creed’ actually means belief or a set of beliefs. Israel had a creed. It was called the ‘shema’- meaning ‘hear’ (found in Dt 6:4-9) This was a creed that pious Jews repeated twice daily. Some added Dt 11:13-21 & Num 15:37-41. In fact this was the first prayer that young Jewish children were taught to recite and Jesus was no exception to that. There was one rabbi who said that anyone who does not recite this creed twice daily was considered to be those careless people of the land. So for the Jew the ‘shema’ or ‘creed’ was very an important aspect of Jewish life. It was the thing that formed their life through and through.
We might be asking “What is Jesus’ take on this ‘shema’ thing?” Well let’s see by looking at Mark 12:28-33 where Jesus was confronted with a question regarding his understanding on what is the most ultimate commandment of all.
Here we find the ‘shema’ but Jesus adds to the ’shema’. The thing that Jesus added was not something people put to be remembered or recited. According to Jesus there was another thing important when people are devoted to God, which is to love others as well. Jesus’ revision of the ‘shema’ he put loving God and loving people as priority.
This was the creed that Jesus lived by and the core that brought out to change the culture around him.

The story of Jesus and his take on cultural transformation in the form of a fellowship meal

Let us reflect on one of the aspects in Jesus messing around with the present culture of his day. That reflection takes us to a scenario of dining, which is table fellowship.

Background of table fellowship

Among the religious elite during those days, food laws were a central symbol to the Jews.It was in table fellowship that lay, for Jews of those days, a certain vision of Israel. Now it was not enough for the food to be kosher (holy and acceptable) but the fellowship has to be with the right people as well. If you ate with the wrong kind of people, although the food that you ate was kosher (holy) you have defiled yourself, rendering everything unholy. For the Pharisees the “table became a wall between the observant and nonobservant”. It was a vision of “social respectability, religious uprightness, proper covenant behavior, loyalty to the traditions and hence to the aspirations of Israel”. This talks about identity. Basically we can say that the table and fellowship gave meanings of identity. Who was in and who was out.
We can say then that for the Pharisees purity was to mix among themselves and them alone. If others wanted to join them they had to abide by the same rules, otherwise your identity would always be those who we not Israel. This was one of the boundary markers- the table fellowship. To the Jews of the day to the table was a place where you had to be pure to participate in.

Jesus the radical (rascal for the Pharisees and other opposing parties)

Jesus actually posed very negative response from these pious Jews, religious leaders and the likes. What made Jesus a rascal was that he did not mind the company that came to sit and dine with him. This was the problem. (Mt 11:16- 11:19; Mk 2:14 -Mk 2:17)
Here was Jesus, shaped by his belief- Love God, love others, was changing the rules of cultural and social acceptability, thus changing the vision of Israel that the Pharisees had.
Theirs was you had to be pure; Jesus’ was there is purity for those who come and accept.
Theirs looked at your social standing; Jesus’ was one that said everyone was welcomed. Theirs was just to maintain tradition, Jesus’ was that of mission and agenda- there was a purpose. Theirs were mechanical; Jesus’ table fellowship gave life.
I guess when we look at Jesus’ table there was an air of acceptance, of hope, of healing, of joy, of expectation. Jesus didn’t seem to mind the kind of people he was dining with. To him it was not an issue. His issue was to seek and save the lost, to heal the sinner-thus transforming them to follow in his mission. Just check out this story: Lk 19:1 - Lk 19:10
The meal now for Jesus instilled a different meaning altogether. A new kind of Israel. It became a table that heals because those who come to it have the chance to be pure, where sinners found grace and change; a table that envisions because Jesus showed them what Israel was supposed to be as a nation- a boundary breaker and grace giver, thus transforming the person; a table that hopes because it gives a kind of foretaste of what Jesus kingdom will be like for those who follow him. This was one aspect of how Jesus’ life transformed culture around him.

Lessons for us

The lesson for us is simple. Bringing about change to an age old structure spells difficulty. Because of this we will often succumb to the grandness of transforming a church culture. But as we find in Jesus, his vision of transforming the stiff and legalized culture of Israel started in the form of a creed. Thus for us to change the bigger picture we must remember that it stars with us first- in us. And as we slowly believe it and act it out, it will eventually affect everything. To affect big things we have to start small- transforming our church culture starts with us, all of us- Love God, love neighbor.

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Hopeful Theo

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I'm a student of Theology (currently and will always be one). I'm a student of culture and a student of music as well. I guess you could say life is a never ending journey of learning. Because of that we never stop being students. Just a little something about this blog: Deconstructing The Monkey is all about being a safe space for emerging conversations