Today we come to our sixth week of dialoguing through who we are as a church–our Corner Church ethos. And our focus in this series has been in the processing of who we are as a church, not just simply declaring who we are.
Identity, or ethos, is a complicated thing, whether it’s as an individual, an organization, or a church. Identity (ethos) is found in the midst of the tension between several realities.
Ethos is not just who we have been or who we want to be or who we think we are or who others think we are or who we say we are. Ethos is not stationary or simply quantified or simply declared.
Ethos or identity is the tension between who we try to be and who we are, between the ideal and reality, between past and future, between intentionality and passivity.
Whether we want it or not, whether we are working on it or not, whether we keep it in focus or not, ethos is forming, changing, solidifying. And in all of this push and pull, in all of this complexity, the goal is not to eventually find the place where all the tensions are relaxed. Hoping to find a place where you can just land on who you (or we) are supposed to be is probably not a possibility.
I love Jesus’ words in John 15. John 14–17 are known as the Farewell Discourse given by Jesus to eleven of his disciples immediately after the conclusion of the Last Supper in Jerusalem, the night before his crucifixion. Right in the middle of it Jesus speaks to the process of life. Hear Jesus’ words–words of process, of intentionality, of grace, of responsibility:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:1-8)
We are going to jump right into a complicated question:
How do these tensions simplify and complicate identity?
So far in this series we have started processing why we plant, what we believe, how we value real relationship, how we focus on walking towards Christ and spiritual reality, and how we value ownership. Today we’ll talk about continually refining.
- Follow Jesus
- Focus on Scripture
- Value everyone's story
- Build real relationships
- Seek spiritual reality
- Encourage everyone to take personal ownership of faith, church, and community
- See that we are better together
- And do this again and again so that people can have an opportunity to walk to church
Today as we talk about being a church–which is us, not a building or an organization–we are called to be growing, improving, bettering. Here is what we have written in our Corner Church Ethos document:
“The world's problems can’t be fixed in a day. We want to be a church that leaves the world a little bit better every day before we lay our heads down at night. Jesus invites us to come as we are but insists we not stay that way.”
Let me invite you to process this:
What are some challenges in recognizing personal growth?
As we have done in this series we are going to be processing, not just hearing, today. As we process being a church that is growing, improving, refining, bettering, I want to acknowledge and dialogue about an emotional reality before we go any farther. Look at this one side of a conversation:
“Wow. You have grown so much. When I see you know I am blown away by how far you have come compared to where you used to be. At this rate, can you imagine where you will be in a year? In five years? Amazing.”
Now, feel the impact of intent and tone. Is it excited and encouraging or condescending and dismissive?
What different emotions go into the process of personal or organizational growth, improving, bettering?
There is personal growth and change, and there is communal growth and change. These are connected. Personal change and growth is greatly impacted by communal realites. Communal change and growth is the cumulative impact of personal growth and changes.
I am going to swing the spotlight to personal change for a moment:
If 15-year-ago you walked in and sat at the table with you right now, what would be fun, funny, and/or cringy?
Now I swing the spotlight to communal change. Today, our processing is to bring growth, change, and bettering into communal intentionality. Can you feel that the concepts of this series are cumulative? As we process growth, change, or bettering, it is built on why we plant, what we believe, valuing real relationship, focusing on walking towards Christ and spiritual reality, and valuing ownership.
This is a “we” reality, not a “they” reality–meaning that church, our ethos, our identity is not: “When are they going to do that?” But rather it is: “We need to do that and/or be that.”
Repeatedly we have been coming back to Paul’s conversations about the body. Paul saw something as he saw the symbiotic relationship between body parts and as he brought that perspective to the “body of Christ.” Hear the “we” realities in Paul’s words:
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:3-5)
Here’s a question that is probably worthy of having a thesis written on it:
What are some of the obstacles to realizing and acting on personal responsibility in communal growth?
In our conversations in preparation for this week, the complexities took us down many tangents. We kept coming to the question of what opens the door to growth. Is it perfection, or wisdom, or spirituality, or talent, or effort, or community support, or God that opens the door?
I hear the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 3 as he is addressing growth and its connection to leadership:
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)
So does that mean I don’t have to do anything? But then you turn just a few pages, and in a verse that we looked at not long ago, Paul says:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
So it is God and me, right? Well, the author of Hebrews says:
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
So it is God and me and us? Cool–that’s a lot, but I get it.
But there is more! Paul brings in the refining properties of the challenges of life:
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)
So it is God and me and us and life?
Not really. In our preparation, we started to see and feel something repeating and forming as a theme: hope.
I love the Hebrew words found in the Old Testament for hope. They also have an overtone of waiting, persisting and expecting.
In the Psalms, these words for hope appear over 40 times. Hope is a theme. Here are some examples:
Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins. (Psalm 130:1-8)
Waiting. Hoping. Expecting. Trusting…
Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:5-8)
Connection. Lifeline. Hope.
As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. (Psalm 71:14)
But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish. (Psalm 9:18)
No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause. (Psalm 25:3)
Two questions to process for a moment:
How does hope impact growth?
How does the absence of hope impact growth?
Hope is not something that only exists in calm waters. Hope is, in spite of the chaos that is underfoot. I hear the words of Jesus echoing in my head from His intro to the Sermon on the Mount:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:3-12)
We have covered a lot of ground today. Here’s one more conversation to conclude with. My mom always told me, “Leave it better than you found it.” It was driven into my head, not as an option, but as a responsibility.
Today, this week, this month, this year… What does it look like for you to leave church better than you found it?
Take It Deeper Questions
- Read Matthew 5:1-12.
- What would a bumper sticker that represents your week, month, year say right now?
- Of the eight beatitudes, which do you most desire in your life right now?
- Which of the qualities are you most wanting to avoid?
- How do you know if you are blessed or stressed?
- How do these words of Jesus open the door for personal and communal growth?
- How are you challenged, encouraged, focused, and/or confused by this text?
Bible Reading Plan
- 1 Samuel 3
- 1 Samuel 4
- 1 Samuel 5
- 1 Samuel 6
1 Samuel 7