Sunday, March 8, 2009

March 09 Meeting

Brian McLaren writes in The Secret Message of Jesus - Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything, “Instead of being about the kingdom of God coming to earth, the Christian religion has too often become preoccupied with abandoning or escaping the earth and going to heaven.”

Ten of us met last Tuesday, March 3, at Laura’s Cuban Restaurant in Hollywood, to continue our discussion about emerging church. Flavio & Beth had just returned from Sao Paulo, Brazil where they had an opportunity to meet some emerging church leaders there and shared a few observations…In Brazil, there’s a perception that in the U.S. there are emergents on every street corner :^) They also saw that the emerging church movement has in some cases been co-opted as a kind of alternative service of traditional churches. Co-opted, but at least inclusive of the alternative lifestyle, body piercings / goth / emo crowd. But, co-opted none the less since emerging church needs to be practiced locally as community. Melissa wondered how such services can be inclusive of families with young children. Beth found that there is not a strong female voice in the emerging church movement, both in Brazil and in North America. What is common is a focus on hosting the “big names” of the movement (mostly men), but what is more needed is a creative space to place a strong emphasis on community and missional work among the downtrodden. We miss voices for the marginalized like that of Kathy Escobar who blogs on the carnival in my head.

Robin M. then facilitated our discussion based on the paper by Kevin Corcoran titled, Thy Kingdom Come (on Earth): An Emerging Eschatology. He started by asking the question, “What is heaven?”

Kelly sees that the earth is broken and people are broken and heaven is when it’s all put back together the way God intended. Tom asked, “What if everything is broken and it’s left that way, but God’s grace makes up for that brokenness and redeems that brokenness?” This reminded Kennedy of the line in the U2 song, Grace , where it says, “Grace makes beauty out of ugly things.” He also described heaven as communion with God.

The discussion turned then to what happens when heaven encounters earth, an aspect of Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven that too often gets lost. Robin M. said that such encounters, based on that part of the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Thy Kingdom come…,” should happen on a daily basis. And Kennedy reminded us that Jesus made it clear in Luke’s Gospel 4:21 when He announced His mission of manifesting the Kingdom that, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

Robin M. then shared an overview of different views about the Kingdom of God in church history based on the book Models of the Kingdom by Howard A. Snyder, and he outlined four ideas about the return of Christ:

1. Christ came but the Kingdom left when He ascended. Now we’re in a time of anticipation and preparation for His return. Soon He will come again, during a time of tribulation, to “rapture” away His church and usher in His millennial reign. This is the view Steve W. shared he grew up with based on the book The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey. We said this view can both respond to and create a fear factor. That fear factor can both motivate people to seek an understanding of God and can be exploited in unfortunate ways just to run up attendance numbers at services and increase offerings. And finally, a negative consequence we have seen of this view is that Christians might give up on this planet (and the people in it!) while waiting for pie in the sky by and by. Some of us used to not even plan 20 years ahead because it was so popular to believe that Jesus would return any day.

2. The Kingdom is coming and yet to come. We have an experience of the Kingdom here and now but it is not fully consummated until Christ’s return. We have responsibility in the meantime to be part of God’s exciting work of bringing heaven to earth, as is implied in the Lord’s Prayer. Many of us felt we related to this understanding best.

3. The Kingdom is always coming but will never arrive. This is a view of the perpetual deferral of the Kingdom of God that originated with the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida .

4. And finally, that we as the Body of Christ will eventually usher in the Kingdom of God, but that Christ will not otherwise return in bodily form.

If, as many of us agreed, the Kingdom is “already, but not yet,” then gatherings like ours matter. Melissa spoke then of the importance of living a life characterized by loving others and bringing about justice. In doing so, others may get a glimpse of the Kingdom among us and want to join (as occurred in Acts). But, Tom asked, with all these choices of what model to believe can’t some be turned off by a God who seems to make it so hard to figure things out? Kathy felt that figuring it all out doesn’t have to be the point. Steve W. remembered the simple commandments to love God and to love others. And Kennedy thought this is some of what it means to be part of the “beloved community,” which is already happening around us. An illustration Beth always liked is the banquet table parable of the Kingdom found in the 14th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, and Revelation 3:20 where Jesus is knocking at the door to come in and eat with us.

Steve F. wondered why it matters which view of Christ’s return one believes in. Kathy felt that if we behave differently based on what we believe the end game will be, that matters. Going back to the U2 song, Grace, where it says grace “travels outside of Karma,” Kennedy spoke of the hope he found by realizing life is heading somewhere and has meaning and purpose. “The world is being transformed and I’m part of it. I’m part of repairing the world. That brings me joy.”

We decided to meet again in four weeks on March 31, 2009 at Laura’s Cuban restaurant in Hollywood to continue our conversation about emerging and missional church.

Troddin’ down Babylon,


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