For I believe that the church is us. You and me. And this big, grand, glorious church that Paul pontificates about in Ephesians - almost to the point of making our head spin - is made up of just plain ol’ broken, flawed folks like us. Mostly well-meaning and good-hearted with our fair share of quirks, neurosis, addictions and blind spots with a propensity for fits, rages and chocolate. This is why Paul also said, But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. [2 Corinthians 4:7] This is the mystery of the gospel. God's whole, big, fancy plan for the world to be simply us? The church? Just our ordinary clay pot lives. I mean, have you looked around on a Sunday morning recently?
But “WE”? Seriously? This flies in the face of our American culture. Where the “I” in individualism is king. If you want to make it in this world, you have to make your own way and chart your own course. We live in a society grounded in the sense of individual rights and personal freedom.
But I do believe in freedom. I do. Deep in our souls, we know as human beings that we were not created for slavery; we were not created to lead drab, narrow or constricted lives, but to live in the wide-open spaces. Ours is a gospel of freedom. We are familiar with these words. The truth will set you free. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. But how are we defining freedom? According to the kingdom of affluence? The kingdom of fame? The kingdom of power? Or the kingdom of love?
“Our present idea of freedom is only the freedom to do as we please: to sell ourselves for a high salary, a home in the suburbs, and idle weekends. But that is a freedom dependent upon affluence, which is in turn dependent upon the rapid consumption of exhaustible supplies. The other kind of freedom is the freedom to take care of ourselves and of each other. The freedom of affluence opposes and contradicts the freedom of community life.” ― Wendell Berry, The Hidden Wound
As The Practicing Church, we are longing to live into another kind of freedom. A freedom that brings God’s shalom to earth. You see, though culture and Christianity are united in this universal, human desire for freedom, in practice they are worlds apart. While freedom means “throwing off all constraint and all authority” to the modern man, the freedom to do whatever we want, when we want, where we want, Christianity invites us to submit our lives to God and to each other, to lose our life in order to find it, and to receive the gift of abundance that comes from loving and being loved.
In addition, so often we view our circumstances as being the thing between us and our freedom. But the mystics and saints know better.
We judge ourselves to be the victims of difficult circumstances, when the real problem (and its solution) is within us. Our heart is imprisoned by our selfishness or fears, and it is we who need to change, to learn how to love, letting ourselves be transformed by the Holy Spirit; that is the only way of escaping from our sense of confinement. People who haven’t learned how to love will always feel like victims; they will feel restricted wherever they are. But people who love never feel restricted. ― Jacques Philippe, Interior Freedom
Perhaps this is why Jesus called us to love. God and neighbor and yes, even ourselves. This is why we are wrestling with the hard teachings of Jesus to submit the whole of our lives to another vision of the good life. To make the decisions about where we live and work, how we invest our time and money, and who we break bread with based on a collective dream. A dream of "being the church" in an embodied way in our neighborhoods. Where the rubber hits the road, and there is nowhere to hide, and our integrity is at stake, as our neighborhoods become the testing ground for our faith. Are we a people of generosity, compassion, forgiveness and grace or are we not? I believe there is a beautiful, messy, hard, glorious, meaningful way to do life that lives into a new vision of community. But it is costly. For it requires that we pick up our cross daily and lay down our lives for each other. So if it is freedom that we are longing for, let us not choose the “me” for surely there is something far greater. Let us choose the “we”. For love is the way to freedom.
by Jessica Ketola