This last week I enjoyed leading conversations with a number of church leaders on the subject of our calling as Christians. In Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, Eugene Peterson – author of the Scripture paraphrase The Message – describes the spiritual goal at the heart of Christian community.
The image is a triangle. In geometry, there are important relationships between the angles and lines of a triangle. For example, Peterson suggests that preaching, teaching and administration are the visible lines of my own work. However, without the angles – the spiritual foundation of our work together – the lines are disconnected from their reason for being. Peterson applies this image to the role of being the pastor of a congregation. I believe the lesson applies to all of us.
The angles of our Christian vocation, according to Peterson, are prayer – bringing ourselves to attention before God; Scripture – attending to God in the texts of Israel and the church; and spiritual direction – giving attention to what God is doing in the person before us at any given moment.
As Christians in community we balance many tasks that help a church function as a volunteer organization and a non-profit corporation in our day-to-day world. But the church at heart is neither a volunteer organization nor a corporation; the church is a spiritual entity: the Body of Christ, called together by God to be the sacrament of Christ’s healing grace for a hurting world. If we are not paying attention to God in the midst of our work, we are not being church, no matter how successful we may appear to be.
Pursued with intentionality, how might this image change our way of being church? Take for example our gathering on Sunday morning. Who among us has not come to church with a lingering problem or loose end from a project to discuss with someone? What if we set this ‘work’ aside for the work of Sabbath: paying attention to God. The coffee time following church, becomes more than snacks, it is time for relationship. A new person is no longer a ‘visitor’ church shopping, but someone God has brought to this place on this Sunday for a reason. With practice, we might even be able to take this spiritual soul of faith into every day. As we look forward to the excitement of being together this fall, may we pay attention to God: in prayer, in Scripture and in one another.
-- Grace and Peace, Pastor Mark