This morning the big word, the word of the day for all you Pee-Wees Playhouse fans in the congregation, is participation. It is a word that signals collective activity, collaboration, co-operation, co-mmunity, co-laboring. A mutual working together in small ways that add up over time.
It might conjure up the image of a mustard seed, a seed that is small, but spreads quickly like a weed rather than say something like Monsanto seeds, human-made, powerful, engineered and indestructible.
This morning, we have intentionally couched our offering and the other ways we build community here at Camas Friends under this word participate because we believe that the church is truly made up of individuals co-operating together under the call and vision of the kingdom of God. This co-mmunity, the koinonia as it calls in in Acts or the beloved community as John refers to it as, is a mutual co-laboring together with Gods Holy Spirit to carry out his mission.
Therefore, the word participation should signal in your mind the very opposite of hierarchy, top-down, and controlling communities and politics that much of our world has become accustomed to. Participation, rather, is decentralized, mutual and works more like a network than it does a ladder. And this kind of participation originates not with us, but with the Spirit of God.
Theologian James McClendon writes:
The Spirit accepts partners. It is not the case that only a select few disciples are to be missionaries who therefore receive (as a kind of pay bonus for overseas duty?) special assistance from Gods Spirit. Rather the mission is Gods own, and all the redeemed are recruited for the task. (433 #2)
And the Apostle Paul says that it is the Spirit who gives to each one and activates gifts within the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). And again, Jesus in Luke chapter 4 says The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good news to the poor…
It is the Spirit who holds us together, it is the Spirit who animates us and guides into the way of Gods work, or mission, in the world, and it is Gods Spirit who seeks a mutual partnership and a co-laboring with each of us in that work.
Quakers and Gospel Order
Now early Quakers understood participation with God to be a co-laboring together in the establishment of the new creation, think of a church rooted in Gen. 1 and 2 rather than one rooted in Gen. 3. This would be a community where everything, from the gathered meeting to the individuals and families lived according to the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount and was structured under the peaceful reign of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
In the 1660s when Fox helped the Friends movement become more organized he helped it become a mutually accountable group through the regular meeting together who waited upon the Lords Spiritual guidance before acting. Without any priests, bishops, or presbyters, this was to be a decentralized community of discernment placed soley under the authority of Christ. (This is why whenever I have someone tell me that they dont like organized religion I assure them Quakers are anything but organized!). This participatory theology Friends call Gospel Order. It is a central conviction of our tradition that comes from its earliest period. Gospel Order is based not on a hierarchy of priests and powerful religious and political figures, but a community able to and willing to embrace the still small voice of the Holy Spirit guiding our feet in the way of peace (Luke 2?).
Sandra Cronk writes:
The church is a royal priesthood…the priestly function of Christ is manifested among Friends, not with any priestly liturgical office (since the outward celebration of the sacraments had been superseded by the strong prophetic listening as a pattern of worship, but in the everyday life of the community. The church offered spiritual sacrifices to God through its holy and righteous living. On the human level, the community was both priest and sacrifice. In Foxs mind the priestly dimension of Christs present work was incarnated (in part) by the community living Gospel Order. (Cronk 19).
And this is what we have done today. It was meant to invite more reflection and commitment to this level of understanding and engagement. Will you enter into living Gospel Order with us as a community? It takes all of us, the sacrifice is both an individual and communal one, it does not come from a powerful few but from participatory community.
And before we get too far off the topic here, lets head back to the beginning.
Quaker participation relies on men and women and children thinking for themselves, pulling together and co-operating with one another and Jesus Christ – he is king and no one else. But ironically, his kingship is unlike any earthly King. It is bottom up, it starts small and it spreads quietly and in unexpected ways, it works more like a weed than it is an army – it does not come by force (a la the crusades) but through mustard seeds of hope, love and peace (a la the heralding disciples).
Luke 10: Heralding Peace
Now this brings us to the Gospel passage for this morning in Luke 10. Here in this text Jesus sends out his disciples as Heralds of Peace rather than Crusaders or Truth. This to me is a beautiful picture of how Jesus invited his followers into Gods mission of participation and peace. Here are just a few brief observations about what is happening here:
First – Jesus says The harvest is plentiful… In our church, we have had many conversations about how small we are, about the difficulties that we run into because we dont have this or that resources, or if only we had a few more people than maybe we could ______________. Being outsourced, and outnumbered is difficult in todays world where success is measured by numbers, sheen, credit lines, and sheer size. If this werent true then we might imagine rolling up to a MacDonalds drive through window and ordering a super-shrinky-dink choc. milkshake. Its not going to happen.
Any yet, counter to the world, Jesus recognizes that those who truly follow his way will always be outnumbered and small. That is to say, the problem of smallness to Jesus is a myth. Its not a problem at all, but rather the very form of the mission. And this smallness seems to be quite all right by him!!! This is noted by the fact that Jesus never once gave a church growth seminar out at the lodge on the Sea of Galilee. In fact it was quite the opposite, synagogues tended to empty when he was around (see Luke 4) and plot his destruction because they didnt like his message.
In other words, Jesus method is never marked and measured by efficiency and growth, thats modern theologies own faulty version of the Gospel. No his way is marked by patience and by an invitation to participate in the harvest no matter how small. In Luke 10, Jesus gives us a picture of what the mission looks like and it is an invitation to become a patient co-laborer, not a church mass-marketer.
Second – This theme of smallness continues in a different way. Notice all the gear they get to take with them! I imagine a James Bond movie here where Bond gets to take all the latest and greatest gadgets on his new mission — the exploding pen, the book that turns into a comfy bed, the hat that turns into a helicopter…
Q: wait…a second – what are they to take?
Nothing. Only themselves – not even their Birkenstocks, which would be a pretty hard sell here in the Northwest. Go, Jesus says, and take only yourself. Be utterly dependant on others grace and utterly dependant on the Spirits guidance. So now, not only are they outnumbered and small, but they dont get to take anything that will help them feel more adequate for the job – like a 3g iPad or something.
Now I know a lot of you dont feel like you have much by way of resources to offer others and there are plenty of you who feel inadequate to join in the work Christs calls us to: I dont know the bible enough, Im not spiritual enough, I dont know Quaker history enough, I am a bad Quaker, I have all this baggage, Ive really screwed up in my past, how could I be a herald of peace, I dont have any money to help fund something like this, etc. The feelings of inadequacy surround all of us. It is a common feeling but it can really damage our willingness to do something radical.
But what I love about Jesus and his message is that he fully embraces our inadequacy, and entrusts his message of peace and mustard seeds of good to these people without any gear at all.
Or as Colin Saxton puts it — I am equally inept at teaching or preaching so either works for me.
If you bring all this its no longer true participation, nor is it an openness to Gods movements and reliance on our partner the Holy Spirit.
Third – The message that these heralds are to take with them is one that announces peace to each house they arrive at. And for those who receive that invitation they experience the Kingdom of God at hand.
Now this isnt the same as the Mormon and JWs coming to your door, seeking converts. Being heralds of peace doesnt mean youre out to proselytize everyone. For one, this was the normal way to travel back then. You stay with people along the way, sort of an ancient version of couch surfing or something like the Friends traveling directory we have in the back. But more than that, it was a way of declaring peace to people who very well could have been considered enemies, going from home to home announcing they to can experience the kingdom of God come near (and if we read on, we know that not everyone accepted this message).
Now when you put all this together I think it adds up to a participatory vision of Jesus followers carrying out his work. Jesus invites his disciples to be co-laborers rather than creating some kind of holy-hierarchy where some do more than others and some just arent invited at all. Everyone is invited and depended on, everyone is needed for their equally gifted and equally inadequate selves.
Therefore, we are heralds not crusaders, marked with tools of peace rather than weapons of war. Heralds announce and proclaim, they bring resources and information, they are ambassadors who bring good tidings, like the angels and the magi in the Christmas stories. But they have no power to enforce their message. Theirs is not a message meant to coerce or control, nor is it to exclude or shun. Jesus gave them their message and it was a message that declared peace, a message of shalom, and well-being upon those who receive it.
Ive been reading a great book lately called The Strategically Small Church. Not as in the church is strategizing on ways to be small, though Ive been a part of plenty of those, but rather they use their smallness strategically. The strategically small church sees being small in this day as actually both being more faithful to Jesus call in Luke 10 and other places, but also advantageous and worth leveraging in our society today.
And theres a lot of good in that book about being small churches working to be authentic, more easily connect with people (when we put intention into it), and some other things that I think we do pretty well at but what caught my eye this week was about a pastor named Eileen in Altadena CA, who helped move her church away from pillar ministries, the big programs that sap peoples energy and resources and focus instead on organic expressions called mustard seed initiatives. Pretty fancy wording for basically what we see happening in Luke 10.
Part of the idea is not to do away with every program but to limit the size and scope of what we do to a) what we can do well and b) what we can do as a small community that others cant or arent doing for whatever reason. It also recognizes that we both individually and collectively are already doing some pretty amazing stuff that never gets to fall under official church business.
Eileen says Mustard Seeds is not so much a program as an attitude…Its an effort to put into practice the biblical principle of the priesthood of all believers.
Or as we might say the biblical principle of the heralds of peace or of participation. This means it moves the emphasis of sharing sharing and living the good news out from these four walls and into whatever it is youre already doing. What matters is participation rather than control, where you are doing things you enjoy and feel life from. We want to see everyone engaged in heralding peace in their own lives and in their own ways, it doesnt all have to look the same and it doesnt have to show up in the bulletin to matter.
In closing — Id like to read you a story that illustrates this point and is a present day picture of Luke 10. It was written by another Quaker minister named Phil Gulley. (Current Friends Journal article — pg 15).
We, like Lyman, are all invited to participate in the heralding of peace in our world, in fact, as Christians this is our call and our message. No matter how inadequate we think we are, or small and insignificant, we too can join the work of the Spirit who is like a mustard seed, spreading the good news of the kingdom of God in small ways that quickly begin spread and reach those who need it most.
— Isaac Pennington
Press your spirit to bow daily before God
and wait for breathings to you from his Spirit.
Pray that he will continue his mercy to you
and make his way more and more clear.
Flickr image from quinnanya.