Communion

God Is With Us, If We Are With Them...

“This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.
This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
(Luke 22:19, 20, NIV)

Christians have argued for millennia about what exactly this means that the bread and wine “are” Jesus’ body and blood. And I certainly don’t want to rehash that discussion here.

But I do want to make a proposal:

Those who come and receive the “body and blood” of Jesus in turn become the body of Jesus in the world.

So it isn’t necessarily about what happens to these items, as it is about what happens to us, and in turn, to the world. The Apostles Paul and John remind us of this:

"Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it."
(1 Corinthians 12:27, NIV)
"In this world we are like Jesus." (1 John 4:17, NIV)

But it is all too easy for the church to think that this [the church building] is the place where we come to meet God, like the Temple or the Tabernacle of the Hebrew Bible. The Apostle Paul abruptly reminds us:

"The God who made the world and all that is in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands because he needs anything. Rather it is he who gives to everyone life and breath and everything."
(Acts 17:24-25, NABRE)

This is not to suggest that God is not here, quite the contrary. The Triune God is here, but God’s presence is among us in order that God may send us out. Because God “does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands,” instead, he dwells among those who suffer, those who struggle, the oppressed and the poor, the sick and the lonely, the forgotten and the left behind.

God is in Greystone Upper Elementary School where children are being left behind because of their economic status and their race,
God is with the women and children who experience abuse and neglect,
God is at Children's Hospital where illness destroys the bodies of precious little ones,
God is with the senior citizen on a fixed income, who is more lonely than they are poor, 
God is with LGBTQ persons who are ostracized and harmed or murdered because of who they are,
God is in the prisons who are filled with people who are traumatized, victimized, and criminalized,
God is with those who feel excluded or unwelcome here, in our church,
God is with the single mother struggling to make ends meet month after month after month,
God is in the streets sleeping under the stars in the heat, in the cold, in the rain, and in the snow,
God is with the depressed and the hurting, the alienated and the suicidal, with the people who don’t have it all together, and with those who have nothing together,

And God is with us, if we are with them.

God through the Prophet Isaiah tells us:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

                                                              (Isaiah 58:6-12, NIV)

The Triune God is here to meet you, to make you into his agents of reconciliation in a world that needs so desperately the perfect love that casts out fear. Come and receive his body, broken for you, and his blood, poured out for you that you may go and find God where he is waiting for us to meet him.

Thank you Father, for love for us and for your Son, who died and rose again for us and for the whole world, in the power of the Holy Spirit.   
Amen.

#SilentCofC: Our Theological Assumptions About Children are Dangerous

I have this deep conviction that shapes the way I think about the world, my faith, and my place in God's mission:

ALL OF OUR PRACTICES ARE EMBODIMENTS OF OUR THEOLOGICAL CONVICTIONS (ABOUT GOD AND THE WORLD) EVEN IF THEY HAVE NEVER BEEN ARTICULATED.

Yesterday's introductory post to this conversation has absolutely exploded. With 200x the traffic of any other post I have ever written and with emails and Facebook messages coming in from around the world we have clearly struck a chord. Painful stories from victims, messages from people who were ostracized for their bravery to expose abuse, people asking "have you ever heard about _____?". The narratives are heartbreaking, and a number of them will be featured here in the coming days and weeks.

But today, I want to explore what I think is one of the most important underlying realities that have made addressing this issue all the more complicated in Churches of Christ. What I am about to suggest may be seen as controversial by some and offensive by others, but it is written out of deep love and respect for our tradition and from a genuine concern for the children (including my own!) in our churches and their formation in the way of Jesus.

What do our practices say about the value we place on children?

Worship Practices

Typically (and I am thankful for one that the congregation I attend is a wonderful exception) children are not utilized (and certainly not our young girls!). While I understand that this some will suggest that this is merely for pragmatic reasons, I believe that this also betrays a much more elemental theological assumption that I will explore shortly.

Education Practices

Our children are typically segregated from the rest of the church for their education from birth through college age. I recognize the need for age-appropriate formation, but this practice (distance from the "adults") again underlines and reinforces the root conviction that we need to talk about.

Mission Practices

Our children have little (if any) role in the larger mission of the church. Perhaps bringing some change for the missionaries, or being taught about basic moral principles (like kindness, sharing, and obedience... not particularly Christian traits), but they are not (in my experience) treated as "equal" in value or in their ability to contribute to the work of God in the world.

So what is the underlying theological conviction here that I believe makes our children more susceptible to abuse (sexual and otherwise) and neglect (spiritual and otherwise)?

WE DO NOT TREAT OUR CHILDREN AS EQUAL MEMBERS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. WE INSTEAD TREAT THEM AS IF THEY ARE "CHRISTIANS IN WAITING" OR POTENTIAL CONVERTS WHEN THEY REACH THE APPROPRIATE AGE.

The results of this unspoken (and perhaps unconscious) assumption are the following:

  • Sometimes we view the formation of our children as the duty that should be filled by those who are willing. We spend time begging, recruiting, or relegating certain adults to a "life sentence" of "children's ministry" (why isn't it just ministry?) and in congregations of all shapes and sizes it can be a perpetual challenge to maintain. Well, guess who is always willing to go above and beyond?
  • A child's "distance" from the life of the church creates a dangerous "gap" in their formation. Our unwillingness to allow children to participate fully in the worshiping life of the congregation (for example by denying them admission to Communion, not allowing them to lead the congregation in the ways that they are able and gifted, and the total exclusion of our girls) creates within our children a great disconnect between their lives and the lives of (adult) members of the Kingdom of God. Well guess who is willing to tell them what God "wants them to do"? (Remember what we said in the previous post about "stayers"!)
  • Our segregation of children minimizes "safe" adults. If an abuser has placed themselves within our children's formation in our churches (bible classes, Vacation Bible School, youth ministry, short-term mission trips) and the children are largely isolated, or more accurately, segregated from the rest of the church, we have significantly diminished the number of safe adults which our children can know, love, and seek help from in instances of abuse.

For more about this read my previous post:
A Gospel Big Enough for Little Ones?


One of the conversations that we need to have in Churches of Christ is not merely about prevention policies and procedures for addressing disclosures of abuse. We need to talk about the underlying assumptions about God, the Gospel, and the mission of God in the world that shape the way our churches treat and shape and protect our children. The consequences are too high for us to do otherwise. After all, it was Jesus himself who said:

"If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matthew 18:6, NRSV)

So, are our children as important as we say they are? What kinds of changes in our practices and language would need to take place to address some of the things that I have only mentioned briefly here?