Why church?

The following is a manuscript from a teaching given by Leah at Haven on April 26, 2015.  It's the second in Leah's Series on Acts, called "Now It's Your Turn".

Church.  Why church? What is it’s value?  What is it good for?  What’s the point?

These are questions that people of faith living in 2015, especially in extremely secular, liberal, academic, urban settings like Berkeley and the greater Bay Area have to wrestle with.  They are questions ultimately at the heart of what we are doing here today.  If you personally are not wrestling with what’s the value of church, maybe your experience of church has been altogether good, you are likely still aware that it is a live question for many of your non church-going friends or family members.  In a post-modern society particularly, there’s an increasing move to say “spirituality: sure.  God: fine.  Jesus: great.”  But church?  Organized religion? Why?

We live in a time and place where the fastest growing category checked on a form under “religious affiliation” is “none”.  It’s the era of “spiritual but not religious”.  A time when young adults who were raised attending churches and professing faith in Jesus are leaving in record numbers.  And many pastors are scratching their heads and wondering why the systems that have always worked for filling the pews are no longer effective.  Even the hipper new models of church don’t always seem to be cutting it.

Matt Casper was a writer and an athiest in his 30s, living in Southern California, when he was pitched an idea to participate in a book project aimed at those kind of pastors and church leaders.  He would be brought in as a secret shopper of sorts, to attend anonymously a number of church services and report his observations through dialogue with a Christian cowriter.  The result was the book Jim and Casper Go to Church.  In it, the two of them visit a number of churches, many of them very prominent influential churches of our time.  Observing the impressive services that many of them put on, some of them complete with hip rock bands, state of the arts sound systems, and laser light shows, Casper the friendly atheist poses the same question over and over again to his new Christian friend, Jim.  “So is this what Jesus told you to do?”  Why church?

Here at Haven, many of us feel this ambivalence around church all too acutely.  It’s for that reason that we’re careful about even using that word, “church” to describe what we’re doing.  It’s not because we’re trying to pretend that we’re something altogether different, but we recognize that too often “church” means something to people beyond a community of faith centered around Jesus.  Maybe it means gender inequality, anti-intellectualism, or even laser light shows, none of which seem appropriate descriptions of the kind of community we’re trying to be.

Well, this is the second teaching in a series I’m doing on the Book of Acts called “Now It’s Your Turn.”  We’re looking at what happened, according to Luke, to Jesus’ followers after Jesus died, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.  Acts tells us the beginning of that story, in which Jesus hands over the work he’s doing to these early Jesus followers.  

So our questions about church, about what it’s relevance is today, about what it was intended to do are all cast in an interesting light when we look at Acts.  Acts takes us back to the beginning, to the birth of the church.  And what we see throughout the book of Acts is a growing group of Jesus followers gathering in various ways and doing various things, but devoid of some of the institutional trappings we, and many of our non-church going peers, often associate with church.  

But before we get into the Scripture, I want to start with a short history lesson.  Because the reality is, the church that many of us grew up attending, or maybe our parents or grandparents at least attended, was significantly connected to a historical era and the institutions it produced called Christendom.  Scholars sometime quibble about how to define Christendom, but many see the conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine to Christianity to be a vital catalyst in its beginning.  Prior to Constantine’s conversion in the fourth century, Jesus followers had spent over 300 years enduring various kinds of persecution.  Theirs was a minority religion that was to be stomped out in the Roman empire by any means necessary, including extreme violence.  But all attempts to rid the Roman Empire of this crazy band of Jesus-followers, proved fruitless.  Many martyrs were made but the faith continued to grow as the martyrs insisted on the truths that they proclaimed that Jesus was the Son of God and he had risen from the dead.

Well, when Constantine converted, everything began to change. Christian faith ascended.  Christianity became a state sponsored religion, and it spread as such to countries throughout Europe.  That conversion tied the development of the West and the development of the church inextricably together.  And while many saw this as having obvious benefits in terms of ceasing the persecution of Christians, decriminalizing the worship of Jesus, and allowing many more people to hear the story of who Jesus was and what he’d done, there were certainly, in hindsight, some significant down sides.  Now Christianity became the religion tied to the state.  Over time, worship of Jesus became mandated in many places.  And eventually, violence in the name of Jesus was the natural result, as testified by horrendous events like the Crusades, the Spanish inquisition, and after the birth of protestentism, sectarian battles through the centuries.   More Christians were martyred by one another in the decades after the Reformation than were martyred by the Roman Empire. According to the Bible, Jesus was given the title “Prince of Peace”.  Casper’s question, “Is this what Jesus told you to do?” seems particularly relevant.

But the state-sponsored church is not how things began.  And it not how things remain.  We now live in what many scholars perceive to be a post-Christendom era, where the influence of Christendom now seems to be quite insignificant.  So the question is, what does it mean for the church?  How do we move forward? 

In a post-Christendom world, pre-Christendom expressions of faith and community could actually be pretty relevant.  And these are the kinds of expressions we see in the New Testament, in the Book of Acts.  So today we’re going to look at 3 short passages from the early chapters of Acts and see what they might teach us about how we be this thing called “church” today.

First from Acts chapter 2:

42 They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Reverential awe came over everyone, and many wonders and miraculous signs came about by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and held everything in common, 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and distributing the proceeds to everyone, as anyone had need. 46 Every day they continued to gather together by common consent in the temple courts, breaking bread from house to house, sharing their food with glad and humble hearts, 47 praising God and having the good will of all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number every day those who were being saved. 

Isn’t that a beautiful picture?  This is the first portrait we have of this new Jesus-centered community that would come to be known as “church” and it’s lovely.  People living harmoniously, sharing their resources.  What we see very clearly from this first little glimpse of the early church, is that the people in this community are living a relationally intimate, embodied spirituality.  What do I mean be that? 

First, relationally intimate - at this point, this first church was already much bigger than our Haven crew.  There were over one hundred gathered before Pentecost, and we know that on that day over three thousand people came to faith in Jesus, though many of them were pilgrims who took their faith with them presumably to the places they dispersed back to.  But still, this is not a tiny group.  Yet they are intimately connected in one another’s lives.  They do not anonymously show up on the Sabbath at the temple for some teaching and then go back to their normal lives for the week, having gotten a bit of Jesus to sprinkle in the mix.  No, they are forming an alternative community, a community that’s intimate.  They are “breaking bread from house to house, sharing their food with glad and humble hearts”.  In the ancient Near East eating together reflected a common commitment to one another and deep fellowship. A meal shared together was both a mark and a seal of friendship.  Did you know it wasn’t until the third century that public worship spaces outside of personal homes began to be established?  For the early church, the norm was to be in one another’s homes.

I don’t think it’s just about space.  There’s something about having folks in your home that goes beyond square footage.  It’s about welcoming others into the nitty-gritty of the living of life.  So the house is not always gonna be spotless, the kids might be distracting and ornery, the food might not always be gourmet, but it’s real.  It’s authentic life.  It’s family in the mundane, the painful, and the beautiful. 

A year ago, I was in the middle of a really hard stretch of time.  Jason had moved out here by himself, and I was essentially a working single mom of three kids for two months.  Not only was I missing my coparent, but I was trying to finish grad school, work, and prepare to move my family across the country.  It was two of the hardest months I’ve lived.  But it was made doable, bearable, and beautiful, by the community that surrounded me at the Iowa City Vineyard.

dinner scene.jpg

At least twice a week, someone brought me dinner.  That was huge.  Folks offered to come watch my kids for a few hours here and there so I could run errands or just have some down time or get some work done.  Sometimes friends would just come and spend the evening with me, help me get the kids fed, into jammies and down for bed - some of the most daunting, exhausting tasks of the day.  Or they’d invite me and the kids over for the afternoon or evening.  Our kids would all entertain each other in the back yard while we grown-ups drank wine, conversed about things besides poop, Hot Wheels or the alphabet, bemoaned the hard parts in our days, and talked with hope about exciting things on the horizon.

In a sense we were just doing life together.  Nothing particularly heroic.  But by sharing life with me, these people saved me.  They kept me going through those very difficult months.  They kept my kids going.  Doing life together was heroism.  They were being Jesus for me.

And that brings us to the second component - the community they’re forming is now the means to live an embodied, enacted spirituality.  Jesus has filled his followers with teaching on what he wants them to do: to love one another, to turn the other cheek, to make peace, to demonstrate healing, to feed the hungry, to include the outsider, to take the role of a servant.  Now in this baby faith community, his followers are living that teaching.  They are deeply spiritual- devoting themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to prayer, to worshiping God for the wonders in their midst, but their spirituality also has real world political economic implications.  They’re beginning to share their resources, to support one another - not only in spiritual ways, through prayer, through teaching about God, but through meeting one another’s practical needs.

Luke picks up this theme a couple of chapters later with these words at the end of Acts chapter 4.

32 The group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but everything was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on them all. 34 For there was no one needy among them, because those who were owners of land or houses were selling them and bringing the proceeds from the sales 35 and placing them at the apostles’ feet. The proceeds were distributed to each, as anyone had need. 36 So Joseph, a Levite who was a native of Cyprus, called by the apostles Barnabas (which is translated “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and placed it at the apostles’ feet. 

So the people are enacting their faith in a radical way.  They’re even beginning to donate property for the common good.  I don’t think this means that all Jesus followers are called to communal property ownership, but I do think it’s a reminder that we are all called to generosity.  We are all called to open-handedness with our resources.  We are called to look out for one another and enact our faith in practical, meaningful ways.

But this isn’t the only portrait we have of the early church in early Acts.  Here’s what comes right after the passage we just read about Barnabus at the beginning of Acts 5:

5 Now a man named Ananias, together with Sapphira his wife, sold a piece of property. 2 He kept back for himself part of the proceeds with his wife’s knowledge; he brought only part of it and placed it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back for yourself part of the proceeds from the sale of the land? 4 Before it was sold, did it not belong to you? And when it was sold, was the money not at your disposal? How have you thought up this deed in your heart? You have not lied to people but to God!” 

5 When Ananias heard these words he collapsed and died, and great fear gripped all who heard about it. 6 So the young men came, wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him. 7 After an interval of about three hours, his wife came in, but she did not know what had happened. 8 Peter said to her, “Tell me, were the two of you paid this amount for the land?” Sapphira said, “Yes, that much.” 9 Peter then told her, “Why have you agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out!” 10 At once she collapsed at his feet and died. So when the young men came in, they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear gripped the whole church and all who heard about these things. 

OK…So what’s the deal with this story?  Seems pretty harsh, huh?  God is apparently serious about something.  What is that?  Is it communism?  These folks didn’t want to give all they had away and God struck them dead?  That probably strikes our 21st century capitalist sensibilities as a bit over the top.  But I don’t think that’s ultimately what’s going on here.

What the early church was doing was not forced communal living and resourcing.  No one was required to sell their property and give it to the apostles to distribute.  Peter makes clear that these guys had the choice to do what they wanted; their resources were at their disposal.  Rather, the people in this church were sharing resources because they felt inspired to do so.  They were moved by the Holy Spirit to share.  Barnabas, the “son of encouragement” wanted to encourage his newfound brothers and sisters and help provide for them, and so he gave away the proceeds from the sale of his land.  It was a generous act of embodied Jesus-following spirituality.

But Ananias and Sapphira had a bit of a different motive in mind.  Perhaps it started purely enough, they wanted to participate in this thing folks were doing to give sacrificially to their community.  But other motives slipped in there as well.  Maybe they saw Barnabas and how impressed people were with him, how generous people seemed to think he was, they were even giving him a cool nickname, and they thought, “we could do that too.  We could give the money from the sale of our property.  And if we held a little back for a bit of security, who’s to know?  We’ll really be celebrated if we give it all away, so we’ll just let them think that’s what we’re doing…

But God wasn’t fooled, was He?  The Spirit knew these two were not being genuine, and He revealed it to the other Jesus-followers there. With each of them, Peter gave the giver an opportunity to be fully transparent.  He gave them a chance to own their reality, that they had not given all of their estate, though they had given a sizable potion  But each of them independently refused to tell the full truth about what they’d done, and they each paid an ultimate price for it.

In 2007 the Barna group, a research group that researches issues relevant to the American church, came out with some important research in the form of a book called unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.  In it they surveyed a large number of youth and young adults who did not consider themselves Christians, did not go to church, and asked them their opinions of Christians.  The most common descriptor these young people outside the church used of Christians was (drumroll):  “Hypocritical”.   The church is hypocritical.  Christians say one thing and do another.  They don’t practice what they preach.  

When these secular young people were asked if they knew personally any self-identified Christians, 85% of them said they did.  When asked if they saw any significant difference in the way those Christians lived as opposed to those who did not follow Jesus, only 15% of young adults surveyed said yes.   In their minds, faith in Jesus doesn’t make much impact.

The tragic irony of all this is that it was hypocrisy in people of faith that really made Jesus’ blood boil.  You want to look for times Jesus gets all “fire-and-brimstone-y”? Look for when he’s confronting hypocrisy.  In Matthew 23, here are just a few of the things he says:

"Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You cross land and sea to make one convert, and when you get one, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves! …Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You give a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you neglect what is more important in the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness! …Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of the bones of the dead and of everything unclean….”  And he goes on and on from there.

God hates hypocrisy amongst his people.  He hates posturing.  He hates leaders who are more about self-promotion than service of others and Jesus.  He has no patience for it.  It’s a big deal.

I believe the reason the response of the Holy Spirit is so strong to the deceit of Ananias and Sapphira, is because God wants us to know in no uncertain terms, that the assembled community of Jesus is NOT to be a community that embodies the hypocrisy of other human communities.  Jesus is calling out an alternative community in which transparency, authenticity, honesty, and integrity are core social values and norms.

Rachel Held Evans is a popular author and Christian blogger in her early 30s, born and raised an Evangelical in the South, whose father was an academic and a faculty member of the local Evangelical seminary.  But Rachel has gained notoriety both throughout the Christian and mainstream spheres for the voice she seems to give to a growing number of people who are struggling with the churches they grew up in, though they still worship the same Jesus.  Rachel was recently asked to speak at a conference of thousands of youth pastors on why millennials are leaving church, and writes about her experience there in her newest book Searching for Sunday.

"I told them we’re tired of the culture wars, tired of Christianity getting entangled with party politics and power. Millennials want to be known by what we’re for, I said, not just what we’re against. We don’t want to choose between science and religion or between our intellectual integrity and our faith. Instead, we long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable…And I told them that, contrary to popular belief, we can’t be won back with hipper worship bands, fancy coffee shops, or pastors who wear skinny jeans. We millennials have been advertised to our entire lives, so we can smell b.s. from a mile away. The church is the last place we want to be sold another product, the last place we want to be entertained. Millennials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity, I said. We’re looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, we’re looking for Jesus— the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places he’s always been found: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these. No coffee shops or fog machines required. Of course, I said all this from the center of a giant stage equipped with lights, trampolines, and, indeed, a fog machine."

The jaded, cynical, postmodern Bay Area we find ourselves is just in need of an alternative community marked by transparency, authenticity, and honesty as the Ancient Greco Roman world was.  What would it mean, Haven, for us to be a community that took honesty as seriously as the early church?  A community hat was marked by our ruthlessness with hypocrisy?  How would we embody that?

I think it would mean a couple of things.  First, that we’d be a people who did not seek to always better ourselves in others eyes.  That we’d say no to the BS. That we’d resist the urge to put only the polished veneer forward, or to allow others to believe the little white lies about us: that we’re more cool, more generous, more pure of thought, or more even tempered than we really are.  And the second thing is connected to the first.  We peel off that veneer by being honest with others about our weaknesses, our struggles, our temptations and yes, even our sin.  We are honest about our own failings, not from a cynical place of “yeah, I’ve got issues, who doesn’t?” but from the genuine place of hunger for growth.  We confess and are vulnerable because we want the help of our friends and family in this community to help us move toward wholeness.  To help us change.  To hold us accountable.  To believe more for us than we can believe for ourselves, and ultimately, to help us bring our places of weakness to Jesus, believing that without him we are powerless to see real change, but with his partnership, we will be made more and more like him.     

So we’ve seen an early church that’s intimate, and relational, where spirituality is embodied, and authenticity is highly valued.  But there’s one more story I want to look at as we, in this post-Christendom community of faith, look to learn from the pre-Christendom one.  It comes a chapter later in Acts 6.

Now in those days, when the disciples were growing in number,  a complaint arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the native Hebraic Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the twelve called the whole group of the disciples together and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to wait on tables. But carefully select from among you, brothers, seven men who are well-attested, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this necessary task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The proposal pleased the entire group, so they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a Gentile convert to Judaism from Antioch. They stood these men before the apostles, who prayed and placed their hands on them. The word of God continued to spread, the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.

This is a story that requires a little cultural context to really understand what’s happening.  By now the church is growing significantly.  The apostles are performing all kinds of miracles in the temple courts, and lots of Jews are witnessing them and coming to faith in Jesus.  And the church is trying to live that embodied faith that we’ve already seen, but it’s becoming increasingly unwieldy.  Specifically, the issue in this story is in regards to care for widows and their families.  In the Roman empire, there was no state-sponsored safety net - these women and their children were dependent upon their community of faith for provision in a patriarchal culture in which they had no means to provide for their families or themselves.  

So there’s a logistical question that needs addressing.  The apostles are made aware that the resources aren’t being distributed efficiently, and they recognize that they are the bottle neck.  Thus far we’ve seen that when folks want to give to the church, they bring their gifts to the apostles.  And the apostles oversee the distribution of resources, but with hundreds to thousands of people involved, this has become quite a task, and many widows in need are being overlooked.  

But there’s another important element at play here, and that is an issue of cross-cultural conflict in this problem that’s arisen in Jerusalem’s church. You see this community of Jesus followers is an integrated community with Jewish followers of Jesus from two major cultural groups.  Here they are called the Greek-speaking Jews and the native Hebraic Jews, but the issues go beyond language.

Historians call this group of “Greek-speaking Jews” the Hellenists.  Hellenists were Jews that had adopted more than Greek language, they had adapted many Greek ways of thinking, Greek customs, mannerisms, dress, ways of eating.  All of these influenced how the people lived their Jewish faith, and then as they became followers of Jesus, how they lived that unique identity.  These folks are in contrast to the Hebraic Jews who are more resistant to adopt Greek practices, they’re more traditional in their observance.  They choose Hebrew names for their children, not Greek ones.  They likely view the surrounding Greco-Roman culture with more suspicion, if not disdain.  And as it happens, it’s the Hellenists who are complaining that their widows specifically are getting the shaft.  So we have not just a logistical issue of distribution, but also we have an injustice concern, highlighting potential cultural bias.

So how do the leaders of this young faith community respond to the concern these Hellenist converts raise?  Well, first of all, they took the complaint seriously and made a change.  The apostles recognized that they had too much on their plates, and that their first and foremost responsibility was to spiritual leadership.  They were the ones uniquely equipped to preaching the word of God.  It’s not the some tasks were more important than others, but there were some that the apostles were uniquely called to and gifted for.  But there were others in their community who had gifts of administration.  These were men who were respected and filled with integrity, who could serve the community by taking this important leadership role on.  So the apostles brought up other leaders and delegated responsibility.

In doing so, they also wanted to directly address the concerns regarding injustice.  And so we see a list of men chosen to fill these roles, each of which has a Greek name.  All of those new leaders chosen were Hellenists. The group of Apostles in charge were all Hebraic - they were all from the traditional Hebrew group.  But now the leadership they’re appointing to stand along side them and handle administration and care of the widows all come from the disempowered group.  So in one fell swoop, the early church instituted their own kind of affirmative action - addressing issues of injustice by power-sharing with the disempowered.  It’s an amazing move.

And this brings us to our last lessons from the early followers of Jesus.  Their church is adaptable and responsive, particularly to issues of injustice.  They’re adaptable; their structures are fluid.  They don’t get trapped into only one way of doing things, but they create new structures and systems as the needs arise.  We’re a baby faith community, building a church in a post-Christendom society in which innovation and technology is transforming our way of life at a quick pace.  As such, we would do well to emulate this kind of adaptability.  This setting, this structure that we’ve established in just a few months is working for many of us now.  It’s working well.  But will it be working six months from now?  Maybe…maybe not.  And are there ways in which we’re already, unintentionally perhaps, creating barriers for others who might otherwise want to participate in what we’re doing?  As we learn about these barriers, are we willing to let go of some things, adapt and delegate as needed, share power and responsibility and preference to serve the greater thing we feel called to at Haven? To building a welcoming community that makes space for people from all walks of life to encounter the living Jesus?

And as we talk about adaptability and willingness to hold our structures and systems with open hands, are we also ready and willing to respond to issues of injustice as they come up?  Are we building a community where the disempowered feel free to share their grievances and believe they’ll be responded to?  I think it’s an amazing testament that the early Hellenist followers of Jesus felt they could speak up, they could speak truth to power.  They believed the empowered would listen; would care.   How often is that the case today?

We live in a world where a trio of activists in Oakland circulate a phrase “Black Lives Matter” and it becomes the motto of a viral social-media sponsored movement.  We live in a a world where the disempowered understand that those in power aren’t always listening, and don’t always value their lives equally.  What would it mean for us to build a community that says, “We’re listening.  We see the issues of injustice.  We want to be about empowering the disempowered, and we’re willing to admit our mistakes and find new ways of doing things when we’re wrong.”?  That seems to me to be the kind of church our time and place need.

So back to the question we started with.  A lot of what we've seen in these passages has to do with how we do church.  But why church?  At the center of all of these things we’ve looked at in Acts - relational intimacy, embodied spirituality, honesty and integrity, adaptability, and responsiveness to injustice - there is one person.  When we feel cynical, we feel hurt, we want to shake our heads in disgust at the church and just walk away, those of us that have found unique life and truth and love and meaning in a Nazarite born over 2000 years ago are stopped in our tracks.  We’re stopped by one who keeps pointing toward community, toward relationship with others, toward service, toward peacemaking.  We’re stopped by one who said “when you come together in my name, I am there in the midst of you”.  If we ask “why church?” the answer will always be “because Jesus.”  Because Jesus.

Jesus, the one who left the glory of heaven to enter a crappy world and be in the muck with us. He was born in a dirty stable for relational intimacy.  That was the whole freaking point.  He came to be intimate with us. Jesus is relational intimacy.  Jesus is enacted, embodied spirituality. Why intimate relationship?  Because Jesus.

Jesus who said no to the hypocrisy of the religious leaders.  No to the hypocrisy of the Roman authorities.  No.  Humans will always be mired down by their own sin and their own need to look better than they are - it was the sin of Adam and it is your and my sin today and Jesus said NO.  I am here to show you another way.  It’s called humility.  It’s called the last will be first.  It’s called taking the role of a servant.  It’s called pouring out your life for others, even if it means death, even the humiliation of death on a cross. Why honesty and humility?  Because Jesus.

Jesus, the one who models adaptability.  Speaking to each person in the ways they need to hear.  Using the cultural languages they need to hear in, and empowering his followers with the Holy Spirit so they can do the same.  So they can adapt. Why adaptability?  Because Jesus.

Jesus who moves on behalf of the disempowered.  Who gives voice to the voiceless.  Who stands for the poor, who stands for the women, who stands for the outcasts, the lepers, the ones culture has labeled “unclean”, and promises healing, and restoration, and inclusion into his community.  This is the Jesus we know.  This is the Jesus we love.  This is the Jesus who is our safe Haven, and wants to be the Haven of every heart and life in Berkeley, in Oakland, in San Francisco, and beyond.  Why justice?  Because Jesus.

And this is why we can and should say no to the trappings of Christendom.  No to the places our natural human sin has bogged down the work of God’s people.  No to violence and inequality, and sure, maybe no to fog machines, but we can’t say no to the church.  Jesus is beckoning us into his family and his project of creating intimate communities that foster authenticity, that respond to needs, that empower the disempowered.  Haven Berkeley gets to partner with Jesus in that amazing work.  And despite any ambivalence about the word we use, or the forms it comes in, when we ask “why church?” the answer will always be “Because Jesus”. Amen.