A Perfectly Imperfect Church
This coming week, we begin a new series at UMCG that follows the Old Testament story of David. The series is titled “Perfectly Imperfect: how God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things” and it runs for the rest of January and February.
Historians and scholars have been able to read this story and discover multiple layers of meaning. The plain reading is a telling of the history of how David became the greatest King of ancient Israel. Another reading shows how God uses David to lead God’s people to greater faithfulness and as a result greater security and prosperity as a nation. Another reading foreshadows Jesus. As I have mentioned previously, Scripture is like a gem, there are many beautiful facets that comprise the whole. There are even more readings of these stories in this series than I have time to cover faithfully in my preaching. One such reading of these stories I am not going to spend developing for preaching is a reading that the story of David is also an analogue to the development of Israel and is “how David’s transition from shepherd boy to tribal chief to eventually king – parallels Israel’s same movement from a tribal society (beleaguered by anarchy and barbarism) to a monarchical society characterized by bureaucratic self-aggrandizement.” I have accessed this reading from the work of Walter Brueggemann in his seminary textbook “An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination.” So I want to spend a little time considering this broader communal reading of these stories and how it might speak to our community in this blog format.
For the ancient Israelites, the United Monarchy was just getting started. When the Israelites first came into the promised land, they were mere tribes settling the land, but as the tribes grew and so did the threats of other growing nations (like the Philistines) the people needed to come together for economic, political, and security reasons. Not content to be distinct from other nations, the people demanded of God a king to be like the other nations and so God permitted them a king with all the anxiety relief and shadow side that comes with being ruled by humans.
Saul was anointed king over this new United Monarchy and the power of the position really affected his family and his ability to remain faithful to God. Saul was a good starting king to get the people organized, but wouldn’t be able to take the people all the way to the full potential God had for them as a nation to be a light unto all nations. Hence the call of David. But David has maturing to do, just like the nation of Israel needs to do before he can take the throne.
At this early stage in the story of David and Israel, I am wondering where are we as a church at UMCG? Despite being in existence as a congregation since 1839, are we in the formation stages as a people? Perhaps we are being re-formed as a congregation again? Are we in the tribal stage as a loosely connected group that competes with each other for resources, recognition and power amongst each other? Are we in a monarchial stage, where we think more highly of ourselves as a church than we actually are, or are so bureaucratic that we have lost effectiveness?
I honestly don’t know if UMCG fits any one of these categories of David or Israel. I can see us in all of these and none of these at the same time. Which to me, says we are in transition, we are in liminal space. Where the old ways of being are ending or have ended and the new ways of being have not emerged yet.
This can be unsettling and exciting all at the same time. It’s in this time that the most faithful thing we can do is not rush off to whatever shiny new thing tempts us to adopt in an effort to quell our anxiety, but to discern. To slow down and try to see our time and space how God sees us. To tune our hearts to God’s own heart and to seek the Spirit to guide us to the new promised future God has for us that we do not yet fully see.
How do we discern? We sit in stillness before God. We have to admit we don’t have all the answers, attend to spiritual practices that bring us closer to God, and to surrender our striving for the outcomes we desire so that we can be open to whatever God presents to us as our calling as a church. This isn’t about sitting still and trying to get God to do what we want or to baptize our decisions, but through prayer, stillness, and dialogue to get our hearts and the heart of the church in alignment with God’s own heart for us and for our church in ministry in Geneva.
There will be mistakes, learnings, challenges, and blowups along the way. That’s what we see in the coming stories of David and is true of the Israelites and I suspect at UMCG we are no different and can expect the same. If that’s true then I also believe that while there have been great years in the past along with the hard years, God has even more in store for us! So let us follow this story of David and Israel and also ask Jesus to tune our hearts to Thy grace and let God do what is needed for us to be faithful and fruitful today.