I’m pretty sure that most everyone, at one time or another, has been late to something … a class, a party, an event. Often, when this happens, the person who is responsible for the event, class, whatever, can be counted on to welcome the late arrival with the hearty, if not somewhat sarcastic greeting “so glad that you could join us”. I think about that often when I hear people talking about “taking the gospel into” this, that or some other seemingly difficult and God forsaken community or culture. It comes across as if God needed some brave human intervention in places where even he dare not go. Our context is urban … ultra urban, as in there are only apartments, condo’s and hidden (or not so hidden places) to lay your head. We, my wife and I, are seen as missionaries to the city. I’m ok with the label. In fact I think that it is even more accurate than our original identity as church planters. The only problem with the label is that I find people even more likely to think that we are “taking the gospel” into a place previously void of the working of the holy spirit. I don’t believe that it’s true of us any more than I believe that it’s true of any other missionary to any other culture. It’s pretty bad theology actually. Not only is it bad theology, I think that it actually is weakening our efforts to be instruments of God’s mission. Orthodox theology would have to acknowledge that there is no place or culture on the face of the earth where God is not present. Admittedly, there are places more difficult than others to find his handiwork.
When we mistake hidden for absent, we weaken our effort to be redemptive instruments in a culture. When your neighborhood was being formed (and even before), God was there. When your city was in it’s infancy, when it was merely a dream, God was there. Long before any missionary arrived in any culture in the remotest place on the planet, God had been long there … and His welcome, had it been audible might have been a slightly exuberant “so glad you could join me”. Our mission is not to bring God, Jesus, or even the gospel to anyone … it is to go wherever and to live the gospel, be the incarnation of the good news of Jesus, to join God in whatever context and help connect the dots in whose life He has already been alive and active in. Constructing and embodying a liturgy in your neighborhood, your community, your city, is a way to discover those often times hidden evidences of God’s working long before you arrived and a way for you to connect the dots as you seek what He has long sought for your place of longing … the restoration and redemption of all who have their lives and being in the place that he has called you. Living into the liturgy is a way of getting a glimpse beneath the surface of the vast ocean of God’s working … of those stories and places not seen by a surface glance. Living a liturgy will require investment on your part that many of us are not accustomed to.
To be painfully honest, most who identify as followers of Christ in our USA culture are hard pressed to follow anywhere beyond the comfortable confines of our Sunday morning experiences. The average investment currently runs at about 1.4 Sunday mornings per month. So the challenge of actually investing beyond that will be taken up by relatively few … but to those few who do, I promise you a life well lived. To discover God in the hidden places and to join in what really matters is not to be taken lightly. To fan flickers of flame into bright beacons of hope and joy is not something you will experience on a typical Sunday morning. My prayer for Neighborhood Liturgy is that it would be an encouraging resource for you to use to create your own liturgies and your own means of discovering God and connecting dots. Blessings on your journey!