Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Common Time (a preview)

I can probably think of six exceptionally spiritual moments in my whole life:

Johnny Markin praying for me at an altar in a Surrey gymnasium. I was so overcome by emotion that my nose turned into a faucet and my mom had to bootleg Kleenex to me at the front of the church.

A youth retreat in Whistler. I got my first glimpse into the invisible world…and learned about girls.

Meeting Rocky Tannehill and staying up all night at his place talking about God. When I got home, I collapsed in my front hall, crushed by the guilt of my rebellion.

Holding my children, newly born and still covered in gloop. I realized I knew nothing about God at all because I knew nothing about fatherhood.

Dancing in worship with my friends, Barry and Erika Crocker, from Australia, soaking my Fender Jaguar guitar in olive oil, laughing and singing.

Grieving with Jvo over the staff cutbacks at the Winds, my first massive failing as a pastor, followed quickly by the death of our friend Randy.

That’s it. Six exceptional moments. Thing is, I count myself lucky. Not everyone gets moments like those, let alone a half-dozen. And, I don’t mean to suggest those were the only times of spiritual consequence in my life – far from it! It’s just that those were exceptional experiences that marked and shaped me forever. They were times when I felt the veil between heaven and earth thin out and I was alive in glory.

But those moments are rare.

I might not even have another six before I bite the biscuit, pay the piper, or wake up dead for the long goodbye. But herein lies an incomparable spiritual truth:

Our spirituality is not forged in the exceptional,

but in the average.

It’s not founded on the extraordinary,

but the ordinary.

The infinite truths of God

are most often expressed in the everyday.

Yet somehow, spiritual people often forget that the biblical model for transcendence is more holiness-as-usual than rapture, climax, and abandon. Thankfully, our Christian heritage has established sound rituals for reminding us that ordinary time matters.

In the liturgical calendar, Ordinary Time is the season during which there are no feasts or festivals. It is the Time between Times during which we refuse to be overwhelmed by the distraction of celebration and lamentation, pomp and poignancy. Life, after all, is more ordinary than not, more business-as-usual than ecstasy, orgasm, and peril. Ordinary Time is for us to live like we normally ought, governed by the driving truths of the faith – therein lies enough spirituality for a lifetime.

Strictly speaking there are two seasons of Ordinary Time:

the first, Common Time, occurs between Epiphany and Lent;

the second, Kingdom Tide, occurs after Trinity and before Advent.

They are both lengthy seasons, and they both concern the foundations of the church.

Kingdom Tide is about the birth of the Church. Common Time is about the episodes during the life of Christ that influence who the people of God will later become.

Christ came to reconcile and to heal. He provides the source material for what it means to be the church.

Allow me to explain:

The church is an agency of healing. By that I really mean something like a place for healing – but not a place like a park or, even, a hospital. I mean something more like a headquarters, a place with a mandate or a mission – more CIA than Hollywood Boulevard. When I think of the church as an agency of healing I think of it (as I’m convinced the Bible does also) as a collection of people committed to one allegiance with one mission: to heal the world. I define this healing rather holistically as, again, I’m convinced the Bible does. It is spiritual healing, emotional healing, psychological healing, social healing, physical healing, relational healing, counteracting the effects of the all-encompassing corruption brought on by sin.

The church is an agency of healing, a people called to fix what’s broken.

The church, also, is an agency of healing doing the ministry of reconciliation. Meaning, the primary ways in which the church heals are relational (i.e. reconciling two parties back together again). That ‘ministry of reconciliation’ (which Paul speaks about in 2 Corinthians 5) can be traced back to the initial relationships that God ordered in Genesis 1 and 2 – our relationship with God, our relationship with others, our relationship with our true selves as image-bearers of God, and our relationship to Creation. Though Paul explicitly refers to only the relationship between ourselves and God in 2 Corinthians, he speaks explicitly about the reconciliatory nature of the other three relationships in many other places throughout his letters (more on that later). The church is an agency of healing that is working to reconcile us to God, to other people, to our true selves (how to live the way God intended for us to live), and to Creation (everything that has been made by God).

The church is in the business of healing and reconciliation. We fix, and are fixed ourselves.

Based on the life of Christ between Baptism and Transfiguration (the traditional scope of Common Time), we gain insight into who we are as the people of God and what we’re collectively supposed to do as the church.

If Kingdom Tide is about the birth of the church, then Common Time is a sonogram showing us the church in the Gospel womb.

In his life, Jesus showed us what we must later do ourselves. Imagine him explaining football to an eager group of athletes as they sit together in a diner. Jesus can take out a napkin, and draw all the positions on the field and explain all the rules of play. He might even get rambunctious and jump up from the table, kicking an orange around the restaurant, jovially showing his young friends how it all works. Later, those athletes will go out and play the game for themselves, on a full-sized pitch with teammates and uniforms.

But for now they watch Christ and learn what they are expected to do.

That’s what Common Time is.

In this book about Common Time, we will look at 6 episodes from the life of Christ to figure out [1] what he did and why he did it and [2] what we’re supposed to do as a result. During Common Time we live the life of Christ until it finally becomes our own. Together, we must become an agency of healing in the ministry of reconciliation just as he worked to reconcile and to heal.

The transformation from Christian to Church is explored through episodes of baptism, Sabbath, blindness, storms, outsiders, and transfiguration. By examining these lodestones of Christian spirituality, we will come to a clearer understanding of Christ’s life and mission, and his mandate for the life and mission of the Church.

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