I felt lead to share and do a sermon after our most recent transition. I really love this church. Never thought I'd be granted the opportunity to do this or have the nerve but hey, what other options do we have, right?
Walking along with this body of believers has been so so healing and restoring on my Faith journey. Randall and I grew up Pentecostal, Church of God. We met in our youth group, so we're youth group sweet hearts. Been together 17 years. We've seen a lot of up's and down's, of this branch of the evangelical faith. We really love the mystical acknowledgements of Pentecostalism as well as this denomination being apart of our roots. But given some of the negative experiences, I did walk away at an early age, I never thought I would be Church of God again. I've been deemed heretical by a lot of former church members, so it's been fun to stay Church of God. Kinda messes with them a bit. I guess, the Lord still working on my heart in some of those areas.
Funny side note. growing up, when some friends and I left the denomination early on our parents gave us heck about it "You better stay Church of God." And I use to disregard that as nonsense but now half of our parents aren't Church of God anymore and someone how I am. God's got a funny sense of humor, and I kinda like it.
Since we all like the Ennegram so much, I'm a 9 Peacemaker with a Challenger 8 wing, so I guess I'm like the Rugged Peacemaker, which makes sense, I came from some of the wrong side of the tracks in Gastonia. I do tend to be very passionate sometimes, I guess an underlining righteous indignation, per se, but most of the times I just enjoy peace and blending in.
And I want to start off with the reading some of the Lectionary today:
These I don't know if you can simultaneously have a restful and restless feeling while reading this passage but that is what I gather when I read it. Or maybe that's what happens when I read most scripture, definitely a wrestle for me.
But this is what I hear when I read these: You do YOU and Let them DO THEM. What a simple and full message we can take in individually and as a whole body, as well. A connection I saw in these passages is a responsibility to take part in the Body of Christ by living and professing who we say Christ is, internally in ourselves, first, AND eventually that will play out in our lives as living offerings.
So growing up, I had lots of issues with school and staying grounded in my body. I am a space cadet and I like to take frequent travels to the moon, lol. I still struggle with these issues but before growing up and learning to discipline myself more, it was way worse. I'm like the opposite of Emily Zimmer's story. I always struggled to just keep up with the status quo.
And I lagged behind terribly it most of my childhood. In second grade I was tested for learning disabilities and passed! I don't know if I ever got tested for ADD but I'm pretty sure, I show all the signs for that one. I also failed third grade and had to go to summer school. This was a lot to process as a child, understanding these disappointing areas in my character but also at the time my home life was becoming unsettled.
My mom was a teen mom with 2 kids. My dad was an alcoholic and drug addict. They finally divorced when I was 7 and my dad packed his bags and moved to Pennsylvania when I was 9. We moved frequently and by the time I was in high school, I attended 9 different schools. It was a lot of change for a child in my formative years.
But for the most part I had a decent childhood, I had a lot of fun. When you barely keep up with your grades, you get like 80% more play time. My carelessness did cause me setbacks, my self-esteem, hopelessness, and a fearfulness that society would make a spotlight of my shortcomings.
One example of this fear played out, on the first day of 6th grade, I was in math class, which happens to be my worst subject, the teacher gave simple instructions but I, per usual, was not listening. After I asked her to repeat herself, she yelled at me and was giving me very specific instructions like you would someone slower. I about passed out, I was so humiliated and I don't think I asked another question in that class. That was just one example of the shame, I felt for something I knew, I could not help. Looking back I probably would've concentrated more, had I not spent so much energy, trying to not draw this negative attention to me.
But this handicap because it really has been the thing about me that tends to want to be labeled and reformed by society, has also been my saving Grace at times. This thing that humiliates me and forces me to face my humanness, has also been an asset, especially in my spiritual growth.
What I have come to bear witness through these experiences is this: if you fail at something repeatedly or if you are not normal to society standards, it's okay. It has no bearing on you or who you are in Christ.
When I was in 4th grade, I had a revelation of this, my own mystical experience, you could say. It was not long after my dad left, I had a dream one night that I was on the beach with God. His face was so illuminated, I couldn't see it because it was so bright and lit up everything around us. It was a feeling of pure joy. We had a full conversation without words. But He spoke 2 things into me that really bared fruit for me during some big struggles in life. "That You are my Child, and I will always have my hand on you."
When I woke up the next day, I remember just being filled with such elation and happiness. As I got older though, I forgot this dream. As I was growing up Pentecostal, in the particular church we were brought up in, we were very legalistic in our practice, to the point that really anything outside of our church was fearful and potentially out of God's will for our lives. As I grew older this fear ideology did not seem fitting of who I suspected God was, personally.
I wrestled with what they were telling me, it always seemed a little unnerving. My dream would come back to me and I eventually left the church because of it around the age of 18. It was not easy and I was kicked out of my home and my friends who left with me, were pretty much branded the Heathens. This wouldn't be the last time I was branded as wrong, heretical, or endanger of God's wrath.
Or was it the last time I was shunned or preach about from pulpits, personally.
As you can gather, I didn't have the best experiences in church and I can totally see why people throw in the towel and say they're done. I get it! But a part of me still loved the idea of Jesus and Conceptual Christainity as a whole. A book that I read: Blue Like Jazz: Non-relgious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality was a Life Saver during the dark ages of my 20's. It was like the abstract Searching for Sunday of the early 2000's. A heavy set introverted guy wrestling with his thoughts of God and outgrowing his childhood's legalistic faith while experiencing Life outside of the secure social bounds he grew up in. It was like indulging in a naughty book. He would write risque passages like:
“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.”
“...I want my spirituality to rid me of hate, not give me reason for it.”
After having a secret love affair with this book, I never imagined there would even be a church that would some how welcome these thoughts or not try to cover them up with quick-fix solutions and an antidote in reading your bible more and praying through these questionings.
I actually like my questions very much and enjoyed these ideas but not expressing them within a community, slowly put me into a place where I just had my Jesus on Sundays at my megachurch and did my own thing throughout the week as long as Jesus somewhat approved. And I was quite comfortable with that.
And then we stumbled upon Renovatus and that changed everything. Well, Randall found you by podcast. He actually brought me against my will because I didn't think I needed another church, I had everything I needed to be comfortable in my walk. It wasn't long after though I did start liking a church that promoted Misfits and shortcoming's that was an intriguing first, for someone that thought they had seen every side that this evangelical branch had to offer.
By the time we found you guys, I was pretty cynical, without even realizing it because Cynics never really quite know they're cynics, do they? I heard a saying the other day that said "Scratch the surface of any Cynic and you will find a wounded idealist underneath."
That couldn't be more accurate of where I had ended up, subconsciously, but also in a contradicting way. That slowly festering wound lead us to here. When our first big wave of transition came through this church, Randall and I had been here a year. A part of me still didn't trust "church" by this time so I was almost not surprised by it.
What I didn't expect afterwards was how Renovatus became a living offering of what they actually preached. I had fully expected to see someone shunned or a place that became so full of slander and gossip that surely people would divide and take sides.
I expected to see deeper knife wounds. But I saw an opposite movement happen here, I saw people banning together in their brokenness. It was a very subversive feeling that felt more welcoming and safe right in the middle of the chaotic mess. I liked the church before but your reserved, humble grace practicing is what made me fall in love with you all the more.
Honestly, when Renovatus started looking like a failure in the eyes of others, was when she started living up to her name to me. And I could kinda relate to her a little more. I don't think you all knew exactly what you were calling forth when you named yourselves: Liars, Dreamers and Misfits. It sounds really cute in theory and all,
but Do you really know the weight of that description or what it takes to journey with these people? Liars, the people who have not yet come to terms with their own brokenness. Dreamers? I think Jesus put it best about these people when he said Prophets will never be welcomed in their hometown. Misfits? You really want all of society's leftovers? These are some really heavy crosses to bear.
In the Matthew passage after Peter announced Jesus was the Messiah, translated as the chosen anointed one. Jesus refers back to him as his Father's Son. Simon son of Jonah. What a powerful statement that Jesus reinstates Simon-Peter back to his original name maybe it his original calling, being a son first. I wonder, if were being reinstated back to our original calling.
Then after this reinstatement of identity, Christ gives him a new Identity too. So originally named Simon they call him Simon-Peter now, meaning Rock. Despite knowing Peter will fail Him not once but three times. It is said by some theologians that Peter was not a character of stability, which we can kinda gather from that. I love that Peter is such a failure and Jesus still designates him as this foundational Rock of the church.
But also love that these failings do NOT define Peter, and he actually goes and does great things for the Kingdom of Christ.
It's interesting going back to the Romans passage now, the greek translation for the word Conform in the Romans passage is Suschématizó (Soo-we-sue-maso) meaning "an outward shape." And the translative form for world in this same sentence is aión (I-On) of the age. When I read this I think that this is soo relevant to our culture and the modern churches of America,
There's this anxiety and an insecurity to impress culture that even seems to follow us into our sabbath, which should be a time of rest away from this. Churches are now having to fight for a place of appeal to our consumer mentalities, where numbers are an indication of success, and someone who lacks or has insecurities of these issues may be driven further away when indeed the gospel was written for those very individuals.
I believe, these temptations to conform to these ideologies is a step away from our "true" calling. Let us not mistake ourselves for being better than we are. Or just trying to be too well-adjusted, or comfortable for that matter. A quote by Robert Capon came up on my Timehop that I posted a year ago that couldn't be more fitting for us, here in the present: "Grace doesn't sell--you can hardly even give it away because it only works for losers; nobody wants to stand in their line."
What a calling, we are in Christ's Body, yall.
I believe theres a restfulness here at Renovatus that you just don't find in other churches, that I've experienced. A pause from the rat-race of culture, a safe surrendering to our true selves. For those of us that have felt shame for parts of our character, its a place where we come out of hiding, and even learn a thing about these callings. Because that's what they're really are, right? Our shortcomings are apart of our callings, I do believe.
Around 2-3 years ago the Holy Spirit spoke into my heart directly here during a service, I think the service might have been the Leonard Cohen Sermon, Hallelujah. That is still one of my favs. I always love when God takes art not labeled as culturally "sacred" and laughs at our funny labels. And I was sitting there after taking the communion and contemplating.
This knowing came over me that spoke almost prophetically now I guess you would say "Even your Tears are a movement in the Kingdom." I've carried that with me since and I would think about it occasionally but this last month, I have FELT that statement, in a pushing forth from us. Maybe its because I cried a lot of tears lately at the thought of losing you guys, but I don't think this is the end of us or our calling, though I can't be certain what our end will look like.
This statement is scary true of us. A people of short comings and abandonment. We cry a lot of tears and yet we are very much a church on the move in the Kingdom.
Maybe this is very pious of me but I think we're doing or atleast trying to be our simple selves in a world that doesn't appreciate that and wants to add to it. A Living Offering professing all of our weakest parts. I know for me, the parts that I least expected to wield fruit in my life, the failings, the parts that the world tried to conform and get me to cover up, the parts weren't good enough were the parts that called out who God was to me. They are becoming the Living Offering of who I am in Jesus.
We're not a people of adornment or numbers, ya'll. Numbers are great and important but I think they're not a defining factor. They weren't for me and they aren't for you. One of the blessings of this place is that were an oasis for people to come and go from here, freely, in peace because I believe the Holy Spirit will not be stagnant, it will keep moving, it's always fluid, and changing shape.
Do ya'll remember Jonathan Stone's last message before his sabbatical. That we were going to have a physical change in us not only individually but as a body as well. I thought he was talking about getting fit. Which I was starting the Whole 30 diet the next day so I was like YESSS! Whole 30 is going to change my life! yeah, No! That didn't happen. Lord I just wanted to lose some inches not have a circumcision of my church body!!
But anyways, what a benefit for the body of Christ, we are right now, as is. A body of the broken, and kinda spiritually mauled and feeling abandoned. I'll be honest, I took this last transition a little hard. I had finally let my guard down and trusted again. I was not the Angry Ophran for a while, I thought I was healed of all that. And I seriously still think the world of all the Leaders, we've been blessed with. I really do carry a piece of them in my heart always.
They have helped heal my heart in ways, only the Holy Spirit could minister to and I still trust them, but the pain of losing our pastors has taken a toll on me and probably us. It's like forcing us back into that dern calling of Angry Ophrans, the Liars, Dreamers and Misfits.
But in the midst this pain, in this disappointment, I've really had lean into who I say God is. And in return, I've learned a little more about myself, my original calling, as well. I'm learning that seperation and loss are big fears in my life. Which is funny because this is something of a reoccurrence throughout my whole life, so this probably plays out more as an insecurity of mine. The Lord keeps forcing it up in my face, and saying "Let's use this."
I feel vulnerable again, you know, we're vulnerable, right now. We're confused, or atleast that's me, but I'm always sometimes confused about something. But this very position of weakness and hurt is where Christ is and potent but it can easily be missed if were not careful. And we'll be too busy trying to be better, keep up and not just sitting in this mess and learning to be our weak selves which glorifies the Pure Grace that God has to offer us. Remembering that even our Tears are a great movement in Christ' Kingdom. And the Lord saying "Let's use that"
(As the musicians and those serving the Table would come)
I'd like to end with a contemplation called Who am I from Richard Rohr, a weird mystic that I very much find connection with says: