If there is one overarching result of sin, it is alienation. Our relationship is broken with the community of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our relationships with one another are poisoned with self- (awareness, centeredness, absorption, loathing, etc.). The primary work of Christ on the cross is to pave the way back, to remove the offense of sin and make a way for us to be restored in relationship with God and with one another. So building community, a community that starts with and centers upon God, is the primary work of the kingdom. Some look at the church today and wonder is this is what Jesus had in mind, and I have to agree, we do drift. But Jesus did gather a motley crew of broken and imperfect people around him, which he called ekklesia—the community of the called out, that is, the church.
Jesus came to establish a community centered on worship, a community that begins with God calling us out. The psalmist tells us that the sacrifices of our God are a broken and a contrite heart. Brokenness is the native condition of mankind, a result of the Fall. It is as Jesus said, as he laid out the road map of the spiritual journey, Step One, blessed are the poor. First we must know that we are broken and require fixing. Those who see no need for a savior, are not looking for God’s help. It is to the poor and broken that Jesus comes. Though we are all poor and broken, not all of us are able or willing to see that in ourselves.
Next he calls the contrite. Contrition is repentance. It isn’t merely feeling bad about something, it is a willingness, a determination, to offer amends, to make a change, to do differently. John the Baptist describes repentance as stealing no more, cheating no more, cutting a new path that is different from the one you previously wandered. It is as Jesus would say, “Go and sin no more.” So God calls broken people who are determined to take advantage of his grace to make a change for the better.
This gathered community of broken and contrite people is the church. These are the ones that God is calling to follow Jesus, to imitate him, and to obey him. If we want to be like Jesus, we need to do the things he did. Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve, not himself, but the needy, broken, sick and poor of every sort. He came to lay down his life. He told us that the world will know that we’re his disciples by the love we have for one another. Then he went on to say that this is love, that one would lay down his/her life for another.
Jesus laid his life down on a cross of wood. We, too, are called to lay our lives down upon a cross, but ours is not made of wood, it is made of the broken people around us, the needy, the poor, the alienated and disenfranchised. If we hold back, if we attempt to preserve our life, we will ultimately lose it. But if we willingly embrace this cross, we will find true life, the sort of life Jesus offers.
This laying down of our lives upon the altar of broken lives, this is our spiritual act of worship, this is pleasing and acceptable to God. This is how we know that this is the kingdom of God and not some self-help program. A self-help program would concentrate on your own well-being, but the kingdom calls you to love sacrificially, to love deeply by sacrificing all, to offer your own life up, as Paul did, a drink offering, poured out before the Lord.
If we are willing to break free from the definitions of success and happiness given to us by Madison Avenue, and instead look at what it really takes to sustain a human being, we would find that all of us have plenty to go around. We live in ridiculous abundance. We don’t want to be found hoarding wealth in the last days. We need instead do as the scriptures instruct, to him who has two coats, give to him who has none, and in this manner, meet the needs of all.
This is the community that God is building. On the one hand, it is hard and looks a lot like a first century wooden cross. But on the other hand, it is beautiful, embracing, liberating, loving, caring and inclusive. It is like Jesus.
Are you in?