Throughout much of this year, the members of Sycamore House have been consumed with a conversation revolving around how a church ought to be. It makes sense – we’re on several committees, started a Sunday school program and a youth group program, are members of the choir, attend service regularly, and have two budding priests in the house to boot. Especially now, the conversation is poignant because the parish is entering a time of transition as one dean prepares to retire and another is being sought. If we weren’t embroiling ourselves in this discussion, it would be akin to ignoring our situation. Our conversation, I believe, boils down to a single verse.
Jesus states, “My kingdom is not of this world” in John 18:36. People of the Church, as followers of Jesus, and therefore part of that kingdom, are also “not of this world.” What does it mean to be in this world, but not be of it? That sounds incredibly painful to me. To be somewhere that you do not fit in, and to possibly be hated because of it. I have stood in that place, if only for a short while, but it sunk me as low as I have ever been. Jesus’ call to be set apart from this world is a difficult one to heed. Indeed, following that call led Jesus to his death, and, ultimately, his resurrection. But what does it look like to be “in, but not of, the world” at an organizational level?
The Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas wrestled with this by selling off most of their newly regained church buildings after The Schism. They chose instead to pour their resources into outreach programs and revitalize their dying diocese. In this way they were “in the world,” aware of its problems and seeking to address them. Yet not “of the world” because they resisted the temptation of wealth in property and instead used that money to help those in need. This example is a radical one, but I believe it offers a fairly clear picture of what it means to be in the world but not of it.
A recurring theme in our discussions is action. A church must act on the foundation of Christian theology that is presented and preached every Sunday. Talking about how to help or offering ideological support is all well and good but more is needed, and that’s where the difficulty and discomfort lie. It’s not easy to take action, but that’s not the point. The point is to push ourselves to be more like Christ in our day-to-day, to see Him in the world and be His unconditional love in the world. At the end of the beatitudes in Matthew, Jesus commands us, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” The tallest task there is. In reaching toward that goal we become outcasts, pariahs, and loved ones of Christ Jesus. This is something that we know Jesus has done and understands, and that he is with us in our attempts to walk that path of perfection.