As part of my work I sit with a lot of different groups of people. One month it is the Canadian Council of Anabaptist Leaders, the next month it is the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada or Mennonite World Conference.
More times than not, it is with some different group of people who call themselves Brethren in Christ (a church board, a group of lay people or pastors, etc.). When I think of the various groups with whom I meet, I am struck by how unique and special the body of Christ can be. While our expressions of faith differ, we hold in common this belief that Christ is Lord and wants to transform us into his image.
This month I am visiting the three Canadian Global Worker families serving in Zambia. As part of that trip, I participated in the ordination service of the Bishop of the BIC Church in Kenya, then visited our sisters and brothers in Malawi. As the trip comes to an end, I have a number of personal reflections about the Church of Jesus.
In the book of Acts the constant question is, “How do we welcome and incorporate the other?” I.e. the one who is different from us (Acts 15). That work has not stopped. The longer I follow Christ, the more I realize how diverse the body of Christ is. In parts of the world, worship is loud and boisterous. In some parts of the world, the church asks its ordained members to wear a clerical collar and, in other parts, jeans and short sleeves are the dress code. The body of Christ is supposed to be this beautiful mix of differences that highlight our uniqueness and yet remind us of the unity we have through Christ and what he has done for us. In the past weeks, while standing in a service wearing a purple shirt with a clerical collar and a cross, I realized how beautiful the body of Christ is, with all of its differences. I thank God that what unites us is so much more than the differences that exist.
As the Brethren in Christ Church of Canada, we are united by so much more than what separates us. This is a beautiful thing. We are united by our values, our love of Jesus and the belief that he transforms our lives, and by a deep commitment to one another. These similarities far outweigh our differences. This is something to celebrate.
The whole church is needy. We often think of needs as simply financial. Needs are so much more. Yes, basic survival needs matter, but at the same time spiritual needs, relational needs and emotional needs are universal. Wherever I go and whomever I meet, when I ask the basic question, “how are you doing?” (and I convey that I want a real answer), I am amazed at how quickly I learn about the inner ‘stuff’ of the person sitting across from me. It often causes me to reflect on my own inner ‘stuff’. As a people of God, we are a needy people. We need one another and we need a God who ministers to our very souls.
A basic theme of the Christian faith is giving. It is how the whole narrative begins. In Genesis 1, God breathes air (gives it) to create life. Mary and Joseph give of themselves to parent the Saviour. In Phil 2: 6-7 it says that “He (Jesus) emptied himself and considered himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…”
Around the world, I have witnessed this in numerous ways. In Canada, I have seen pastors and lay people rally around a hurting family – giving of their time, heart and spirit. At a recent Mennonite World Conference meeting, I saw person after person give of themselves as they led a diverse group of people in worship. In Malawi, I sat and ate as a person served me a meal whose income likely doesn’t even register when compared to an average Canadian’s income. In Macha, I watched as Canadian BIC personnel served some 100 plus children, led them in devotions and then taught them basic grammar. I sat as a Canadian BIC nurse serving at Macha hospital took my blood pressure. I sat and prayed with doctors and nurses who could be serving at the most elite institutions in the world, but instead, choose to serve in the developing world and eliminating Malaria and HIV transmission.
Following Jesus is all about giving. It’s the giving of ourselves to our neighbours, our church community, the people we differ from and those who are most in need. In one way, it is what it means to follow Jesus.
The body of Christ is this incredible living entity. It’s diverse, it’s needy, it’s giving… and so much more. Yes, it is human and imperfect. But it is the body of Christ. It is the hands and feet of Jesus. We are the people who represent Jesus. We are the people who Paul calls “to have the same attitude as was that of Christ Jesus who being in very nature did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant… he humbled himself.”
So let’s celebrate our diversity, our neediness and let’s seek to be a giving group. Giving generously of our love, our time, our prayers and our resources.