Being the Church

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand — shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matthew 5, the Message)

The Presbyterian pastor Eugene Peterson died two years ago. Among the many treasures he left to the Church is The Message: The Bible in Contemporary language. I find there to e so many places where the words and images he finds share a stunning beauty, and help the old, old scripture come alive in new ways. One of those is Matthew 5:16, where “In the same way, let your light shine before others” (NRSV) becomes “Shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives.”

Since the translation came out in 2002, I’ve ruminated long and hard on this image of my life as an “open house”. I find that image to be especially poignant these days as most of us are living much more of our lives at home than we ever have. We are being forced (not a bad thing!) to re-image the concept of church, as less something we come to, and more that church is what we are. We don’t COME to church, we ARE the church, out where we live, and work, and spend our life. These days that is more or less home.

So what if as terrible as this time is, as isolating as it can be, it is also a prime time when we can be the Church, right where we are, at home? How might your life become an open house for others to come into, and look around, and envision life in a new way? I’m wondering if our neighbors and friends are longing for a soothing hospitality, and if that’s our primary call to ministry in this diaspora, in this scattering of ours?

We can lament the loss of our times to gathering together. We should. What we shouldn’t do is miss the opportunities around us to be gatherers of others, to extend hospitality to strangers — new neighbors, maybe, or old neighbors you really don’t know? To contemplate what it might look like for your own life to be a shining light in a dark time, an open house in a time of isolation and fear.

Most of us have back yards, and front yards, or driveways, or patios, or shady places in the park nearby. And most of us have more time than we have had in a while. And all of us have this blessed summer weather calling us outside, and that’s the safe gathering environment just now.So reach out. Be safe, but also take the risk of inviting others into your life. Create community right where you are, in ways that you can. It’s God’s call to us nowadays, and it’s a lot of fun!

In a time when we struggle to come to Church, let’s spend our time instead being the church. Here’s to the potential of your “open house” life. Get something on the calendar. Form the physically distant circle. shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

Peter Hawkinson

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