PRAYER OF CONSECRATION
Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
Jesus, I belong to you.
I lift up my heart to you.
I set my mind on you.
I fix my eyes on you.
I offer my body as a holy and living sacrifice to you.
Jesus, We belong to you.
Praying in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.
Romans 15:23–33 (NIV)
But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord’s people there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.
I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen.
By the end of chapter 15, we see Paul’s fervent commitment to strengthen the church Jesus is building. He has labored through his magisterial letter to mend the net of the little church in Rome. Paul did not see the work of church planting and pastoring as sociological chaplaincy. It was theological and missional. Paul saw these little churches as microcosms of the kingdom of Jesus; little worlds of massive supernatural reality which pointed to the world to come—the new heaven and the new earth. He saw them as communities from the future—for the future—right here in the present. Jesus declared it in his first seventeen-word sermon,
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
Jesus wrote the check. Paul was cashing it in every conceivable way. The fishing nets of the kingdom that these little churches represented were being riven by false teaching, stretched out of shape by spiritual warfare, stressed by poverty, and torn by interpersonal conflicts. Paul tied the knots that formed these net-like churches, paid them visits as the Lord allowed, and wrote them letters in between in order to keep the nets mended and in working order.
Isn’t it astonishing how those ancient letters are still mending the nets which are our churches today? As he closes out his letter to the church in Rome, he shares with us his plan to go to Jerusalem to take an offering for the poverty-stricken church there. After this, he plans to go to Rome, and already he’s talking about making Rome the mission base for a fishing expedition to Spain where he will tie the first knots of a brand new net (aka church plant).
You see, Paul knew most deeply what we have mostly never known at all. The church is the bond of peace in the unity of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. It’s not an organization set up to provide religious services, spiritual help, and family chaplains. It’s not a building to come to and experience good worship and a relevant message. And no, the church is not “the people.”1 Christians gathered in a building in Jesus’s name are merely a Christian crowd. The church actually rises and falls based on the bonds between us. The church is the bond, the deep, bonded attachments between the blood-bought sons and daughters of God, bound together by the Holy Spirit in the very body of Jesus Christ. In him, we are seated in the house of heaven, and stretching out across the whole earth. It’s why our relationships are the mission. It’s why awakening rides on the rails of friendship, bound in the knots of our banded fellowship. It’s time we started working on the bonds. While there are many ways to do this, I know of none better than the band.
Abba Father! Awaken your church to understand who it is and whose we are and even what we are in this world. We confess we have organized ourselves in ways that work against what you want to do. Even in coming to our gatherings we mostly see the backs of each other’s heads. We are desperate to see face-to-face, and to learn to know one another deeply and love one another profoundly; the way you know and love us. This is what we have to offer the desperate world around us—our very bond with each other in you. Awaken your church. Awaken me. Praying in Jesus’s name, amen.
No further questions. Are you ready to do this?
It’s Friday again so I’ll lead us in a few choruses you probably know by heart to get us going. If not, you will catch on quickly.
For the Awakening,
J. D. Walt
- The Covid-19 global pandemic exposed many hidden things in our churches. For starters, it showed us our churches are not seen as Jesus envisions them to be—the central agency of healing in every community. In the face of the worst health crisis in our lifetime, they were the first institution to be deemed non-essential and to be closed. Even deeper, though, we learned something about the nature of our community structures and life. Our immediate impulse was not to band together with stronger bonds, but to stream our Sunday worship services on the internet. I don’t mean to criticize this as somehow being a wrong move and yet it is a puzzling priority. It shows we believe our communities are most united by a common experience of a worship service that mostly involves one-way communication to a largely passive audience. If ever there were a moment for banding it was then. The next best time, of course, is now.
When I say the church is not “the people” what I am really saying is the church is not a loosely connected community of persons. When I say the church is the bond between us, I do not intend to imply some kind of abstract ethos of love. The church is the love of God shed abroad in human community. The real question is how is this most embodied and best manifested? Something tells me it is not through live-streaming our worship services. Certainly, that can be a component, but this is just the relocation of bodies to other places. It is crowd shuffling. Though there are surely exceptions, it did not seem to make much difference to the life and flourishing of our churches.
What might “bond-building” have looked like for our local churches through what could have been one of the most bonding experiences in life—a shared ordeal? Judging by the number of people who have walked away from our churches since the pandemic, we missed the moment. The good news is it’s not too late. I don’t mean to be critical and I’m certainly not looking to pick a fight. I just think there are significant learnings for us to glean and these will come not through defensive posturing but honest reflection and dialogue.
The folded-hands children’s rhyme is telling. “Here’s the church. Here’s the steeple. Open it up and here are all the people.” It turns out to be wrong in almost every way. I’ll leave it there for today.
- This phrase, “joined in class” signifies the whole distinctive project Wesley learned from the Moravians and instituted among the Methodists. It includes the society, the class meeting, and the band meeting. We have blended some of the features together in our hybrid model. The reference for the quote is: W. H. Gilder, ed., The Philadelphia Repository and Religious and Literary Review Volume 1 (Philadelphia: Orrin Rogers, 1840), 189.