Broken: The church you never knew you wanted. Week 1

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: (10) "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. (11) "The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. (12) 'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' (13) "But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' (14) "I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 18:9-14 NASB

On the recommendation of one of the monks at the monastery in Conyers a few years ago, I began reading the book, “The Spirituality of Imperfection.” One story is shared regarding a lecture at Rutgers University for alcohol counselors. On the board, the instructor had written the words, “human – humor – humility.” He turned to the gathering of would-be counselors and challenged, “you all know what 'humus' is don't you?”

In the back of the room sat a gentleman you might have thought was from the state of Texas. Being that he was every bit 6 foot something 250 pounds might have given and indication. Or his cowboy hat, boots and belt buckle. Or maybe his nametag cut in the shape of a star that said, “Tex.” In any case, in a deep drawl Tex, bellowed (and I'm editing here), “Yeah Doc, humus is worm dung!”

The authors note that we cannot work on one without working on all the others. I've mentioned before that following my cancer surgery in 2000, I was later diagnosed with clinical depression. I swore I'd never go there again. Never say never. I was again diagnosed with depression recently. Sitting around the table, we were talking as a family and I mentioned I was trying to get better. Logan looked at me and asked, “does that mean you won't yell so much?” We can't work on our humanity, our humor, or humility without dealing with our BEING humus.

It is humiliating to talk about being worm dung and dust isn't it? After all, we live in Georgia and know too well that being crushed or broken is not a good thing as Larry Munson reminded us that Saturday afternoon when he said,"We just stepped on their face with a hob-nailed boot and broke their nose! We just crushed their face!" We don't do broken well or at least not in public. But I would submit to you the unpopular notion that the only successful church is a broken church, the only successful Christian is a broken Christian and the only successful pastor is living a broken life.

Being part of the Church universal and a church in general is a most contrary thing. It associates you with the one organization in the world that exists for others. It associates with the primary logo of the cross – a symbol of a torturous death sentence. Its primary practices of baptism and communion are also symbolic of death. It is no wonder churches have moved these symbols out of primary places – they remind us too much of our humus.

And yet, how often do we hear a song on the radio or in a motivational seminar a question like, “what would you do different if you knew you'd die tomorrow?” Is it not the church, in our vows of membership, that reminds us of this very thing? How will you live differently? We are called to live for something more than ourselves and to be part of a revolution – the very body of Jesus Christ by our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.

Like our humanity, humility and humor are tied together, so are the 5 vows. But I see these tied to each other in unique ways as well. Starting with Prayers and Presence – they make up the practice of Listening. To listen, we often have to give up myths, our own beliefs about people and situations. I think two apply here.

MYTH: I can worship God anywhere.
1) The Church creates Sacred Space where ever we gather and it is a place of prayer for all people – for the sinner and the self-righteous. I think it is significant that Jesus has the action of this parable play out in the temple. Other places in Scripture make the point of praying to God anywhere. Right here, Jesus could easily have done that but he does not. Instead, he puts the action in a sacred space where believers in Yahweh, God Almighty, are called to worship. It is here, that ALL people are invited (My house shall be called a house of prayer). We are a called people practicing presence.

MYTH: I've got to be perfect to come.
2) The Church, when creating Sacred Space, provides a place to break or be broken. The prayer of the tax collector has become known to the church as the– The Jesus Prayer - “Have mercy on me a sinner.” The practice of simple yet profound breath prayers is an ancient practice of the church stemming from this verse. Simple, one phrase prayers, remind us of our need to pray every moment, our need to be honest with ourselves and with God.

Prayer is a willing receptiveness to the power, presence and pleasure of God. To pray in this way means we must be willing to be present and actively listen. This is contrary to our nature that demands attention and a hearing. Jesus calls to the whole person – listen – in your prayers and presence.


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