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Ch3-5: Greater Things Than These

Each of the communities has its own cluster of missions stamped with their own uniqueness, telling stories of struggle, grit and grime, and luminous moments when they were bearers of mercy and grace. Sometimes these missions of the communities, so wondrous to behold, are sorely beset with the problems that we have with ourselves and each other-our small and large betrayals, our competitiveness, our envy, our different and strong opinions of how things ought to be, our rush to get things done or our taking forever, our struggles to control, to have our wills prevail, and on and on-all those petty and serious ways in which we fail to embody the concepts of servant leadership that roll so easily from our tongues.

If on some days I question my singing ever the song of the missions, on others I discern the transcendent mystery flowing through all these efforts. The good news is that the glimmering structures prefiguring another world are the work of ordinary folk. If they were the work of the spiritually gifted or of those who had it all together or were especially wise, the rest of us could pass them by, as not relevant to our lives. As it is now, they let us know that all things are possible and that over our darkness is a blanket of forgiveness. They teach us that at the center of our lives are the vast storehouses of untapped resources needed for the restoration of our communities and our world.   

In one of the classes in the School of Christian Living, Gordon Cosby told the students:

Every structure in which you work can feel the impact of your presence within it. You might want to begin questioning most of the fundamental assumptions operating within that structure. At the same time the Church of Jesus Christ ought to be creating literally countless alternative institutions of power incarnating some portion of a Kingdom vision and corporately embodying a more human way of ordering life. There are very few of these radical alternative structures pointing the way to a new society, and saying this is how as a biblical people we live while waiting the coming of Jesus Christ. This is why the Christian church in so many areas of our diseased society has little impact upon the quality of life in America.

These mini institutions must grow out of the biblical vision. And if they grow out of that vision, they “ill dramatically proclaim a solidarity with the poor, with those who suffer most deeply at the margins of society. These structures will not isolate the poor while serving them. They will recognize that the poor are the true leaders and work alongside them in their struggle for a more just world. They will provide an opportunity for the privileged and deprived, the rich and the poor to be together-to break down the dividing wall of partition which separates. A structure which serves the poor is one thing; a structure which serves the poor while evoking their gifts and leadership and nourishing genuine friendships is quite different-much more significant. Such structures will, by their very nature and being, judge and confront the systems of the world which produce the dehumanizing conditions that we deplore.
Of course, behind every creative work, whether it be a poem or an institution, is boundless sacrifice. This week I made a solemn statement of that sort to Diana Wright, a friend and writer: “All creativity requires sacrifice.”

She replied, “Yes, but the meaning of sacrifice is to make sacred.” She went on to point out that in Greek tradition the sacrifice had to be willingly made, so that if the animal chosen to be offered up showed resistance, it was let go and another put in its place. I knew that what she said was profound and true. We have to lay down our lives of our own free consent. Otherwise, our offerings, even when they are used, will not hallow the profane or fulfill our human hopes.

As each of the new churches brought into being its own cluster of mission groups, our horizons expanded to include a wider range of concerns such as earthkeeping, our multicultural environment, peace and war, and the nurture of persons in places of government leadership. We go to each other’s gatherings around these issues and read each other’s newsletters. We also stay in touch through our fund-raising letters. We send these letters not only to friends all over the country, we send them to each other in The Church of The Saviour communities. We respond in various ways to these appeals in accordance with our individual temperaments and maybe in different ways on different days. Sometimes we are burdened by their number, or feel guilty because we are not doing more, but most of us most of the time like receiving them. They keep us close to the heart-beat of the things we care about and want to keep in our prayers, even when we have no money to give.

Some of us go so far as to consider our fund-raising dinners our most festive events-where we hear firsthand the miracle stories that the folk in all the missions have to tell. Of course, there is always a time to make a contribution or a pledge. Since we all manage, somehow, to support each other’s missions, one wonders whether the same money is being passed from one pocket to the other; even so, it mysteriously multiplies along the way. Because so many of us at these banquets took a little down-at-the-heel, we constantly amaze ourselves when the gifts are counted to find them always in the thousands. These are added to by people all over the city and all over the country, some of whom have never seen the missions and yet believe.

As new mission groups came into being to deal with issues of racism, education, politics and other large issues, some of us who had been on the periphery of the life in our own congregations, together with some of the “third world” of our city, were able to move in closer to the places where new life was breaking. Some days as we labored together, the very climate came alive with possibility. We began to feel that we could believe in ourselves again, and in the power of the Spirit at work in the world.

Perhaps one of these days we who are city dwellers will give up the myth of our powerlessness, turn around, and move in a new direction. We do not have to sit around immobilized, waiting for help to come. We can learn to care for our society, which in large part means learning to care for our cities. If our streets are to be redeemed we will have to commit our own human and financial resources to that goal. We’ ll have to recover our gifts of faith and hope and endurance, evoke the gifts of other persons, and thus develop leaders and facilitators for the building of a global network of small, disciplined, self-critical groups whose reflection will issue iii purposeful action. This is a way to join in the liberation movement that is going on in all the poor countries of the world. We are not the initiators of this movement. Even the suffering ones of the earth are not the initiators, though they are the genuine leaders. The movement is God’s as was firmly established when God directed Moses to tell a people in slavery, “I AM has sent me to you.”*

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