Rev. Sam Wells, Dean of the Chapel (can you say Cathedral?) at Duke University, had a great comment about the first folks who ever spoke to Jesus in the Gospel of John.
These fellows were John’s disciples. They had heard their mentor’s proclamation, as Jesus walked by one day, “Look, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:35) Surely these disciples asked John what he meant when “you called that guy ‘God’s Lamb.'” They had to know something about who Jesus was, or at least about who John thought he was.
So, what would you have asked? I mean, if you thought Jesus might be God’s Lamb, what would you ask him or say to him? Some of my candidates for first question might be, “How do you pronounce Habakuk?” Or, “Golden streets, really?” Or, “How’s my great-grandmother doing?” “Will there be fishing in Heaven?”
These guys asked, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” (John 1:38)
I pay attention to a good many blogs these days. Many of them are written by what you’d call the next generation of leaders in matters of the Christian faith. One of the top five things these guys seem to stress in their churches–a core value they have in common–is the idea of Community. Most of their churches do something like “community groups” in order to keep people connected and plugged in. This is no new idea, of course. You’ll see it in the book of Acts, you’ll see it in the writings of Paul, we saw it in the Jesus movement in the 60s and 70s. Where real, vibrant faith is being lived out, people seem to really want to live it out together.
This is because, as I’ve written before, we are created for relationships. When we are our best selves, we want to be in community. We want to know and be known. This, in several ways, implies to me the idea of staying.
There is value, you see, in the longevity of relationships. If I know someone for a long time, and our lives frequently intersect, I begin to understand what to expect from that other person, and of course they know what to expect of me. If we live in community–that is, if we understand some level of commitment between us–then we begin to be changed by one-another.
Marriage is the best example I can think of to illustrate the impact of community on individuals. If I am committed to my spouse, then that commitment will change me. It will encourage some activity and discourage other activity. If I love my wife, I will want to be a person that pleases her, and that desire will change me. People don’t break commitments; commitments break people. And we need to be broken. We can only become our best selves if we are broken, humble. If I love, I want to be my best self for the sake of others. (Psalm 51:17b “…a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
So, living in community is like that. If I am committed to a community–a church, for instance–then I am going to encounter personalities and opinions and perspectives within that community that challenge me. If I leave when I’m challenged, nobody will learn anything. Jesus, in the Gospels, asks us to work through the hard things. Go ahead and let iron sharpen iron, it’s okay. Working through the hard things makes us all better.
Are there some things over which we should draw a line in the sand? Yes, but they are rare. I recently read a prayer of David in which he begged God: “In wrath, remember Mercy.” We want God to treat us that way; we must remember mercy when we encounter things we perceive to be non-negotiable…
So, if the discipline I am trying to teach myself is “STAY,” then I will develop a capacity to slow down, listen more than I speak, and do all I can to encourage others to stay, as well. (What good is it for me to stay, if I run other folks off!?)
“A broken and contrite heart, O Lord, you will not despise,” says Psalm 51. When we take it when we’d rather be dishing it out, that breaks us. Humility is learned in this way. This discipline helps us with a sense of how Jesus “…learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Heb. 5:8) “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29)
It’s the “theology of staying.” If we are developing an ever deepening handful of relationships, our community becomes a much more fertile field in which others may find the comfort they need for the development of their relationships with God, and their relationships with their families and friends. Such a community is brimming over with the aroma of Christ. The Grace that attracts.
Dr. Wells commented about a couple of situations in which he, as the new guy, was asked if he would be staying. “People always want to know that,” he said. It’s another way of saying, “Can I trust you?”
Let me know, will you, what your thoughts are about The Theology Of Staying. I’m really interested. Let me know how I can help you “STAY.”