In anticipation of a summer trip to Europe, I’m listening to Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day. (Can I say I’m reading it, if it’s an audio book?) I’m almost half-way through the book, and the army is just beginning to go ashore. The first ten hours of the book walked through the planning and preparation for D-Day. No drones, computers or cell phones – they used carrier pigeons to make some of the first communications. Carrier pigeons!
One of the remembrances Ambrose shares is that of a transport of men waiting to have the ramp let down so they can go ashore. He says that they sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic – and how sobering it was to sing “As Christ died to make men holy, let us live to make them free.” I can’t imagine how sobering that would be seeing the beaches and cliffs rise up before you amidst the greatest air and naval expedition in history, knowing that casualties will be unbelievably high.
I keep thinking about that line: “As Christ died to make men holy, let us live to make them free.” We usually sing this around the Fourth of July or at other patriotic events. My thoughts are not about just war, though, they are about living and dying in Christ.
For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. – Philippians 1:21 (NRSV)
As I’m listening to the planning that went into making D-Day happen, I am amazed by the unity and complete abandon to the mission. Nations that had been at war at lot longer than the U.S. and suffered much more at the hand of the Axis powers, submitted themselves to the leadership of a U.S. general. Everyone who was a part of the Allied Expeditionary Force was all in. No one held anything back.
They were united by a single cause – they were going to succeed or lose together.
Is the Church this way? Are we united by a common leader against a common enemy? Actually, we are – we just don’t always act like it. And I’m not just talking about between denominations. We argue within our denominations about whether it is more Christ-like to die on Omaha or Utah beach. We will argue our beach (or our theological position) like it is the only battle to be had. We do the same thing within our congregations as we vie for more air support at the expense of the amphibious assault – or in other words, that our pet program or mission is more important than any other. And in doing so, we let the Enemy gain a stronghold and throw us back into the sea.
I personally don’t like using military analogies when talking about the mission of the Church, but I don’t think that’s what I’m doing here. I don’t want us to equate sharing the Gospel with people to marching into battle with a gun in our hands. (Really, I cannot handle Onward Christian Soldier.) This is language of empire and power inequality. Instead, my reflections are on the lack of singleness of purpose and trust in God that exists within the Church. I am guilty of this as well – I’ve certainly championed my own cause under the guise of it being the mission of the Church.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. – 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 (NRSV)
Yesterday, I worshipped for a second time at a church (which is also my only second repeat in the last four months). The teaching is solidly Bible-based, and I really like the things they are doing to build community and serve the community. Thinking I may settle in here a bit, I went to an information session being held with the pastors in the afternoon to find out more. I had a good conversation with the lead pastor when the session was done. Then, I went onto the denomination’s web-site to check out what they believe.
Well, one thing they believe is that women cannot have “elder authority.” I don’t know exactly what this means, but I can probably figure it out. So as a woman who is called to preach and teach and has the spiritual gift of leadership, can I worship in a community that does not believe I can be called (and qualified) to do so? Is this a deal breaker for me?
So here’s a different example.
I really find it difficult to worship in a community that does not have open communion. I don’t believe we need to protect God from those who are “unworthy.” I don’t believe an unbeliever partaking in the Sacrament voids it. By “fencing the Table,” I believe a community is trumping the freedom of the Holy Spirit to commune where Christ sees fit. Communion in and with Christ is so central to my personal theology that it is a barrier to the mission of the Church. I don’t know how to unite with this “cause” because it seems contrary – and even subversive – to the overall mission of the Church.
Does this sound like I’m judging? I don’t doubt the faithfulness of these congregations, but I do not think they have the strongest or most-grace filled interpretation of the Sacrament. I don’t think I could worship intimately (vulnerability) with a congregation that fences the Table. But does that mean that I exclude them from the Church?
I don’t think so. There are a number of ways that I could serve alongside my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to further God’s mission in the world even if I find it difficult to worship with them. If we are going to participate in a more intimate, intentional relationship, then we would need to talk through this. And we might not ever find common ground in this area. Am I a hypocrite to make this distinction, when as members of the Body of Christ, we belong to one another (Romans 5)?
Even if I choose to worship on a regular basis with this congregation I was with yesterday, I think I can live with their denomination not acknowledging that women are called to ordained leadership and teaching ministries. There are other aspects of my discipleship that I can live out in this community without betraying my call. Or am I being a hypocrite to who I am and who God has called me to be?
I guess what I’m wondering is where I am championing my own cause and where I am rightly yielding to the greater Cause. Am I championing my own rights by making a stand and separating myself on the basis of these issues? Or am I called to work side-by-side with all who claim Christ as Lord and Savior, setting aside these differences until our relationship is such that we can have honest dialogue with one another about them? My life is not at stake here, but what “beach” are we called to die on and for what purpose are we doing so? I don’t know the answers to these questions but I’m willing to continue asking them as we try to be the Church God calls us to be.
When I pray with my boys at night, at least once a week one of us gives thanks for the freedom to worship freely. We also often pray for those who are serving in harm’s way and for their families from whom they are separated. Serving in the military is a sacrifice. We’ll be visiting Omaha Beach as well as other sites in Normandy. If you have a note or something you would like me to take when we visit, get it to me in the next few months and I’ll be happy to do so.