by: Rev. Alex Molozaiy
As I’ve been stressing to our kids during “Time with the Children,” Advent means ‘arrival.’ It’s the church season that awaits the coming of the Light of the World: Jesus. As I think about the Ukrainian civilians without power, huddled in the cold and dark this Advent, I am struck by just how much of the whole world eagerly awaits the dawning of a new world.
As the Church of Jesus Christ, we are in covenant with God to help the world that is transform into the world as it should be. Yes, you might be thinking, but… how, exactly? This is one of those direct questions to which there are hundreds of correct answers, but hard to boil down to a few that could apply to everyone. The disciples were constantly attempting to get Jesus to give them simple answers to this question. Jesus would inevitably respond to them with a story about a rich man and a vineyard or a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep in potential peril in search of one. We and the disciples are left scratching our heads, perhaps more confused than less. Why didn’t he just TELL us what to do?
In his refusal to give them a simple, concrete answer, Jesus was attempting to get them to upend their thinking, to change the way they came at their problem or reconsider their goals in light of God’s goals, to discern for ourselves.
Thankfully, the hardest part of discerning why the church exists was done for us before the stories of Jesus began being written down that provide us with a basic framework that has stood the test of time. The early church correctly arrived at the five primary functions of the Church of Jesus and they can help guide us today. Because they’re as ancient as the church itself, they’re sometimes referred to by church folk in their original Greek: Leitourgia, Koinonia, Didache, Diakonia, and Kerygma. Don’t panic, I’m going to translate and unpack each of these a little to see if they can help you discern individually as I share with you the ways I see CPC heading toward them as it seeks to spread the Light that once again breaks into our world at Christmas.
Leitourgia is literally ‘the work of the people,’ and is the primary work of all congregations: worship. Worship means putting God at the center of everything we do and removing any idol that might presume to take God’s place. We remember that God is the audience for worship, not the folks in the pews. In 2023, I will be working with the Diaconate to increase the participation of laypeople in leading of worship because I believe that it pleases God when more and different voices offer praise.
Koinonia means ‘community,’ but it’s so much deeper than the model immortalized in the theme song from Cheers: ‘a place where everybody knows your name.’ Here koinonia means that we are a family of choice. We are committed to love one another even when we may not like each other and continue the work of reconciliation and forgiveness that we promise each other in our Church Covenant. In 2023 we’re planning to build community through regular fellowship opportunities outside of Sunday morning and to begin the formation of small group ‘circles’ that meet at times of their own choosing.
Didache is instruction or teaching, but really it is a call to be a life-long learner. As our pilgrim forebears claimed stepping into the new world: “There is yet more light and truth to break forth from God’s Holy Word.” We can all learn more about God by learning the Bible better, but our past understandings of God must be tested and examined as we learn and grow in other ways. For instance, as a left-handed person, I’m grateful that this isn’t seen as demonic possession anymore! As we learn more about creation, we’re learning more about the Creator. In the coming year, I’ll be leading at least one intergenerational study group and providing others with potential discussion topics and questions that anyone who participates in church life will be able to feel like they’ve got something to contribute.
Diakonia is the root of our word “deacon” and it means something along the lines of ‘service work.’ We are blessed by God to be a blessing to someone in need. Offering money is important, but it’s not enough. Truly serving others in ministry means allowing yourself to become vulnerable, being open to receiving a surprising gift or insight that has the potential to change who you are. Each Christian should cultivate their own ministry serving others. Not only will you learn a lot, but it also feels good to be reminded of your gifts.
Finally, kerygma, which means our public witness or proclamation. This is one that many of us in the mainline struggle with. We tend to shy away from proclaiming our faith. We don’t want to make people uncomfortable, we often tell ourselves. But how much of our concern really comes from our fear of how others may feel and how much comes from our own discomfort? We are called to speak out on behalf of those who face bigotry and discrimination and welcome those who’ve been outcast. How will anyone know if we don’t say it out loud where others can hear it? It is past time for us to declare that we are indeed an Open and Affirming congregation and to proclaim that we’re ‘that kind of church’ – one that’ll accept and embrace people who are different, perhaps even challenging. Are we willing to risk the scandal of standing with those who’ve been excluded? I hope that we will become well-known as that church by those who need to hear that God loves them, but it’s not without the risk of alerting those who would try and stop us.
The work of the church is both the same as ever and different for this new year: Tell the story. Bring the light to places that wait in darkness. Let us focus on being the church we need to be now and trust that God will sustain and bless all creation through our incarnate faith.