The other day I drove past my favorite gas station and saw a poster in the window offering to install snow tires for the winter months. I must admit that even after six years in Oregon I did chuckle a bit on reading the sign. In Minnesota snow tires are illegal because they tear up the roads. Now, don’t get me wrong, I get why Oregonians might need to have snow tires installed. If it does snow no one is going to help move that snow off the road, so it is good to be prepared. We just prepare differently for snow here than people do in Minnesota. In Minnesota people depend on the community to prepare but in Oregon it is a much more personal preparation that is needed.
I make this observation for two reasons: one has to do with the church and one has to do with the wider society we find ourselves in today in these United States. First I’ll say a word about the church, then something about the wider society.
In the church we often talk as if we are a family and to some extent we act as members of a family. But mostly we are not a family but a community. In a family what we seek is the unconditional love of those in the family; in a community we gather to accomplish goals, and those goals define how we interact with each other. In a community we prepare for our life together with liturgy and music that reminds us of who we are in Christ, so that we do the work of ministry in the world. And this is key: we act in the world by reconciling the world to God through Christ. When we insist that the church is mostly a family, we focus on ourselves and seek the unconditional love of those in the family, and we only secondarily reach out in love to the world around us. Acting in this way we fail to fully fulfill our gospel imperative to love. To stretch the metaphor above about snow tires, we prepare for the winter by adding the tires and we come together as Christians on Sunday so that on Monday we can be God’s people in the world.
We exist as a church for the sake of the world and our ministry is to those who are the poor and the disenfranchised in society. In the Gospel of Luke we read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This is the call of God for the life of the world through the Church. We go into the world to love and serve God’s people because we have been given the Spirit of the Lord and we are called to ministry in God’s name. To stretch the snow tire metaphor even farther, we put on snow tires so that we are ready if it snows and we act as God’s people in the world because the world is full of poor and disenfranchised people.