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What's Your Posture
DEUTERONOMY 34:1-8 MATTHEW 28:16-20
He was an old man, 120 years old, his life was drawing to a close, yet, according to the New Revised Standard Version in Deuteronomy 34:7, "His sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated." Moses climbed to the top of Mount Nebo which today is located in Jordan, south of Amman. There, from the vantage point of Mount Nebo, he saw the promised land. This was before smog so he was able to see far into the distance. He saw miles upon miles of sand. Across the river Jordan, he saw the fertile region of Jericho, the city of palm trees. For the first time in his life, he saw that to which he had given his life: leading his people out of slavery in Egypt to the promised land. It had taken forty years to get there. Now he could see it, yet he knew he would never walk on its sand. The Lord said to him, "I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there."
What was Moses' posture? He could have stood there with his back to the Promised Land, his back to the future, and looked toward the wilderness, longing for the good days of Egypt when he had been royalty. He could have had second thoughts now about his life. After all, he might have thought, what have I gained? I don't even get to go to the Promised Land. I should have stayed in Egypt. Moses could have curled up in the fetal position, curled up like a ball with his thumb in his mouth, pouting.
But, no, Moses' posture was erect. He stood there, old in body but not old in vigor, shoulders erect, head back, eyes alert, ready and able to receive whatever life would deal him, strong in himself, certain of his values and beliefs, remembering how he had led the people with purpose, how he had resisted their temptations into idolatry. Moses stood erect, resolute, facing the future, encouraging his people whom he had rescued and led for forty years, to go, to continue on their journey, to enter the Promised Land, to receive what God had promised, and to make a good life for themselves in the new land, faithful to God, and deserving of God's calling.
When I imagine Jesus' posture, I visualize him giving what we now call the Great Commission. It's written in the closing verses of Matthew. The resurrected Jesus called his disciples to Galilee, also to a mountain. Having been there, I visualize it being the mountain, rising out of the lake of Galilee, where he gave the Sermon on the Mount. There's a chapel there now, called the Church of the Beatitudes. There on top of the mountain, with a magnificent vista of Galilee, farm land, and fishing villages, Jesus stood, also facing the future, also encouraging his people to go. I can see Jesus with his arms outstretched, saying to the disciples, "Go!" "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you."
What is your posture? What is our church's posture? What might it be? I have just returned from a 2 1/2 month study leave, focusing on Ireland, East Germany and Czechoslovakia. The topic of my study leave which I selected and pursued was, "The Church's Changing Self Image." I wanted to see how the church, especially in troubled lands, and in lands where the church was persecuted, saw itself in relation to its culture. In other words, what was the church's posture?
Let's look at three postures. The first posture is the opposite of Moses and Jesus. I call it the Fetal posture. Picture an unborn baby in the womb, insulated from the world, perfectly content to be cozy in his/her little world, where he/she is warm and fed. Few babies want to be born. They resist going through the birth tunnel out into the cold, cruel world. Many find the entry into the world so difficult they spend much of their lives trying to find another womb where they can again get into the comfortable fetal position, close their arms around their legs, isolate themselves, and be contented.
I'm afraid that many churches provide that womb for people. The posture of too many churches is that of the Fetal position, a circle of folks, insulated from the cold, cruel world, feeding one another, busying themselves with petty, trivial details of the institution, and designing rules to protect themselves and their possessions by keeping other people out. The world out there is often cruel, often cold and heartless. The world out there is often frightening, and many folks are looking for security. True security is found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, not in a church. When the church's primary function becomes that of providing comfort, security and protection from the world, rather than inviting us into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the church has chosen the Fetal posture, and ceases to be the church of Moses and Jesus.
North Ireland is being torn apart by the strife between Protestants and Catholics. 1/3 of the population is Catholic Irish, and 2/3 is Protestant British. There is very little contact between the two groups. We were told that even in the work place, there is little relationship between Prods (meaning Protestants) and Romans. If a Prod gets too friendly with a Roman, the Paisleyites start harassing the Protestant. The Paisleyites are followers of the Reverend Ian Paisley, a fanatical Presbyterian minister.
Where is the church in this strife? There are Reconciliation Centers that have started outside the organized church to offer opportunities for dialog between Protestants and Catholics, but there are only glimmers of involvement of the churches in the strife. Many Presbyterian and Methodist clergy and lay people are also Orangemen which is a fraternal order of diehard Protestants. A Methodist Deaconess (the Methodist Church in Ireland and Britain have deaconesses) told us, "We Prods were not interested in what went on outside our doors." Irish Christianity is not alone. There are many churches in the Fetal position, all curled up into themselves, insulated from the world, where they do not hear, see, or care about what goes on out there.
The second posture is that of Moses, standing upon Mount Nebo with his face set to the future which he will never experience. I see Moses standing resolute, firm, determined, and hopeful. The Church of East Germany typifies this posture. Several years ago the Evangelische Church of the Berlin/Brandenburg Synod, which is a 300-year-old merger of Lutheran and Reformed Churches, adopted a statement. Under the Socialists, the Evangelische Church adopted the posture of "in." The church was neither for nor against Socialism, but was the church in Socialism. The church intentionally chose to preserve its integrity, retaining a "critical solidarity" posture with the government. Bishop Gottfried Forck, after the wall fell, wrote, "Recognition of socialism was not the issue, but rather recognition that God had placed us in such a society so that we might live in that society as disciples of Jesus Christ." Living in an oppressive socialist society meant that the church experienced persecution because it criticized government policies and in some instances effected change. For example, because of the church's leadership, the East German government did allow youths to choose an alternative social service to compulsory military service. Individual Christians also endured persecution and discrimination. Christian children were discriminated against and, except in rare instances, denied admission to universities.
We talked with Harry Schneidereit, a United Methodist layperson in East Berlin who is a director of the General Board of Global Ministries. Seventeen years ago his son was forced to leave the country. He moved to West Berlin. When Harry went to meetings of the General Board, he was able to meet his son briefly for a few hours in West Berlin, but Mrs. Schneidereit was unable to see her son for 17 years. Harry told us that now, after the wall fell, many East Germans are bitter, feeling that the Socialists took 40 years of their lives. But, Harry said, he didn't feel that way. "They took my money, they took my freedom, they took my son, but not my life. I wouldn't let them." Can't you see Moses, standing there, with his face to the future, resolute. No matter in what society we find ourselves, no matter how good or how bad the government, no matter how the culture tries to influence and dominate, those with the posture of Moses declare, "They can't touch my soul." Determinedly facing the future, holding on to the promises of God with integrity, conviction, values and principles, they stand; the church in the society, not of but in, living as disciples of Jesus Christ.
The third posture is that of Jesus, standing firm and facing the future like Moses, but with open arms, inviting everyone to him, inviting all who are burdened and heavy laden, inviting all who feel cast out, standing with open arms and challenging his disciples, challenging his church, "Go and make disciples of all nations." The church with this posture is an open, inviting church, with the world as its agenda, not small, petty concerns of the Fetal position. You might accuse me of over-simplification and generalization, but I have not found many churches or denominations with the posture of Jesus. The churches in East Germany and Czechoslovakia were left relatively alone as long as they stayed inside their doors and related to their own people, but they were absolutely prevented from doing any kind of evangelism or mission work. Now, it will be interesting to see if the persecuted church of the former communist countries, churches who were faithful like Moses, who were able to stand firm and solid in their faith, are now able, with the freedom that is theirs, to open their arms like Jesus and obey his command to "Go and make disciples."
We were told that the churches of West Germany are not nearly as vibrant as those of East Germany. They, on the whole, are like American churches, satisfied, complacent, quite content to retreat into the fetal position and minister to themselves. Attendance and participation are very low. We met a minister of an Evangelische Church in West Berlin (merged Reformed and Lutheran) with a membership of 6,000 persons, and an average attendance of 35 at Sunday worship. We worshiped in a rural Lutheran Church in Sweden, built to seat 400. There were about 40 there, two families with youths, the rest were retired folks. There seems to little concern to grow, evangelize, or reach out to the community.
What's your posture? What is our church's posture? Last week, I called us as a church to the task of Transformation. Transformation is what we are about, not the insulated fetal position of ministering to ourselves. I call us to Transformation, transforming lives, inviting people to know Jesus, breaking down walls and barriers, transforming this world into God's image. There are many signals in our congregation that we are well on our way to becoming a transforming church with the posture of Jesus, outstretched arms, making disciples of all nations. Great things are happening here. In the next few Sundays, I will further spell out what it means to be a transforming church.
© 1990 Douglas I. Norris