Recently I went to an interesting event. It was a Sermon on Mount Hike/Lecture. 50 of us folks were lead on a 2 mile hike and through the woods while every so often we would stop and the speaker would talk us through some of the points of the Sermon on the Mount. Because so many of the points in that part of Jesus' teachings are based in images from nature, it was very interesting, direct, and brought some new insights.
An interesting part of the event was the way the ideas of the Sermon on the Mount bounced around among us as we walked together. Unlike most talks, there were few words, and more time to think about what had been said. And, there were opportunities to talk about the ideas, and even talk about unrelated things. It was lovely to see how the deep spiritual ideas bubbled through the conversations I had with others.
The thing that stuck with me the most, however, was the parallel between this walk and being a member of a church. How? Well, there were 50 of us, of all different ages, hiking abilities, interests, etc. Some of us like to walk fast, and others more slowly. Some folks were happy to have help crossing the streams while others leapt from stone to stone with great ease. Some folks were there because their parents had brought them and others because they were hungering deeply for a better understanding of Jesus' teachings.
All that said, if, by the end of the hike the group had split up based on those differences, it would have been a failure. Everyone had to get there in order for it to be a success. It was quite a powerful image to literally see varying paces at which members of the group were walking. Some were far, far ahead. Others were work as hard as they could, with lots of help from others, and courageously bringing up the rear. Sometimes I thought, "how can we remain one group?!" The needs and desires seemed so different and incompatible!
Yet, we did remain one group. The whole group went up and down the mountain together. And within the time we spent together there were countless ideas shared, connections made. Certainly there was no way to know all the conversations that took place. And some of the people never spoke to one another. But it was a living, breathing organism while we were together. It was a group that was alive together, striving together, allowing for differences, and coming together when it was needed. When some needed help it was given gracefully, even generously.
Seeing church in a microcosm like this makes everything seem a little easier than it is in a real church experience maybe – because it is so literal a metaphor. Of course you help someone across the stream when they need it! Still, I am finding it a hugely useful metaphor as I think about my church experience – that we are the body of Christ, and if the body is divided there is no success. But when the body is supple, strong, agile, and flexible, its progress is beautiful and causes greater unselfishness.
I love this from 1 Corinthians:
For the body is not one member, but many.
If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?
But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
And if they were all one member, where were the body?
But now are they many members, yet but one body.
And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.
Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:
And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.
For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:
That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.