Starlee Kine grew up in Los Angeles, and like most kids in L.A. she had a stage of her life when she was obsessed with Disneyland. The difference between Starlee Kine and other kids was that her mother’s paranoia kept her and her sister from visiting Disneyland because she was convinced that Starlee and her sister would get hurt on one of the rides. Eventually after many months and years of protest the mother caved in. Well, sort of. She took the whole family on a vacation to the Disneyland Hotel that was 15 minutes away from their house and directly across the street from the famous theme park with Space Mountain in the background. They did this twice a year for three years, always staying for two weeks during each visit. Never did they cross over to the theme park.
This is how many of us have experienced Christ. We’ve kept our distant from God, maybe coming near through regular Sunday attendance, or the occasional prayer, but always making sure that we can easily escape in case of an emergency. Some maybe have left church because you feel like you’ve “been there, done that” and there wasn’t much to it. But I wonder if you were just at the hotel across the street and not in the park. What does it look like to actually go to the park and not just stay across the street? Well, it’s a lot like breathing; the Church, and individuals within the Church, are gathered by God(inhale) and sent by God(exhale).
Which is more important, inhaling or exhaling? This is an absurd question because you literally need to do both or you will die. If we don’t inhale we don’t get oxygen to all the cells that need it, and if we don’t exhale the waste product of our cells, carbon dioxide, doesn’t get released from our bodies. This is true of the health of any church and the people within the church.
Inhaling is like the gathering functions of the church. We gather together to worship corporately together, to build relationships with one another, and to encourage one another to grow in our faith. Exhaling is like the sending functions of the church. We are sent by God to serve the needs of those in our community, especially those are the margins of society, to stand and speak for justice in the world, to work our jobs/vocations as co-creators with God, and to tell others about the good news of Jesus.
When a person is nearing the end of his or her life their breathing becomes shallow. This is also the way that churches die; they become shallow breathers. They continue to gather on Sunday mornings and go through the motion of worship. They have relationships, but just stay on the surface, which typically marked by idle gossip, and rarely challenge one another to good works. They respond to God’s sending by writing a check or sending canned food to a food shelter. Technically the church is alive, but just barely.
If we are honest about ourselves at Cobblestone we are shallow breathers. And we can choose to remain this way and know where this path will lead or we can start taking deep breaths of the Gospel. We need a few of us to be committed to gathering well, to deeper relationships with one another and allowing God to transform us and change us. We also need to be committed to being sent well, doing more than just sending a check or bringing in a can of food (both are good, but inadequate for a healthy church).
One reason at the heart of our shallow breathing is fear. We, like Starlee Kine’s mother, are afraid what will happen if we enter the presence of God. We are afraid of what God will ask of us or direct us to. And yet, we know deep down, that it is the best for us. We look to the one who gave everything for us, who took on our deepest fears and destroyed them in his own body, and we know he means the best for us and this world. Won’t you trust him? (For a new idea about what to do if you want to take a step of trust see the Discipleship Book Groups).