In light of what the pandemic has exposed – exposed and not created – it’s been apparent that the public space that Jesus used in proclaiming the nearness of the Kingdom of God, the rule and reign of the very presence of God, has been brought closer to us. Let me explain.
Here in North America, the pandemic has exposed the evil of institutional and ideological division. We have seen inability to reconcile social injustice in the wake of yet another attempt to bring to the surface that black and brown lives matter, that Asian Americans no longer want to just play the invisible part of “model minorities” and sweep everything under the rug, and that immigration policy is far from being polished.
This doesn’t include the increased level of depression, domestic violence, and the downturn of the economy that has widened the wealth gap another chasm. What does any of these unpleasant happenings have to do with the public space that Jesus used?
Within missional theology, movement ecclesiology highlights how missional communities and the ecclesia, the “sent ones”, ought to navigate and structure ourselves around how Jesus lived out and organized people for mission.
The public space, is one of the four spaces of belonging that were defined by sociologist Edwart T. Hall in the 1960s and later popularized by Joseph Myers in his book The Search to Belong. Without getting into the details of all four spaces of belonging and how humans naturally interact with one another depending on the size of the gathering, the public space is the largest of the four.
When we talk about public space in the context of our churches, we immediately think of our Sunday morning worship services. A public space holds a gathering of seventy or more people, and if we as leaders are honest with ourselves, we long for this number game to play out to its full extent when it comes to our worship services.
As JR Woodward writes, “If we are to prioritize the crowds, the public gathering, as those who sell the seeker-sensitive methods propose, I would have to say that Jesus seemed to be a poor practitioner of this methodology. Jesus confided in the three, trained the twelve, mobilized the 70 and spoke parables to the crowds.”
In looking at how Jesus used public space and public gatherings, he never really prepared for a worship service. He proclaimed the Kingdom of God and that the rule and reign of God’s beautiful goodness was for the here and now. It brought immense comfort to those who were on the fringes of society and those close to suffering. At the same time, it brought immense challenge to those who benefited from society and looked to status quo to keep that self-benefit.
The Kingdom of God — the renewal of all things, where the last will be first and the first will be last, and the law of the land was founded on self-giving love over selfish ambition and mercy over judgement — this is what Jesus proclaimed over and over again in all public gatherings.Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God be founded on self-giving love over selfish ambition and mercy over judgement. ~ Eun Strawser Click To Tweet
With all that has happened in the apocalypse that this past year is continuing to reveal, it would probably move us to take a page from Jesus’ own methodology.
How will we use our own public gatherings to not just stick with status quo, but to move towards a proclamation that can’t help but bring comfort to those who need comfort and challenge to those who need challenge?
Two recent public gatherings came to mind when I was asking my own questions:
One was a predominantly white remissioning community in Virginia that partnered with a predominantly Black community to do joint public gatherings in order to acknowledge sin, seek healing, and learn together through the great racial divide the culture has hinged on them. It was a direct response to the murder of George Floyd and the next generation of BLM.
Another was for a predominantly Asian American community to respond to the recent national awareness of anti-Asian hate crimes. San Francisco hosted a public call to worship that highlighted stories from local Asian American seniors, a moment of silence for the victims, and guidance on how to lament, listen, repent and engage.With all that has happened in the apocalypse that this past year is continuing to reveal, it would probably move us to take a page from Jesus’ own methodology. ~ Eun Strawser Click To Tweet
I wish I could have attended both of these gatherings in person. It would have both broadened and deepened my imagination for what it must have been like to be with Jesus as he proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God.
I’m so thankful for my friends and fellow leaders who had an increased imagination and deep sense of humility to respond to pain for their individual communities by re-imagining public space.
I’m thankful that they were courageous enough to comfort those who need comfort in real time and in real life and to challenge those who need to be challenged in real time about real life. The Good News of the Kingdom of God is meant to be proclaimed in real time to engage in real life.
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