I played football in high school, for a few years actually, and then one year in college. I was on some pretty bad teams, then a couple that were actually decent. My senior year in high school was the most fun, maybe because we won most of our games, but I think it had more to do with the kind of team we had.
It is hard to put into words exactly, except to say that that year we were a team in the true sense of the word. Individual egos were set aside, people encouraged and pushed one another. No one cared how many plays were called for them, or what position they were assigned. Everything was about the team. It’s kind of like our individual identities disappeared into the whole that was Laramie High School football, 1987.
I think those kinds of experiences, at least in the West, are an anomaly. Maybe it’s our American, pioneering, entrepreneurial spirit, but our identity is usually about me, or you, and hardly ever about us. Ok, maybe during the Olympics or football season, but normally, when we think about who we are, we are all alone with our thoughts, feelings, dreams, neuroses, etc., etc.
And this is really true in the church and maybe in our relationship with God. That’s just it: it’s our relationship (singular), not our (plural). We find a church based on our needs, our preferences (music, teaching, kids’ ministry). Our first, and maybe only question is, how does this fit me? How does this meet my, individual needs?
I think we separate ourselves from others all the time, because that is how we view ourselves, as separate, autonomous, individuals.
But this is not the picture Paul paints in Ephesians. He writes that, far from being separate individuals, we are actually being formed into a single whole, beginning with the combining, if you will, of Gentile and Jew:Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
The implications of what Paul is saying is pretty revolutionary, I think. He says that we are no longer foreigners and aliens, but members of God’s family, now, but also that God’s dwelling, i.e., where He lives is not in you as an individual, but in us as the combined building, the holy temple of the Lord.
I think what he is saying is that God doesn’t dwell in you, He dwells in us. And that should get your attention, I think.
Maybe that sounds a bit heretical to our western way of thinking, but I think it is consistent with the character and nature of God. Jesus was always in close communion with the Father and the Spirit. He wasn’t some rogue, Rambo tossing out demons all willy-nilly. He only did what the Father told him to do. He understood who He was, was defined in relation to the Father and the Spirit and I think God wants the same for us. Who we are is less about us individually and more about us as a community, a church.
Maybe the Canaanite woman found in the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 15) understood this about God. She wanted Jesus to heal her daughter, but Jesus, said he couldn’t give the child’s bread (meaning the Jews’ blessing) to the dogs (the Gentiles). She was really quick and said, even the dogs get the crumbs. Jesus was impressed: even the dog is part of the family, so give them their due.
I guess, what I am really saying is that we should not worry about losing our self-image, because what we get is an us-image, the church, being brought together into a holy, glorious whole, that is way more than we could ever hope to be on our own.