During many of my college years I worked at a Christian summer camp. These were some of my fondest memories and many of my closest friends today were people I worked with then. It was there that I first saw a clear image of Christ's Church. The camp was a refuge from The World for us and for the young people who were brought to us. Without our usual distractions and temptations, we could be more attentive to the moving of the Spirit. We were all followers of Christ, serving him with common purpose and celebrating his kingdom being built before our eyes. It is that kind of community of nurture and service that I strive to build in the church today. It was a illustration, for three months a year in an isolated spot in the mountains, of what the Church is meant to be. At least in theory.
In the office one summer, there was a guy named Bernie. Everyone loved Bernie because Bernie loved everyone: he was outgoing and cheerful, funny and generous. As I remember him, he was the life of the party even when there was no party. And to top it all off, Bernie had a car.
The camp was about a half-hour drive from the nearest town. Sometimes after work, we'd pile into cars and head to town to go shopping, get some pizza, or see a movie. The drive to town involved a curvy dirt road to a curvy paved road to a mercifully straight highway.
There were a lot of reasons why we drove too fast down those roads. Sometimes we were simply in a hurry. Sometimes we'd get to thinking we were so used to the roads that we'd conquered them somehow. Mostly we drove too fast because we were still dumb kids. At least that's what happened that night.
Bernie was in a joyous mood, as always. We piled as many guys into the car as Bernie had seat belts (at least we were that smart) and we headed down the curvy dirt road toward town. Bernie was driving too fast and we were all cheering him on. All of us were laughing and screaming like we were speeding down the tracks of a roller coaster. Only at one point, the roller coaster turned right and we found ourselves once again on a dirt road, sliding into a tree.
After a quick inspection we realized that we were, for the most part, not hurt. Of course Bernie's car did not fare so well. And what is etched into my memory, aside from the tree, is listening to Bernie call his dad to report the accident. Bernie took all responsibility: he alone dealt with the broken car and he alone dealt with furious parents. He wouldn't even accept our apologies for cheering him on. And even though he was behind the wheel and, as he put it, didn't have to listen to us, I don't think Bernie crashed that car by himself. I believe that, along with everyone else in that car that night, I helped to drive that car into the tree.
And therein lies the theory's fatal flaw. In theory, we are shaped more perfectly into the image of Christ as we gather as the Church. But in reality, we collectively drive Christ into trees all the time. In reality, even as the Church we are still only a collection of flawed individuals; redeemed individuals who are called by Christ to his service, but not perfect. In reality, discerning God's will and holding one another accountable in practice and mission don't just happen automatically. In reality, being that Christ-like Church involves our being perfected by Christ individually and our working with Christ in co-creating that larger Body.
May God shape us this season into more than good people. May God shape us collectively into the image of Christ in this world. Let Paul's words from Ephesians 4:1-6 be our prayer:
Help us, O God, to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as we were called to the one hope of our calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. Amen.