Beloved Church-in-the-Garden Family & Friends,
I greet you this month in celebration of the knowledge, faith, and belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This month is a holy month as we move from Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to the cross of Calvary, to the Resurrection of the Messiah, from the tomb to the town, and the telling of the Good News. It is the perfect time to think deeply and circumspectly about our own lives and the greater understanding of the intersection of Christianity, Church, individual, community, and society.
For me, in this period of Resurrection reflection and preparation, the message of Christ and the knowledge of God in this world are paramount to the ministry of Christ’s church. What has been itching in my spirit is how the Church-in-the-Garden specifically and the church universal in general is dealing with the fundamental nature and understanding of Christ and God in society and in us. Many who are searching and questioning Christ, God, and church are hearing dueling messages emanating from the church. Some churches are speaking about Christ and the church solely in terms of their own personal salvation and commitment to Christ. You have heard the saying of Christians that “are so heavenly bound, they are no earthly good.” That adage clearly suggests that there is only a wink and a nod to the plight of others. The concern is about one’s own blessing, prosperity, healing, deliverance, and admittance to heaven.
Others speak about the church only in terms of the social gospels to the extent that the church seemingly is only a community gathering place with little or no moral, ethical, or theological direction or foundation in Jesus Christ. For those who are disaffected with the church for these reasons, and for those who are in churches that operate in either of those two silos exclusively, or for the many other valid reasons that many claim, I wish to offer a word and opportunity to constructively and holistically dialogue about how we are trying to operate at the Church-in-the-Garden and how we believe the Church universal should function.
As the pastor of Church-in-the-Garden, I believe that the church universal and the Church-in-the-Garden must see Jesus Christ and the church as a holistic and integral piece of both the individual and society vis-à-vis community. That is, the church has to operate in the world to make Jesus Christ known to humankind. To make Christ known certainly has an individual component that is needed. At the Church-in-the-Garden we are intentional in creating a Spirit filled atmosphere so that people can have an experience in worship that can speak to their hearts, minds, and souls deeply. We also seek to preach the Word of God without fear or favor so that one can understand how the Bible applies in a practical and applicable way in our spiritual and daily lives. We do not and cannot divorce the notion of self from community and our faith cannot be solely individualistic in its perspective.
Moreover, the church has a responsibility to speak not only to the individual but to foster and buildup the community. More specifically, it has to be the citadel of Jesus’ mission and ministry to society. The church’s moral, ethical, and liberating foundation and leadership is built solely on the ministry of Jesus Christ. At the heart of our collective measures to speak truth to power and to seek justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8) is the work to help establish a society of love, peace, justice, and equitableness; a society where attending to the poor and the oppressed is not simply particular or individual efforts but systemic and structural in scope. I believe it is theologically and religiously incompatible for the church or a believer in Jesus Christ to want the advancement of one’s own individual piety and not break down systems that prohibit the full expression of our humanity and our divine nature.
I fully understand that there is much debate and disagreements across the entirety of Christian denominations and the many Christian churches in the world. There are many Christian churches and denominations in this country that have disparate beliefs and polarizing differences. What can never get lost is the message, life, ministry, and sin-conquering action of Jesus Christ and how all of it reshaped and forced his disciples, believers, future adherents, and the church even to this day to re-examine our very lives in the context of our own personal situation and the larger context of our story in community and the systems of society.
At the Church-in-the-Garden we live by and try to implement that very understanding of Christ in our mission and ministry. This church understands the need for a personal, communal, and societal move of God. We believe that we are trying, as the old hymn says, “To live so God can use me, anywhere Lord, anytime!” We believe that we have a holy mandate to love God, love ourselves, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. That love forces us to seek God’s help and guidance to change systems and structures that do not affirm humanity, community, and the divine essence in all of us.
We realize that we may have differing opinions. The disciples disagreed and they had Jesus in their midst. The history of the western church in the world has had countless disagreements. We are not naïve enough or so arrogant to believe we have all the answers or that we do not fall into the pit of hypocrisy. We know that we do. However, we believe we are trying to live and love more and more like Jesus, to respect those whom we disagree with, and fight systemically and individually for the good of all persons regardless of race, gender, sexuality, ethnicities, creed, and beliefs.
This is what the greater context of this month’s scriptures means for me: It is the recognition of a savior who transformed our lives and society, and imparted the work of continually fighting to change society for the love of God to us. I hope that you will consider joining the Church-in-the-Garden in this ministry.
To that end, I invite you to worship with us this month and experience the Spirit of the Lord in our services. I invite you to our annual Easter (Resurrection) Sunday breakfast at 8:30am. If you would like to come please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org so that we may have a proper head count. If you cannot make it to the breakfast but you want to support our efforts to provide delicious food please head over to our website and donate to us securely at https://www.churchinthegarden.org/support. Your financial support helps us fund and drive our ministry and extend our presence in Nassau County and beyond. Every little bit helps!
While you are on the website, please check out our new Look & Listen section to view and listen to past services at the church: https://www.churchinthegarden.org/look-listen. We are hoping to make our website an online destination for you to receive a message and hear a song of praise that will resonate with you throughout the week. We hope that it will be impactful and an encouragement for you to join us Sunday mornings at 10:00am. Holy Week is here! All are invited to worship and celebrate Jesus Christ this month with us. We hope to see you in worship! The Garden is open to you!
Rev. Earl Y. Thorpe Jr.