"I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”" (Psalm 122:1)
The identity of a parish church rests on its place as the Church Catholic in microcosm. She is the whole, and yet she is local. She represents all Christians, and indeed represents Christ himself. And yet, she represents the Church precisely as a local entity, serving in a time and place. As a church plant, Christ Church has certainly been located in a city, serving people and making disciples. But, to date, we've never been localized in a neighborhood. The idea I want to bring before you today is this: that Christ Church is being called to a work within a neighborhood, bringing the beauty and truth of the Body of Christ to bear on a broken world.
This past week, I drove by a church in town that was looking rather run down. On their sign, they had the words "God is here." I'm sure that's true. What I'm not sure of is whether that's believable to the neighborhood surrounding that particular church. In the 12th Century, the Cistercians gained a reputation for draining swamps for the land needed for the building of their monasteries. Indeed, it's said that the Cistercians were "lovers of swamps." They brought great beauty to their land and beauty to the Church, as they cultivated the land and cultivated a hermeneutic of beauty in their monasteries.
The founder of the Order, Bernard of Clairvaux, writes:
"Yet there is one who truthfully and unhesitatingly can glory in this praise. She is the Church, whose fulness is a never-ceasing fount of intoxicating joy, perpetually fragrant. For what she lacks in one member, she possesses in another according to the measure of Christ’s gift and the plan of the Spirit who distributes to each one just as he chooses… although none of us will dare arrogate for his own soul the title of bride of the Lord, nevertheless we are members of the Church which rightly boasts of this title and of the reality which it signifies, and hence may justifiably assume a share in her honor. For what all of us simultaneously possess in a full and perfect manner, that each one of us undoubtedly possesses by participation. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your kindness in uniting us to the Church you so dearly love, not merely that we may be endowed with the gift of faith, but that like brides we may be one with you in an embrace that is sweet, chaste, and eternal, beholding with unveiled faces that glory which is yours in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen."
I get excited about parish work days because it provides a clear image of the Church, working together in a glorious way to show forth the beauty of the Gospel. This is not just a work of maintaining church grounds! It's a work of evangelism! Pope Benedict XVI writes: "the true apology of Christian faith, the most convincing demonstration of its truth…are the saints and the beauty that the faith has generated.”
So, here's the appeal: come work with us!