We need to start from where we should be, not where we are.
If you’re like me, that probably seems like a strange thing to say.
As we are confronted with injustice after injustice where we “are” continues to migrate down a spiral of suspicion and antagonism.
We are increasingly polarized from one another and it is impossible to see where we, as a community, should be, because we are blinded by where we are.
Pause. Pray. Prepare.
On May 20, 2020, the president of the United States declared that places of worship were essential and needed to be reopened.
While this was good news for many who had missed their faith community during the season of COVID, it also raised an interesting question about the place of the church in society and culture.
In the spring of 1932, a German Theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught a course of the nature of the church.
What we know about Germany in 1932 is that it was an increasingly tumultuous time.
Hermann Goring was elected as chairman of the German Senate, the Nazi party maintained a plurality in the German Senate and President Paul von Hindenburg began negotiations with Adolf Hitler to form a new government.
It was in this context that Bonhoeffer articulated his theology of the church.
Bonhoeffer was Lutheran, therefore he leaned heavily on the theology of Martin Luther.
In 1522, Martin Luther famously declared that the church was the, “mouth house” of God.
Bonhoeffer agreed and insisted that God created the church to speak through her.
For Bonhoeffer and Luther, the place of the church was not defined by where she was, but by what she did.
Namely, proclaim the love and justness of God into the world.
If a community of faith is to be the “mouth house” of God, she cannot simply talk about the love and justness of God; she must enact or incarnate that love and justness in the material world.
As St. Francis of Assisi’s famous said, “preach by your deeds.”
The president’s declaration that churches, synagogues and mosques provide an essential service was based on the country’s need for prayer.
People of faith certainly agree with this inclination.
However, it assumes that the location of the church and the place of the church are synonymous.
I am not sure they are.
To be sure, 88 years ago it was easier for Bonhoeffer to speak of the church.
His context was the Lutheran state church and the Roman Catholic Church.
Bonhoeffer was part of a third emerging expression called the Confessing Church.
Today it’s not so easy to talk about the church.
In America, religion is an entrepreneurial enterprise.
There are lots of expressions of church just as there are lots of theologies.
But maybe, we can call this amalgamation of churches the church.
If so, we might say that the church has been especially effective during the months of COVID-19.
That is because church leaders have been singularly focused on one thing — declaring and doing the love and justness of God.
Just when communities of faith were finding their place without a place.
Just as we are discovering how to declare and do the love and justness of God afresh, the courage of our conviction is challenged in ways we never thought possible.
George Floyd was killed and the racial tension in our nation has been brought to the surface.
How do people of faith respond to the tumult of the past month? We can learn not just from Bonhoeffer’s teaching but also his life.
We have to start with where we should be, who we should be, the “mouth house” of God.
Before Bonhoeffer gave his lectures on the church in 1932, he left Germany for Union Theological seminary in 1929 in New York.
While there, he committed to worship at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.
There he was a part of the Harlem Renaissance and in turn learned about the problem of race in America.
This experience was so fundamentally transformative for him that he decided to return to his tumultuous homeland to teach the church to start with where she should be, not where she was.
Now is the time for us to be who we are.
Now is the time for the “mouth house” of God to declare and do the love and justness of God.
We don’t need a place to have our place.
We need each other.