I am having one of my classes read Bonhoeffer's Life Together. It has been a few years since I read through it and so it is wonderful to get to read through it again. The first chapter on Community especially spoke to me this morning.
For Bonhoeffer, the Body of Christ is a reality that we receive by faith and like the Eucharist around which it is centered, we partake of it as a gift. Because it is the work of God and because it is gift we have to confess our tendency to try to build it in our own strength and we have to give up our idealizations we carry with us into the community of faith. Here is what Bonhoeffer writes about our idealism:
"Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God's sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it... Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial... The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God HImself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself... We enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients." (p. 27-28)
This helped me greatly today. I have recently found myself increasingly frustrated with myself as pastor. Part of my inner tension is due to trying to do too many things. Part of it is coming up on the end of a seventh year with a church that knows my flaws and shortcomings very well (and I know theirs). Part of it is feeling like the same problems, the same issues, and the same dysfunctions just keep appearing and reappearing.
But this morning Bonhoeffer reminded me that the greatest source of my frustrations has to do with my own idealism and my own expectations of what the Body of Christ should be - for me. Therefore rather than thankfully receiving life in the community as gift - including its challenges that are making me a better person - I tend to focus on what it is not and what I am not as a member and leader within it.
I needed to be reminded today that the Church is not something we are building for Christ, it is his Eucharistic gift that we are partaking of from him. In Bonhoeffer's words, "Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it." (p. 30)
So I am laying down my angst today about all the church is not, and receiving with gratitude all that the Body of Christ is as gift from God. Thanks be to God.