Rev. Michaele LaVigne
This summer we’ve been talking about our church’s vision and mission. We say it every week in service: We will be a spiritual community of hope and transformation that lives the way of Jesus. This desire and identity permeates our activities and directs our decisions. It’s why we are focused on being Good and Useful Neighbors, why we want to Create Connection and Community, especially among those who are not like us, and even why we want to see an Urban Building Restored.
And although our mission is lived out in the very specific context of Midtown, Oklahoma City, we didn’t just invent this stuff on our own. The vision that drives us is rooted in a biblical history and our denominational heritage.
All throughout scripture, the people of God are invited into and called to live as a community of hope. The Hebrew word shalom is often translated simply as “peace,” but it means much more than just an absence of conflict or violence. All throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (or the Old Testament) shalom refers to a state of wholeness, where everything and everyone is fulfilling its purpose, where all things are as they should be. Jesus came proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was available – the place in which God reigned, the place where shalom is the norm, the place where all things are as they should be.
This is God’s vision for the world, his plan for redemption. But shalom comes only in the costly way of caring. First, Jesus cared enough to give up his divine privileges, and humbled himself as he took on the form of a man, even a slave, and then humbled himself further by giving himself over to death (Philippians 2.5-11). And since that time, those who have followed Jesus have been invited to follow him in a similar downward spiral to bring shalom to others.
Every week in worship we declare that “because Jesus has been the very best neighbor to us, we want to be good neighbors to one another.” We have committed ourselves to living the way of Jesus, and his way is all about a life of hope, a life for others, and a life of transformation.
Our foremothers and -fathers in the Church of the Nazarene understood this is what it meant to do life with Jesus. In fact, they chose the name “Nazarene” to forever link themselves with the Jesus who came from the little “good-for-nothing” town Nazareth. In its founding days, the Church of the Nazarene was built on a three-legged stool:
1) Care for cities and the poor.
At the turn of the 20th’ century, the leaders of the church recognized the need for churches planted in urban contexts. It was the Industrial Age. Technology was changing, people were more mobile than ever, and cities were hotbeds of racial tension, poverty, addiction and abuse. There was a growing gap between the rich and the poor. And the young were not being educated unless they came from well-to-do families. The first Nazarenes nestled themselves into urban areas, beginning in Los Angeles, and dedicated themselves to care for their neighbors.
2) Interest and involvement in social issues.
From the very beginning, leaders of the Church of the Nazarene were concerned about issues related to addiction, education, health care, giving full rights to women, race and cultural freedom, and speaking on behalf of the very young and the very old. Founding father Phineas F. Bresee said, “The first miracle after the baptism of the Holy Ghost was wrought upon a beggar. It means that the first service of a Holy Ghost-baptized church is to the poor; that its ministry is to those who are lowest down; that its gifts are for those who need them most. As the Spirit was upon Jesus to preach the gospel to the poor, so His Spirit is upon His servants for the same purpose.” Bresee (a Methodist pastor himself) and others followed the footsteps of Methodist founder, John Wesley, who devoted himself to working for the poor as a necessary part of living a holy life.
3) The Doctrine of Entire Sanctification (Transformation) – The Church of the Nazarene began as a gathering of people and churches who were confident and unwavering in this doctrine of hope. This is the hope that God’s love and power is great enough not only to forgive, but to transform and heal. God shares himself with us so that we too can become holy, and so that we can participate in his life and his good work. Transformation is therefore a realistic expectation for a person who follows Jesus. This means is hope for the addict, hope for the abuser and the abused, hope for the self-righteous and the swindler – hope that every person can become the best version of themselves through God’s power at work within them.
Our Context: Midtown, Oklahoma City
We are in the beginning of a new century yet again, and a reemergence of this “three-legged stool” is absolutely necessary. Our urban centers are once again growing in disparity between rich and poor, educated and uneducated. We have become increasingly more aware of injustice, racial tension, mental health and addiction issues in our cities. There is no lack of social issues that need championed. And never before have we needed more to know that there is indeed hope for the future – a hope that is not dependent on the economy or politics.
There is no question that there is a longing for transformation and hope right here in Oklahoma City. Discrepancies. Prejudice. Violence. Oppression. Political misconduct. Economic recession. Educational shortfalls. Abuse. Hunger. They are all right here.
We planted a church in Midtown Oklahoma City on purpose. Our neighbors need a community where they are safe to ask their questions, bring their doubts, and share their struggles. They need to be given a place to heal among a people of healing, who have together experienced the God of healing. And the people of Midtown, Oklahoma City need a place where they will be welcomed into this safe, healing, inclusive and transformative place – regardless of race, economic standing, sexual orientation, or political affiliation.
But we can only be this kind of community if God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, by the work that Jesus did on the cross, reconciles and transforms us. Only the Spirit of God can make us into a spiritual community of hope and transformation! And as he does, we find ourselves joining the many people who have walked this beautiful, sacred, and challenging path before us, attempting to live the way of Jesus.
We cannot live out our vision or mission, nor would we even have a vision or mission to begin with, unless we are deeply rooted in the truths of scripture and the saints that have gone before us. We are not alone, we are not the first, and by God’s grace we will not be the last to walk this way.