Running along the beach at almost high tide I came across an interesting sight. It was a perfectly sprawling black T-shirt with a white, beautifully full tree with deep roots, apparently washed up on the shore that said “FAITH,” with a Bible verse quoted at the bottom.
As I ran by I thought, “Oh look, faith has washed up on the shore.” And I chuckled to myself.
As I kept running I thought what that means now, at this moment in time when everything in the world seems to be going wrong. I kept thinking about how important that message is and how we need to know that indeed “FAITH” gets us through. In the midst of a shipwrecked world, faith will still wash up on the shore.
And then I turned around to go back home.
As I came up on the shirt from the other direction, the T-shirt from my new angle appeared to be perfectly placed just beyond reach of high tide. Again it was too perfectly sprawling, as if it was staged for some brilliant “sign from heaven” that everything was going to be alright.
This time it hit me that a cynical person might come up on the shirt from a totally different angle and say, “Yup, somebody’s faith finally washed up on the shore. It’s about time.”
The person who most likely dramatically displayed the shirt on the beach had good intent. They wanted people to believe God has our backs. They wanted people to see that if they trust in God that everything will be OK. And it is true.
But it’s only the person of faith who comes upon this beautiful T-shirt washed up on the shore and says, “Isn’t that beautiful. Surely it’s a sign. Everything is going to be alright.”
What we need to realize is that people who do not share our faith and confidence in God’s providence do not need a T-shirt. They need a totally different kind of sign. One with flesh and blood. Living, breathing, acting, speaking. They need us, the Church, to be the Church, and the sign of God’s reign on earth.
Well before the COVID-19 outbreak exposed our false narrative of control, people all around me, of every age, have been abandoning their faith on the shore because the Church’s witness looks nothing like Jesus and our proverbial baby Jesus is being thrown out with the bath water.
It makes me wonder if our faith conversion stories in the Church have simply been conversion toward the purpose of the Church, community and fellowship, and not a conversion into a relationship with Jesus, God or the Holy Spirit.
If our faith has really been faith, confidence and trust in the Church, and then the Church fails to be what we think it should be, then yes, it needs to be washed up on the shore and reconsidered from a different angle.
But we know what the Church is supposed to be. It is supposed to be the body of Christ, and the person of Jesus is the fullest revelation of who God is and what God wants from us. We need to be that sign, the sign of Jesus in the flesh, living, breathing, acting, speaking.
We need to fully reinvest ourselves and our stories and our purposes in Jesus, exactly how he did it.
Perhaps some Anabaptist-Mennonites will say, “Of course, we’ve been saying this all along. We need to be a sign of God’s reconciling reign.” But we’ve been saying it all along in our churches, among people who look and act and think like us. Are we being the sign of Jesus within our immediate communities among those who don’t? How many non-Mennonites do we demonstrate this to, let alone non-Christian believers?
When “community is the center of our life,” we have a tendency to forget about reaching out to those who aren’t a part of our community. Especially if they make us uncomfortable or don’t share our communities’ values.
We need to relearn what it means to be the sign of God’s reign by doing it like Jesus did.
Jesus never stayed in his little community. He took it with him into the world. He was the ultimate sent one. And he invited others to walk with him along the way.
We need to be the sent ones like Jesus was and do it the way Jesus did it so that we can be lamp stands in our community, light in the midst of darkness. We need to be the hope in the midst of a shipwreck. Let’s use this opportunity to become the witness for which the world and our fellow believers long.
Jessica Schrock-Ringenberg is director of the Center for Anabaptist Leadership and Learning at Hesston (Kansas) College. She and her husband, Shem, and three children live in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, near Kansas City, where they own a business. Jessica’s passion is envisioning, disturbing and equipping the church.