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Mary of Egypt was more than a deconstructionist
The thing that we are doing together, trying to plant a church, takes a lot of time, prayer, and faith. It takes learning from our mistakes and trying new things. It is amazing that we are trying to do it together.
But we would be a little foolish if we were just doing it on our own. I wouldn’t really recommend that you follow a 27-year-old pastor into wherever he leads you if there wasn’t something more going on. I mean, I love and follow Jesus to the best of my ability and even though he’s present in my life and answers my prayers, my personal relationship with him might not be enough to guide you. The same applies for your cell leader, who is also earnestly following Jesus, but God certainly reveals himself in more ways than just individualistic and the personal.
So, as believers, it is central for us to be connected to a covenantal community and so that’s why one would bother to be in a cell at all—to be connected to other believers. That’s why our cell leaders, are in cells made up of cell leaders led by our cell leader coordinators, Jonathan and Sarah—they need to be in an accountable and dialogical system. Jonathan and Sarah and I have an intimate relationship and I help to hold them accountable too. They are also held in love by other cell leader coordinators. That kind of accountability is good. The pastors are also in a team. If you didn’t know, I have a deep and intimate connection with our three other pastors, Joshua, Rod, and Nate. They are all more experienced than I and I use them regularly as sounding boards and they counsel (and console) me regularly.
Our system is team-based. Leadership among us is a team effort. We have a great, dialogical, accountable system within our Network, but I think we need even more than that. And so that’s why we are part of a denomination. So that’s why we relate to the Brethren in Christ—they are a great group to be a part of, mainly because they are willing to adapt and be flexible and are quite dialogical. And that’s what we need in our life—not rigid rules and regulations—but the openness to relate and talk.
The truth is we are committed to propelling the church into its next expression. I think it’s debatable how well we do that, but we are trying to go with what the Holy Spirit is doing next. So we are looking for that young college student or 20-something to show us something new. We really do that value of younger people, just like Jesus did, because we want to be new and fresh.
But there’s obviously more to the story than just reinventing everything. We need to really look back at what’s come before us.
For me, that’s why the Bible is so incredibly valuable. God used people to tell their stories, so that His would be preserved forever. That every trend, every idea, every concept will pass away, but Jesus’ words will never pass away.
Jesus in us too, and so he uses us all of the time—so for the next few weeks, we’ll be looking back at what’s come before us to help see us what to do next.
The phrase that I am working with is “standing on the shoulders of giants.” It is most commonly attributed to Isaac Newton, the physicist, who wrote:
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
It is an act of humility, but also one of confidence, knowing that God can use us today just as radically as he used them. Believe that!
Today, we’re looking at some of the earliest followers of Jesus and see what they did. In a season where Empire and Faith were joining forces, it is not surprising that some of the most recognized individuals in the third and fourth century were the ones who ventured off, away from society to pray and be with God. They were hermits, not cut off from community, but grounded in it—sent off with a mission.
Mary of Egypt has a legend surrounding her. I say legend because most of the texts used to describe these saints were written in a much different fashion that we’re used to using. Much like the scriptures, they were autobiographical to a degree, but were typically moral documents intended to offer an ease of application to the reader.
The story of Mary is one of forgiveness and redemption. She’s described as a prostitute who was so obsessed with pleasure and lust that her “insatiable and irrepressible passion” led her to refuse money for her sexual favors. As the story goes, she traveled to Jerusalem on an “anti-pilgrimage” hoping to find more clients.
She’s transformed when she arrives, when she observes the Virgin Mary icon and wants to live a completely different lifestyle. She then ventured into the wilderness when she only brought three loaves and survived on what she found in the wilderness.
Mary’s hyperbolic and one-dimensional story is still worthy for us to learn from. Of course, there is some commentary we can make regarding the perception of women in the 300s, how sex was viewed in general, and of course we could just deconstruct the story and the Saint until it was just meaningless to us.
I think that might the temptation that many of us have. Deconstruct our past, deconstruct our upbringings, and all of the sudden only be left with ourselves and our perceptions of the world. That kind of post-modernity is worth adapting to, to a degree, but if we end up just being deconstructionists, we’ll lose all of the beauty and history that’s come before us because of its blemish.
Which, of course, is the point of Mary’s story—her blemishes, however exaggerated they are, weren’t enough for Jesus not to redeem her and change her. It is ironic that the historical accuracy and sociological sensibilities of her story might prevent us from seeing the value in her story—I wonder how often we just end up deconstructing ourselves until we have no value at all. Meanwhile, we’ve deconstructed God, so that he can’t offer us any value. It is our weakness of course to do that, so I go with Paul in his letter to Timothy where he declares himself as the worst of sinners, but offers himself God’s infinite patience despite his flaws.
I hope we can offer ourselves infinite patience, as God does, as we get transformed through the silence, I hope we become more than deconstructionists. I hope we can build on what’s come before us and not just take it apart. I hope we can build on what God has for us and not just take that apart, too.
So what does God have for you in your silence? Don’t leave the season of Lent, and the desert, without understanding the crucial importance of going to a lonely place to find Christ and find what he has for you. Feel free to post a comment answering these questions.