Imago Dei

We had the opportunity yesterday to worship at Imago Dei Imago Dei.  This is a chuch that has gained a lot of notoriety over the past few years.  It’s a successful congregation in Portland, which is impressive in and of itself given the non-Christian culture of the Northwestern US.  Moreover, it’s particularly successful with younger professionals and artistic types.  Their pastor, Rick McKinley, has been linked with pop theology stars of recent years such as Blue Like Jazz author Donald Miller.  They initiated a thing called Advent Conspiracy Advent Conspiracy a few years ago, and this has since been adopted by hundreds of other churches across the nation and world.

There are lots of ways I could talk about my experience yesterday morning.  In Lutheran circles, it’s often a matter of talking about what a congregation of another denomination doesn’t do.  They don’t do the Sacraments right.  They don’t do liturgy.  They don’t do this or that or the other.  I could do that, but it’s not really what I want to do.  This isn’t a Lutheran congregation, and my goal in going was not to see how un-Lutheran they were.  I went to see what they were doing right, and it turns out they’re doing a few very important things right, and it was good to see and hear and experience that.
We happened to attend on their last Sunday in the location they’ve inhabited for the past four years – a public high school.  There were various people wandering around with orange ‘host’ name tags on that I would assume are there to help visitors identify people who could help them.  We were greeted officially by one person on our way in, who directed us towards the auditorium where worship was getting underway.  
It was odd to be one of the older people in worship – something I haven’t experienced in several years.  The auditorium was filled with a broad cross-section of teens and 20 & 30-somethings with a few folks here and there with more decades under their belts.  The stage of the auditorium was taken up by the prerequisite praise band, and they were very talented people.  I still chafe at what I think is the grossest of errors in assuming that the musicians in a contemporary, alternative, traditional, or any other service need to be up front, on a stage, in performance mode.  These folks weren’t doing anything other than playing their instruments, but it’s still too much like a concert for me, and not enough like worship.  
But I wasn’t going to talk about that sort of stuff, was I?  Rats.
The highlight of the service was the sermon.  Rick McKinley preached, and it was the only time that this particular pastor of the congregation was on stage.  In our media-saturated culture even churches have the equivalents of rock stars – guys (and gals) whose views or abilities place them in the spotlight for others to admire, emulate, or attack.  For better or worse I don’t follow these people on Twitter or Facebook, I don’t download their sermons and Bible studies or stream them to my computer.  So I had no idea who Rick McKinley was, or what he looked like.  I had to Google him later to realize that it was Rick who was preaching.
And he did a stellar job.
It was a poignant service, as the Imago Dei community bid farewell to a venue that had allowed them to grow and experiment for four years.  The text Rick preached on was an unlikely one (in my opinion) – Deuteronomy 8.  However this was based on another reading, Joshua 4:1-9, 19-24.  God commands to Israel to memorialize their crossing of the Jordan River by creating an altar of 12 stones – one for each tribe – on the eastern bank.  The altar is to serve as a touchstone, a reminder of what God did for His people to later generations who did not experience it firsthand.
If you want to listen to this sermon, you can get it here (it’s the June 13th one).  It’s much better than my summation.  
McKinley first explained – reminded – the community of our propensity for amnesia.  Of our own ability to forget the Savior we rely on, the Creator who sustains us, and the Spirit who leads us – to think too highly of ourselves and our own abilities just as God knew the Israelites would.  It’s an important message to hear, and it was a good day for the Imago Dei community to hear it.  
McKinley had five large stones that had been pre-drilled through the center, and a steel rod.  As he preached, he talked about what each of the stones were to mean to the Imago Dei community, what they would be reminders of.  The first was the paramount importance of worship.  The second was the vitalness of prayer.  The third was the sacrificial calling to love.  The fourth was the humbling yet freeing directive to serve others.  The fifth rock represented the importance of dreaming big.  Of not putting limits on what God might facilitate through our own humble giftings.  
He spoke honestly about the struggles of the community.  The arrogance with which they had begun, assuming that church was broken and needed to be fixed and made cool – and that they were the ones to do this.  He talked about their struggles to love one another.  He spoke a lot about the humbling experiences of the past four years, while not ignoring the wonderful things that the Holy Spirit had done in the community in spite of their sinfulness.  
This could easily have been an self-congratulatory sermon, patting everyone on the back for their good work and naming and claiming the building that would soon be theirs as proof of their special and unique status.  But it wasn’t.  Instead it was an encouragement to remember not their own greatness, but rather the greatness of God who had carried them and humbled them and taught them and loved them.  At the end of the message there was a tangible reminders of these things that would grace their new church home.  A touchstone, a reminder of who they were and where they had been – a broken, enslaved people in need of a savior.
I hadn’t expected to really enjoy myself, but I did.  Hopefully I’ll get to go back one more time before we leave the area.  This is clearly a group of people who seem to be focused on the right things.  And while I may not agree with all their theology or worship practices, these are brothers and sisters in Christ, and I’m proud of them.  

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