The apostle Paul in referring to the gifts he had received from the Philippian church to support him in his gospel work describes them as
“a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” Philippians 4:18
I meditated on this “fragrance” pleasing in the ‘nostrils of God when ‘church’ happened tonight. It was a week day evening, and the ‘regulars’ had gathered, usually about 6 or 7 of us. That is not including the hard-to-count ‘irregulars’ or the intermittent, transitory and occasional members. We encounter them, or more accurately them us, each week. The ‘them’ were there tonight, being the many non-Christians, those for whom Jesus died, who walk by and take notice of ‘church’ as it happens.
As we learned from the bible some could be seen to be listening and also heads were raised when we had our prayer time. One guy, Charlie a fringe ‘regular’, stopped for a chat and to ask some questions which provided the opportunity to share the gospel of the Jesus who loves him-when ‘church’ happened tonight. At other times there are those who will not just stay but will return at another meeting.
As ‘church’ happened tonight we promised to pray for Ethel who asked for prayer, and sometimes the ‘church’ provides material or practical help.
As I was at ‘church’ tonight I reflected that all this happens because our ‘church’ has no walls for it meets, often uncomfortably, in the outside eating and smoking area of a pub, always engaging actively or passively with the lost, those for whom Jesus died. Our ‘church’ is one expression of an ‘Unbounded Church’ i.e. with no ‘bounds’ that is walls to separate the ‘congregation’ from the non-church community around it. It is also a church set free, unbound from standard forms. When ‘church’ happens it is in its very essence a ‘kingdom outbreak’ in the darkness of the lost, where the ‘pagans’ can see a functioning Christian community at least once a week, one which is culturally accessible to them.
There are many other examples of an Unbounded Church-they can and do meet in clubs, cafes, Playgroups that are ‘church for those who come’, in workplaces, skate parks etc. The options are limitless.
This is a church where there is indeed a “fragrance”, one of stale beer, passive smoking, a lot of often raucous noise, extreme foul language and obscene jokes, and sometimes awkward behaviour by people who have had a few too many. But it is a ‘Kingdom-Nearness’ because it is the presence of Jesus and a real and regular engaging with those who need him, but who would never ever darken the doors of a ‘proper’ church. This is the essential and uncomfortable shape of mission to our 21st century society.
As ‘church’ happened tonight I reflected on the essence of Christian discipleship-that our gifts- our time, money, energy and talents should be used as ‘fragrant’ offerings. Tonight we did indeed offer our variety of gifts-strangely wrapped in the ‘fragrance’ of stale beer and tobacco smoke yes- but I suspect that to God this just might be the sweetest smell in His nostrils indeed “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God”