Watershed Formation Studies

Chapter 11 - Church

In today’s visit with the new community of Jesus followers, the merchant has more questions. What exactly does it mean that Jesus was resurrected from the dead? How can he be dead and alive at the same time? 

The woman tells the story of the early days of the church — how Jesus appeared to the disciples after returning from the dead. He has a physical body…yet not like ours. The resurrection is the source of their hope, and the only reason they can keep going amid their difficulties. Though death is a daily threat under Caesar, death is defeated with Jesus, and Caesar’s “last weapon," his supposed super-power, is powerless. 

Understanding how Jesus’ resurrection defeats death is a puzzle for the merchant, since everyone still dies. The woman explained that Jesus was the first fruits of this new creation, and that everyone will one day share in this. Jesus followers live today in light of that coming day. They pray for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven, redeeming the whole cosmos just as God had always called Abraham and all people to do. 

They go on to discuss how God’s presence, which always dwelt in the Temple, has now come to dwell in Jesus and his followers, the living church. God is no longer restrained by a building. No one is an outsider. The new Temple includes gentiles alongside children of Abraham.

The merchant wrestles with the Story and with the implications of accepting the invitation he hears, seeking to find his place in it.

Questions for Discussion

1) Which beliefs do you grapple with?
2) What issues divide modern disciples?
3) How does the Spirit make us Living Stones?


The fictional visitor to the early ecclesia, while attracted by the Jesus community, had some difficulty absorbing the group’s common beliefs. List the areas that you see him struggling with. Which beliefs do you also grapple with? How do these uncertainties impact your lived experience of God’s presence?


The early ecclesia had its factions and quarrels, even among its original leadership? Which issues strike you as most unsettling for those seeking faith? What issues divide modern disciples and impede our witness to the reign of God?

Cal Wiebe:
I think what impedes our modern witness to the reign of God is the factionalism and cruel treatment of Jesus followers by other Jesus followers within the church. Human nature being what it is (sinful and prone to f**king things up), we have a hard time relating to each other in love. We know this from our own experience in community and our experience with other churches and church splits. But the idealism of the whole Christian message proclaims that the church grew because the early believers loved one another. How do we love those we vehemently disagree with ?

I don't really have an answer other than to point to the Spirit. We don't love each other in community with our own love, we love in the power of the Spirit of Jesus. As we are living the Jesus way, we are given the power to act in loving ways towards those we disagree with. This is not a triumphalistic message because things don't always work out between people in communities. But if we are honest with our struggle, we witness to our need for a power greater than ourselves. Our struggle witnesses to our weakness and vulnerability and need for God. There is something about this honest vulnerability, this willingness not to have it all together that shows people we are living by another story, following a master who went to a cross not knowing what would happen, but open to the infinite possibilities of God.

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That the Spirit (Shekinah) mediates God's presence is mentioned in both Testaments. (Read page 205 in Gladding.) Do you have a felt sense of how the Spirit contributes to our vocation as “living stones” of a new temple/tabernacle? Give an illustration from your experience at Watershed.

Bev Patterson:
I am most drawn to question 3 and it's interesting that this very page/section (page 205) of the chapter is what "intrigued & provoked" me most. What struck me about this sidebar was when Jesus told them: "It is better for you that I leave. If I don't leave, the holy Spirit will not come ...."

I had never heard it quite that way before. It's almost as if even Jesus couldn't contain the presence and power of God beyond his short stay on earth. The human incarnation of God via a first century Jewish man from Palestine, through his complete love of the Father and his devotion to the vision of something new, brought about a radical shift in how the world could relate to God. History would forever be changed. But, as always, God breaks through one container only to enter creation through a new paradigm and this keeps happening.

Even though Jesus was the closest thing to a flesh and blood image of God; and those who encountered him through following and loving him felt they had entered the holy of holies (read temple) when they simply hung out with him, Jesus knew deep down that there was yet another way into God's presence. It didn't end with him. In the spirit of obedience and love for God's plan, he chose to step aside for the chance of an even greater intimacy with God for all of creation. Once again, not striving to be the greatest or the final word on reality, but full of joy and gratitude that he could be part of something so wonderful.

This new thing is not to be found in a structure or an ancient tradition, not in habit or ritual or following a prescribed set of criteria, but God comes to us as wind, as breath, as a hovering closeness that passes over us and through us. One of the advent readings calls it "the Spirit that overshadows" us. Sounds ominous and I think the holiness of the Spirit is such that it is completely other but also lodged deep in the very fibre and marrow of our being.

I couldn't help but think of this past week as we experienced a breakthrough into deeper communion with each other. Most of us would say it was a mystery, hard to explain given we've all tried to tackle the issues and the hurts and the misunderstandings in our own way with a genuine desire to fix something we love.

Of course we'll bump into each other's hard edges and need to seek out forgiveness but I have no doubt the Spirit blew through our hearts that day and I will go as far as to say, the Spirit was in some very hard to explain way, sitting with us, real and tangible — more than a Christian idea/doctrine we throw around.

As I read page 205 this week I was quite struck by the fact that as much as the Spirit is not limited to any human form and structure, she is somehow part of our lives; much like a person with breath and thought and emotion. A trusted friend who is forever going between our heart and God's heart, taking our thoughts, concerns, disappointments and joys back to God. Working with our essential nature to want what God wants and on top of all that she is the glue that keeps communities together despite all the odds, breaking open our imaginations so we can allow God to be who he/she is.

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art by Jan Richardson
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