Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Real Community

Through my life, I have moved numerous times. Part of me has always been jealous of those who were born into a community and have lived in that community for their whole lives. A different part of me pities them.

You learn something wonderful about what is important to you when you yank out the comfort of family and friends and have to reintegrate into a new community. Things that you take for granted are entirely absent in a new place, and others that you hated never developed here. The learning is not limited to the community however, as removing our comforts is an opportunity to look into a mirror.

It is a mirror that we often like to stay foggy, hazed over from years of relationships, history and familiarity. When the disciples followed Jesus, they received so much more than they bargained for. Being asked to follow a Rabbi was a flattering offer for their egos, following him turned out to be something totally different.

Jesus lived with these men for two years. It is not possible to hide yourself fully for that length of time. Existing in community with someone for that period will naturally involve plenty of awkward, disjointed comments, stupid questions and sin. You are laid bare in front of this community and there must be grace and forgiveness for it to work. There also has to be a great deal of honesty, or it will quickly degenerate into gossip and backstabbing.
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.
“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other.
- John 15:1-12 (Emphasis Mine)
Root yourself in that for a few moments. Jesus lays out for us a very clear glimpse into God's definition of community. Note that it does not involve programs, activities, luncheons or services. Absent from it is a busy calendar, immaculate clothes and an overwhelming sense of duty and guilt. Jesus' community is based around Him. It involves resting in Him, depending on Him, trusting in Him. Our only clear commandment in that passage is to remain in Him, because he chose us. Take a deep breathe as it soaks in.

The community that Jesus established has very little to do with committees, general meetings or politics. It has everything to do with being a part of a community that helps you root yourself in Christ fully. How does the community do that? Through love.
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. 
Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.
- Romans 12:1-5 (Emphasis Mine)
Each of us is vital to the community we participate in and each of us has a role to play. Following Jesus does not mean becoming a clone of a 'good Christian,' instead Jesus leads us to discover what that means for each of us as individuals. This leads us to a great deal of humility as we face our own personal demons and find freedom in Jesus. Philippians puts it this way: "Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had."

Are our churches a revolutionary movement or a social club? Worship services are meant to be a gathering together of a people come to adore and share of what God is doing! A chance for the saints to be strengthened, encouraged and informed of the broader story that the Holy Spirit is weaving. This brings us to our knees in worship of the greater story God has invited us to participate in, leaving behind our old selfish ways.

No more are we called to live isolated, lonely lives. Jesus has called us into his family where we find countless siblings because of our Heavenly Father. In this family is healing from our wounds, freedom from our chains, encouragement for the weary and an calling into a greater purpose. A family that not only proclaims that the Kingdom of God is here, but reveals it for those with eyes.

A community unlike anything else this world has ever seen, where people put others before themselves. Where those in need are valued over those who can give. Where weakness is valued, and strength comes from the Lord we worship. We leave our pasts behind us, washed away in the rivers of baptism -- dead to us -- and move boldly into our new lives together.

It is the kind of community that is wholly exclusive in its' requirements, yet fully inclusive of anyone who God brings. People are repulsed by it because you cannot hide within its folds, you must engage to participate. Others are drawn to it because it is a part of the God shaped hole which resides in each of us. A community where we find acceptance and accountability both, where we are loved for who we are, not what we can do.

That is my hope for real community. If you wipe away the fog in the mirror, what is yours?

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