Yesterday, at our Downtown community, marked the beginning of a new sermon series and small groups emphasizing the Christian community. And I have to honestly say I get concerned when teaching about community. For starters, the goal for the month of September isn’t to learn about Christian community but to experience it and make a commitment to engage in it. While it may begin in our heads, if it stays only as an idea, the gift of Christian community will never be the force for transformation in our lives or the world. Let’s face it, we often become satisfied with simply learning about something. The learning itself gives off enough of a dopamine hit that it satiates our desire by making us feel good about ourselves. It is sort of like when telling someone you are going to run a marathon is enough of a fulfillment that you do not need to run the 26.2 miles (not that I would know about this…or at least for a decade or so before I finally ran one!)
How do you do community when much of the normal patterns of life have been disrupted?
Please let me know if you have any good answers!
That is why Dietrich Bonhoeffer maintains that Christian community is a divine reality. It is not about some Hallmark postcard vague sentimentality. It is also resistant to our selfish idealization of it meeting all of our felt needs. If that is our definition of community, we will find ourselves moving from this experience to that experience only to find that they end the same way – being disappointed and having the impulse to look for greener grass.
Therefore, the best way to understand community is not as a group to meet all of our idealized felt needs, but rather community is a reality of the divine we find ourselves committing to.
Jesus, in Matthew 18, describes that this divine reality (ie. community) will be built –
By an almighty and loving God working through the humble, the child-like, the understudy, the 2nd chair, the overlooked, the never mentioned, the unappreciated, the kinds of folks who will do the heavy lifting for others when there is no chance for thanks.
But that doesn’t mean individuals are unimportant!
By caring for the 1. The 99, they are important. The 1, she or he is important too. The goal of Christian community is not for the 99 exclusively, it’s really for the 1 also. In fact, in God’s economy, 99 and 1 are equal in terms of importance and value and the willingness to be sacrificed for. Jesus died on a cross for the 99 and the 1.
By doing the difficult work of reconciling. This is where Jesus spends a great deal of energy and gives the greatest detail in terms of ‘how to’. And it is fascinating to me that Jesus doesn’t begin with how to reconcile all people in the world, but rather focuses on reconciling the one. And a particular one in that…The one who has offended you. The one who has hurt you. The one who has, in so doing, cut themselves off from the church itself.
And so Jesus says …
Go to them directly. If that doesn’t work, gather one, two or three others and go back. If that doesn’t work then go tell a larger group. If that doesn’t work, then treat them as you would anyone else outside the fold of faith. And that is with grace and great concern, but without expectations that any of it will be reciprocated.
Three direct contacts and then a lifetime of prayer and concern and openness to being reconciled. Here we see God’s heart so clearly. Jesus ends this section by saying God wants no one to be disconnected.
And that is the invitation for us as well.
Community is one of the great responsibilities and cherished opportunities of Christians. It is also impossible without the power of God in the big middle of it.
Tim Keller in his book Center Church says that community is best understood as the way we are to do all that Christ told us to do in the world.
So, I pray you’ll not just learn about community this September but embrace and practice it. It’s not easy nor without risk, It is messy at times. But if we want to participate in God’s plan – there is no other choice nor better alternative.
It’s not too late to begin with a small group reading and discussing Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together book. Many of the classes are virtual so you don’t even have to live in Lexington or Kentucky to participate! Drop me a line in the comments section or an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.