I’ve been invited to share some thoughts about the idea of affirming community the Sunday between Christmas and New Years.
Since I’m writing these thoughts down anyway to collect and organize them, I thought I’d do it here. Several of you do this amazing job of helping me to focus and think things through… In this case this is doubly true.
Community is not something uniquely Christian. I won’t even argue that Christians are somehow capeable of deeper community, really.
I do believe that there is an additional dismention to the Christ-centered communities I belong to. There is this whole other thing. The best I can do with describing it is like the difference between a 2-d and a 3-d movie. Christ in the center of a community gives the community a breadth it wouldn’t otherwise experience. Communities that do not have Christ in the center of them can run just as deep, (think up and down on the screen) but there is something more when Christ is present.
And Christ is present! Wherever two or three are gathered in his name, he is there.
We are hard-wired for community. We all resonate with that scene in “Castaway”, when Tom Hanks talks to the volleyball. We know that we would do it, too. We all connect with the main character in “I am Legend” who is so lonely that he creates a whole fake cast of characters to interact with via manequins.
Biblically, God saw that it was not good for Adam to be alone. Arguably, the real sin that Adam comitted in the fall was choosing community with Eve over community with God. (A brief piece of evidence: in the Epistles, Paul goes out of his way to specify that Eve was decieved by the serpent but that Adam wasn’t decieved by the serpant. My thanks to my friend Garret for pointing this tidbit out.)
When Jesus gathers the first of his apostles he does so in pairs. They are brothers. They already existed in community with each other. Together, two sets of brothers join Jesus.
So much has been said about the community that was formed by the early church that I hesitate to add more. I’ve got nothing new to say.
In our every day lives, we see the importance of community.
Gangs, premarital sex, adultery, pornography, cults… all these are ultimately about our desperate need for community.
And it’s a strange thing. Because there are many things that appear hard-wired to do that Jesus says we shouldn’t do anymore. We shouldn’t lust, and we shouldn’t hate, for example. It wouldn’t seem anymore far-fetched or over the top for Jesus to say that we shouldn’t exist in community.
But he does the opposite of that: he blesses community. But typical to Jesus way of doing things, he does it with a twist.
The world’s communities define themselves by who is not included. Churches have ignored Jesus example and done this so much: defined themselves by who is not in attendance.
And other times we have spent so much time and energy emphasizing the uniquely personal aspects of our relationship with Jesus, other times we have become so Americanized and bought the lies of independence and self-reliance.
The church has broken the family community down into individual units. It seems like assembly line mentality has infected God’s house.
“Adults, you go in this room” “Kids, you’re over here” “Oops, you’re to old to be in this room, you need to go over there.”
There are all kinds of practical reasons it makes good sense to put all the people in the same stages of life in the same place… some times.
But if Jesus is in all of us, does it make sense to do this as much as we do? We rationalize “This person is a gifted teacher, the ___ year-olds will learn so much more under him than under their own parents.”
This mentality robs the families of the bonding experience they’d have had, and it robs the parents of what they would have learned.
Or we say “It’s so much easier and more comfortable to be with all the people our same age.” And we end up with college groups and middle aged groups and teen groups and senior citizens groups. And we don’t recognize that we’ve succeeded in making an idol out of our comfort.
By segregating based on age and gender we rob people of the insight they need so desperately. Seriously: do any of us really need input from people who are exactly like us? This might be safe and easy and comfortable. But I’m unsure that it makes us better people. Iron sharpening iron is not safe, easy or comfortable. Sparks fly. If people aren’t careful they get hurt.
I had this image. It was a bus station. People who want community, they are getting on the busses. Jesus is the bus driver, for some of them. He appears when ever two or three gather in his name. Others are driven by other people. Good people and bad people. Well-intentioned and down right evil.
Some of them just drive around aimlessly. Others drive straight into walls. Some get to their destinations through dumb luck. But only Jesus had the GPS.