A week from today (That’s Sunday, December 28, 2008) I’ll be sharing the message at Fellowship Church.
What follows is a transcript of what I’ll probably be saying. I’d love for comments, criticism, and all the rest as I continue to hone what I think God is trying to say through me.
(God I think, might use you, and your comments to help shape this message)
The last couple weeks in New England have seen an ice-storm that turned the state into a Federal disaster area and a pair of near-blizzards. I know a number of people who are suffering in a variety of ways. This has lead to some thoughts that haven’t yet made it into this message, but probably will in the final draft… Other than that, my best guess is that this is pretty close to complete. (Though it won’t be word-for-word; I won’t stand there and simply read these words. That’d be painful.)
Intro/Beverly Hillbillies/Jesus Elevated Community
My name is Jeff Campbell.
I hope you had an awesome Christmas.
Given that we’re at a church I think it makes sense to spend a minute to take stock of one of the things this holiday really means.
I want to be clear. Whole books have been written about what Christmas means. We could probably spend a year on this topic and not exhaust it. I’m not here to offer an exhaustive list of all the meanings of Christmas.
Instead, I’d like to focus on one important one.
And the way I’d like to get at that is to imagine a scenario.
Imagine that you live in a nice suburb somewhere. Nicely manicured lawns. Late model cars in the driveways. Teen agers who rebel in the expected, appropriate, and prescribed ways.
Maybe the house next to yours got sold a while ago. You’re wondering who the new folks are going to be. The question I want to ask you is this:
What do you think?
What do you think if you you can hear them before you can see them… if there’s some horrible screeching sound coming from their engine, and a scraping of the muffler along the ground? What do you think if you can smell them before you see them, an unwashed smell, a burning rubber smell? What do you think if you hear them howling and yee-hawing, and when they finally come in to view, they look like some kind of modern-day Beverly hillbillies?
Probably, at some point, you say “There goes the neighborhood.”
On the other hand, what if they have a nicer car than you? What if they are clearly wealthy? What if they are famous? What if Bill Gates moves in right next door.
Most of, we would think, wow. Our community has just been elevated.
Elevating community is what I want to talk about today.
And I want to start with the idea that it’s already happened. The whole world was made through Jesus. He existed in perfect fellowship with the father and the holy spirit. He watched below.
He watched below as our ancestors mostly did the same stuff that we all do every day. They turned their backs on what God offered. They lived in a way that did not glorify their creator. They betrayed him, they betrayed each other. They lived greedily, they lived destructively, they lived lustfully.
Jesus moved into the neighborhood anyway. He entered into this greedy, destructive world that had turned it’s back on him.
This is an incredibly serious thing and I don’t mean it lightly when I say we were a million times trashier than the Beverly hillbillies. I don’t mean it lightly when I say he’s a million times more impressive than Bill Gates.
Jesus moved into the neighborhood.
He moved into the neighborhood of humanity for humanity.
And that’s amazing news and I hope you feel all Christmas happy as you let this sink in.
Sermon series/What is the best way to elevate community?/ The Beatles
Over these last few several weeks, Marty has taken us through several principles that we practice as a church and that we hope you practice as individuals. These are principles which strengthen, empower, and life up the family. Today I’m here to talk to you about empowering community.
This is a broad, huge topic. One approach to this topic would be to find some story or idea illustrated by the bible. Then to figure out some specific action steps. Then I could find a way to make them all start with the same letter. Or make them all be initials that spell out some word.
I don’t want to do that today. Instead of giving you four things to do or three things to think about, I want to challenge you to get in the habbit of asking just one question:
What is the best way to elevate community?
Jesus answer was so relevant, this time of year: he entered into it. He came down to Earth.
But before we can really explore this question, it might be worthwhile to think about what a community is. This is a pretty difficult question. Perhaps we can begin with the idea of a group. That’s a little bit easier.
Let’s think about The Beatles for a minute. Most of know that The Beatles were John, Paul, George and Ringo.
If I asked you how you feel about The Beatles, you might answer that you like them. If I did that, I’d expect, basically, that you’d have the same answer if I said “When John, Paul, Ringo, and George get together and make music, how do you feel about them?”
Maybe you love them. Maybe you hate them. But The Beatles are really nothing more than those four guys. It wouldn’t make sense to say “Yeah, I hate the beatles, but I love the music that John, Paul, George, and Ringo made together.”
Similarly, I might say “Jesus came for John, Paul, George, and Ringo.”
Or I might say “Jesus came for the Beatles.”
If I said this, I wouldn’t be saying that The Beatles were good or bad. I wouldn’t be saying that they went to Heaven or that they went to Hell, and I wouldn’t be saying that Jesus came focused on groups. Certainly he came for them as individuals. But when I name that group, it’s like a shorthand way of mentioning each of the individuals.”
The people of Jesus time, they had trouble with a group called the Samiritans. It would have been hard for Jesus followers to hear “Jesus came for the Samiritans.” But he did.
And it’s easy for us to think “oh, those primitive disciples. They just didn’t get it.”
So I’d like to try a thought experiment with you. I’ve got a list. It’s kind of a long one. I’m going to read it. And while I do, you of course, have two choices.
Jesus Came for…/Reductionism/Capitalism
One is to tune out. Wonder what I’m going to say next. You can sit there and write your grocery list on the offering envelope, and whisper to your neighbors.
Or you can take this in. Let it penetrate. Find the uncomfortable places and wonder about those. The truth is that I struggle with parts of this list. I bet you will too. That’s all the more reason we ought to ought to really work on this.
So let’s sit back. Really focus. Wrap our brains around the truth of all this:
Jesus came here for you.
Jesus came here for me.
Jesus came here for the person sitting next to you.
Jesus came here for the person behind you.
Jesus came here for the person you wish was here but who didn’t come today.
He came for your family.
He came here for your coworkers.
He came for the people who live on your street.
He came here for all the people who live in your city.
He came here for the rich.
He came here for the poor.
He came here for the person who pretends to be homeless but really isn’t.
He came here for the millionaire who lies on his taxes so he doesn’t have to pay any more.
He came here for President Bush.
He came here for President-Elect Obama.
He came here for the Republicans.
He came here for the Democrats.
He came here for the people in this church.
He came here for the people in churches like this one.
He came here for the people in the churches which are not like this one.
He came here for the people who would never ever go to church at all.
He came here for the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Taoists, the Muslims.
He came here for the victims of violent crime.
He came here for the victims of terrorism.
He came here for the soldier’s in our armies.
He came for the peace makers.
He came here for the members of Al-Qada.
He came here for the perpetrators of violent crimes.
He came here for the warmongers.
I think that it’s easy to miss how important groups are to who we really are.
Probably the most significant reason is that we live in an individualistic world. We emphasize the power of the individual. We worship self reliance. We proclaim our independence.
There was a Dutch Psychologist who worked for IBM. He went all over the world and interviewed people for the company. He ended up with this tremendous database that contains tens of thousands of interviews from people all over the world.
His research is still cited and recognized as authoritative around how people within a given culture tend to approach a wide variety of issues.
One of the things he did was assess where countries are on the individualistic-collective scale. I was unsurprised to find that he determined that the most individual and least collective country in the world was the United States.
There are all kinds of reasons why this is the case. There’s one I’d like to focus on. is this idea that is closely connected to science. The idea is called “reductionism.”
Reductionism is very had to separate to science. It’s not bad, when it’s left in science.
Put simply, reductionism is the belief that the best way to understand a thing is to look at the parts that make that thing up. The belief is that if you understand the parts, you understand the thing.
Consider a fish. Or a watch. If you wanted to know what was inside of them, you could carve them up. You could list the parts and name them and describe what they look like and how much they weigh.
But science is more than reductionism. You couldn’t put the watch back together again very easily. And you couldn’t put the fish back together at all. The fish or the watch wouldn’t be very useful any more. You can never find out what the pieces do, within the fish or the watch, if you separate them.
Some very well intentioned people who probably did not even realize how infected they’d become by the idea of reductionism felt called to fufill Jesus’ message.
They wanted to share the gospel. And they proceeded in just exactly the same way.
They began by observing that their were whole communities that had not heard of Jesus. And they noticed that these communities were made up of people. And they separated them.
We send the kids over here. We send the adults over there. The twenty-somethings go into this room. The forty-somethings go into that room.
We all stand alone together in church.
We read our bibles alone, we prayed alone, we saw the pastor once in a great while– alone.
Even before Jesus they would have been keyed into this idea. At Jesus time, when they read scripture, they read it together. Many of them had to, because they couldn’t read at all.
It’s an amazing thing that we live in a world where you can buy a bible for five dollars– or steal one for free from a hotel room. Living in a society with nearly universal literacy is amazing.
But there’s an ugly side to all this. We’ve been divided. Our belief in community has been broken.
And so what the church has done, sometimes, is to find people who were involved in communities and tell them that these communities are not very important. We’ve been told people that all they need is Jesus.
Sometimes they’ve bought into Jesus’ good news anyway, and they’ve left their communities behind. Other times they’ve seen what we’re trying to offer them and they are not interested.
Community in Bible, Movies, Real Life
We need people. And we see it in the bible.
Early on, God recognizes that it is not good for man to be alone. And not long after that, Adam’s unhealthy need for community causes more destruction than any decision ever.
Men like Abraham are called out of their communities and have the faith to go. Jacob begins with twelve sons: a family community. These twelve sons end up having their own familes: twelve family community. These twelve families eventually give rise to twelve tribes. Each tribe eventually is made up of tens and hundreds of thousands of families.
There is Elijah who falls apart when he feels like he has no community. And Jesus who gathers the disciples together into community and sends them out to infiltrate all the communities of the world.
You would be hard-pressed to point to a single book of the bible where communities are not central to what is going on.
It’s tempting to view scripture as instructions in how to be. I’d argue that in fact it’s instruction about how to be together.
It’s tempting to view scripture as instructions about who to be. I’d argue that more often, it’s filled with instructions about who we should be when we’re together.
The Old Testament often looks more like a penal code than a self-help book. The rules and laws aren’t just about how to live: they are about how to live in community.
But perhaps that is not persuasive to you. I don’t think you have to be a follower of Christ to get the importance of community.
Let’s think about a couple movies.
Have you ever seen “Cast Away”. In the movie, Tom Hanks gets ship wrecked. If you weren’t thinking to deeply, you might think “That whole movie, it disproves the point. That’s a whole movie, and pretty much the whole thing, it’s just Tom Hanks alone. He doesn’t need people.”
But there a part of that movie that pretty much all of us connect with. It’s when Tom Hanks ends up reshaping a volleyball to look like a Human face. He calls it Wilson. He talks to Wilson. Wilson becomes his friend.
And we connect with this. It’s incredibly funny and incredibly sad because we all know that we would do the same thing. If we were stuck, for a long time alone, the only way we would maintain our sanity is if we went a little bit crazy. We know that we would create people to be with. We would all make Wilson, if we were in that character’s shoes.
We see a variation on this theme in the film “I am Legend”. To the best of his knowledge, Will Smith is the last person alive. But he uses store mannequins to create this whole world for himself. He gives the imaginary people personality. There’s a point that he’s all unshaven and pathetic looking, and he’s practically crying, begging the mannequin to speak to him. But of course it doesn’t. It’s like he’d rather be insane than alone. While watching this movie with our good friend Kara, she said, “I’d rather die than be all alone like that.”
We’d rather lose touch with reality than be alone; we’d rather die than be alone. These feelings are close to universal.
And if you’re not moved by these references to movies, let me ask a few questions:
What is the best thing that ever happened to you?
What is the worst thing that ever happened to you?
What role did community play in these events?
There might be a few of the best– or worst– times in your life that weren’t intimately connected to community. There might be a small number of things that were important and that happened simply and only to you.
If they did, it’s my prayer that one of the first things you thought, when either the best or the worst thing happened to you was this: I’m going to share this with _____. Somebody, or maybe a group of people.
But maybe not. Maybe you didn’t have anybody in your life when that very important thing happened. If you didn’t, I’m willing to bet one of the very first things you thought was: wow, I wish I had somebody to share this with.
It might be that you were around people all the time but you didn’t have anybody to share it with. It might be that you didn’t see anybody very often but you new exactly who we were going to tell.
We can’t measure how well connected you are by measuring the number of people who are physically near you. We all know that we can be alone but not lonely. We all know that we can be so desperately alone, even in the middle of the crowd.
Dif. Between communities and groups/ Reductionism vs community/2 case studies
Being in the middle of a bunch of people does not connect us. Being in the middle of a community does.
There’s a difference between communities and groups.
Groups aren’t bad things. But we really aren’t wired to belong to groups. What we need– what some of us know we need- are communities.
I spent a while trying to find a good definition of community. Trying to get at the difference between these two things. After plodding through dictionaries, word history, and illustrations, I’d like to propose that this is the best way to look at community:
A community is a group where the sum is greater than the parts that make it up.
That sentence is almost a cliché. We hear it all the time and so it’s easy to gloss over it. But it’s really a pretty strange idea. In our every day life, we’re used to the idea that if we have eight of something here, and five of something here, we’ll bring them together and have thirteen.
But in a real community, something magical happens. We add eight of this with five of that and we get something bigger than thirteen.
Whether or not a community has Jesus at the center of it, if it is a true community when its members are together they add up to more than they would, more than they should. Members are able to cover up each others weaknesses and they are able to build upon each others strengths.
At Fellowship church we call them small groups because they start as just groups. An assortment of people whose sum is equal to the number that make it up. When they first meet, nobody is covering up anybody’s weaknesses. Nobody is building on anybody’s strengths.
It’s just a random assortment of people. And if those people are honest with each other, they’ll admit they find each other weird, annoying, hard to understand.
But something magical happens. The small group becomes a community as time goes by. In my current small group there are all these amazing people. One of them will tell me exactly what she thinks. Another is so very full of love. One of the member has this awesome ability to not make things more complicated than they need to be. This person is just amazing at simplifying. Some of the people in this group have this wisdom and experience that is so valuable. Others have this youthful enthusiasm that I feel so invigorated by.
Here’s the thing: if you gave me a bunch of people like the loving person, I suppose we’d have a good time holding hands and singing coom-by-yay, but seriously, this would just be a group. It wouldn’t be a community. There’d be nobody present to compensate for the fact that we all wear our hearts on our sleeves.
If everybody in the group had that special knack for making things as simple as they should be, it would be unnecessary. The reason that this person is so valuable is because I have this tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be.
But there’s another way that the idea of the sum being more than the total of the parts plays out.
When I’m a member of a group, I’m only as valueable as the things I can do for that group. For most of us, our job is a place where we are part of a group, not part of a community.
In my case, I’m a teacher. My boss cares about how well I teach. And fill out paper work. And follow the education laws. And deal with parents.
He might not be interested in the fact that I make mighty fine chocolate covered potato chips.
But there is more to me than those things.
There is more to you than whatever you do at your job.
You are more than the total of the tasks you do. You are are greater than just the list of things you provide.
A community cares about more than just the things you bring to it. A community cares about who you are. If it’s a real community then they want to know things about you, even if those things couldn’t possibly benefit or effect the members.
The truth is, that like you, my small group would probably never want to eat my chocolate covered potato chips. Like most of you, they have yet to recognize that the union of chocolate, salt, and crunch is a little slice of heaven.
But the people in my small group, they value that there is stuff about me that I don’t do with them or for them. It matters to them that I make chocolate covered potato chips.
A community is greater than the people who make it up.
And every person within a community is worth more than just the list of things they do for that group.
Can you see how this flies in the face of reductionism?
Reductionism says that you can understand a group by adding up the effectiveness of it’s members.
Reductionism says that the value of the members is an outgrowth of just exactly what that person does for the group.
Deep inside we know that reductionism is wrong. And we are so desperate for community that we will seek out unhealthy ones rather than not have one. The other day, I saw a bumper sticker. It said “If you make people believe absurdities, they will be willing to commit atrocities.” Now those words barely fit onto the bumper sticker as it was. But I’d add something to that, if I could. I’d say “People use the power of community to make people believe in absurdities. Belieiving in these absurdities, that can lead to atrocities.”
I’d like to read you a few passages from folks who ended up in some pretty bad communities:
Dianetics was where it began for me. I bought the book at a local
bookstore in Chicago after seeing an infomercial late the night before.
Sitting in the parking lot, I read a quater of book, mesmerized. I
brought the book everywhere. At work I started reading it on breaks and
lunch. I started informing my coworkers of the miracle of Dianetics and
L. Ron Hubbard. It was my bible.
Halfway through the book I stepped into the world of the totally free.
The Church of Scientology in Chicago was a block from the YMCA where I
was living. Walking by several times before actually entering the
building, I noticed that everyone inside looked happy and positive.
Finally I decided to enter the building.
I had the Dianetics paperback in my hand and asked the receptionist if I
could get some more information on the subject. She asked me if I had
read it and, if so, had I used a dictionary. I told her that I did not
need a dictionary, because the book was easy to understand. She gave me
a strange look and seated me on a large white leather sofa in the public
area. There were so many books and tapes and pictures of L. Ron Hubbard
that I felt overwhelmed. Everyone who passed by said ‘Hello’ and smiled.
A beautiful women sat next to me and asked my name. We talked about
Dianetics and how it had changed her life. I had not had a conversation
with a pretty women in a long time. She shook my hand and said that she
hoped to see me again. I did not leave for nearly a year.
This is how they got me. A peaceful, family like, environment where
everyone was my friend. Promises of freedom from all that ever held me
back from achieving my dreams. A promise of truth with a money-back
If you know the tenants of dianetics, you know that they are pretty silly. You might know that it’s sounds like a bad science fiction movie because it was authored by a famous science fiction writer.
The truth or falsity isn’t what that guy was looking for. It was the community.
Or consider this article:
It’s a Thursday afternoon and a worried Ventura mother named Kari says she hasn’t seen her teenage son in four days. He and his older brother drifted into the white power movement a few years ago, and she lost all control of them.
Kari’s eyes fill with tears as she explains that she simply doesn’t know what happened. She never taught them to be racists, she says. But she knows she wasn’t home as much as she should have been. There wasn’t as much guidance as there might have been, she says.
In many ways, Mike fits the profile of the typical white power believer.
Later, the article continues
Soon he began using drugs regularly. In the ninth grade, Mike dropped out of school. And at 17, he joined a white supremacist gang.
“They believed in what I believed in,” he said. “They were like my family. I felt like I was at home. I’d ride with them and I’d feel proud.”
Christ-centered community/ The mystery of oneness/ Joining Jesus revolution
It’s not enough for us to recognize the importance of community. We have to do better than just using it as a tool to get people to become Christians. Sometimes, we treat community like the junk food at youth group. We act like it’s not really connected to the gospel but it’s a convenient way to get people there.
And if we want to really elevate community, we’ve got to be see this as more than just a defensive move. We can’t simply maneuver people into our communities as a way to keep them out of other communities.
For us to share Jesus view of community, we have recognize that Jesus didn’t just want a collection of individual Christians. He wanted a Christian community. He wanted us to gather in groups where we were able to experience that cumalitive adding of our strengths and that mitigating of our weaknesses. He wanted us to gather so that he could show up in a special way.
Matthew 18:20 (New International Version)
20For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
There’s no way around a very simple fact: Jesus shows up in a unique way to communities. One of the most amazing descriptions of why this happens and what it means can be found in John 17. Jesus is speaking to God, mostly about his followers. This is what he says:
13“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17Sanctify[b] them by the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
Jesus Prays for All Believers
20“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
This is confusing. Through this whole passage, this is inside of that and that’s inside of this and God gave this to Jesus and then Jesus gave it to the disciples… It almost feels like a clue game. I read through it and I want to conclude “The Holy Spirit did it in the Conseveratory with a candlestick.” One problem is that theirs some language that doesn’t pop up into our every day lives. A little later, I’m going to come back to the word “sanctify” as it appears above. But more than this,
I think it’s supposed to be confusing. One of the central mysteries of Christianity is the mystery of the trinity. The idea is that Jesus, God, and The Holy Spirit are somehow separate from each other… and yet they are not separate, too.
In this passage, this mystery is linked to the mystery of community itself. The followers are one with each other. And they are one with Jesus. And they are one with God the father. This is dizzying math. We begin with a group of people. If they are a community than they are more than the sum of their parts. But somehow, through, Jesus, they are made to be only one. First those who followed Jesus were made one. And then those who heard from them… Do you realize if you are a Christ follower, that you are one with people who walked with Jesus? If you are a Christ follower you are one with Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. There is an unbroken chain of believers between you and them, and you are one with all of them.
When we think about the topic of elevating community, it’s easy to think that this is something that we ought to be doing by ourselves and under our own power. It’s easy to look at this like some brand new idea.
Jesus community revolution started 2000 years ago. It’s not something that we have to start, it’s simply something for us to get on board with.
When I look at history I see a lot of people who claimed to follow Christ. Many of them, for all kinds of reasons, opposed things Jesus was in favor of. They favored things Jesus opposed. They were on the wrong sides of issues. Some of the last people to give up on the idea of a flat earth, some of the last people to give up on the idea that white skin or maleness makes you superior claim to be Christ followers.
Others were innovators. The church gave rise to some of the very first people who opposed slavery. The church gave rise to some of the very first people who supported women’s rights. The church gave rise to some of the very first people who championed education and fought against evils like child labor.
I’d like to be on Jesus side of the issues. Jesus side is this: communities matter.
Question Revisited/ Elevating communities that exist/ creating new ones
And this brings us back to the question I posed a while ago: What is the best way to elevate community?
the first thing we need to do is shift our way of thinking.
For too long, we’ve had this restaurant mentality of the gospel. We’re going to cook up what we think people need. And we’re going to wait for them to come to us. And if they show up, we’ll serve them. But only if they meet the dress code.
We ought to have a domino’s pizza mentality. Dominos figured out what they do–they make pizzas. And then they bring this out into the world, they find the people where they actually are.
Jesus attracted his very first disciples by taking a walk along the shore. He saw brothers who were fishing together and he invited them together. He invested in his disciples, and he trained them, and then he set them back out into the world, where his disciples entered into the communities that already were.
It’s fair to ask: what does this look like today?
And I think the answer is this:
We go to the places where there aren’t Christians. We continue to do many of the things we did before we were Christians. We gather with football buddies or soccer moms, or God save us from Sarah Pallin, Joe six packs. We spend time in the places we enjoy spending time… at the mall or the coffee house or the pool hall.
In short, the first thing we do is identify that communities are all around us. Families are potential communities, sports teams are potential communities, neighborhoods and clubs are potential communities. Even street gangs, white supremacist groups, cults, abusive, sinful, and unhealthy relationships: These may be evil. We might be called to fight what they are doing. But one part of this fight is to recognize how deeply and desperately we desire community.
I think the true is that we overplay this. I’m not going to show up at that community. They are up to nothing good over there. It’s easy and safe and comfortable to be a member of a community that places Jesus at the center in an obvious way. But instead of running away from those communities that don’t, what would happen if we worked on bringing Jesus into the center of these communities.
How do we do this? We can talk about Jesus in the same way that we’d talk about any other important aspect of our life. We show them his love and how he changes and redeems. We’re told by our love that people will know we follow Christ. Do we live this out?
The fact that we should elevate the communities that are out there does not mean that we shouldn’t build new ones.
In fact the next thing we need to do, I think, is recognize that community is not one optional path to conveying the gospel. Community is the only way we’re going to experience the fullness of what Jesus offered. There are important facets of our spiritual lives that are solitary. But we are such a solitary society that generally we’re pretty good at these, already. And regardless of how good we are at our indididual morning devotionals, regardless of how much we like our alone time, this does not change the fact that community is not optional.
And furthermore, community is not a vacation from everyday life. I used to feel this way. I had this idea when I first participated in small groups that they ought to be this place away from my troubles, this little slice of heaven away from the realities of my every day life.
Remember the good fun that we had in the ice storm a couple weeks ago? That prevented my group from meeting on the night it normally would. We couldn’t get together and talk about the sermon. We couldn’t share snacks and hang out for a while in a little enclave, away from all our troubles.
It just so happened that we were some of the lucky ones. We have electricity through the whole thing. Our car was undamaged. Our streets were passable.
We had the privilege of putting up one of our members who didn’t have electricity but had a small baby. My eldest son and I were able to spend a couple hours at another small group members house. We were clearing the branches that crushed their yard.
I’m not trying to potray myself as the hero, here. The people whose driveway we cleared have rescued us on more than one occasion. The mom we put up in our house regularly watches our kids. I have received so much more than I have given from the members of small groups. God was kind enough to put me in a position to help others out this time around.
The point I’m trying to make is that it only looks like we had to cancel small group that week. We actually had it in a much more important way. All those other times when we sat around and read the bible together, or ate, or laughed, or talked about God, they were laying the ground work for me being able to help them out during the ice storm.
I’m not saying that God is happy to inflict natural disasters. I’m not saying that the reason for them is simply to build community. This would be incredibly insensitive to the real human suffering that occurs.
But I am saying that God made the universe in such a way that real good comes out of real struggles.
Some of you lost more than just power. You lost portions of your homes. You lost cars. You lost hundreds of dollars in food. You lost you’re a sense of security. You lost some of what you were going to use for Christmas.
It wasn’t easy and fun for you to have to share your needs with others. And it isn’t easy and fun to give sacrificially to meet those needs.
But I know that this has happened, in so many case.
I know that some needs have probably gone unspoken. And I know that others have been unmet. While I feel sorry for these, I also want to celebrate the real community that has gone on where we have come together and become greater than the parts.
Hard question vs easy questions why we do it versus what we do
The last thing, the most important thing:
In our every day lives we ask: What can I do to elevate the communities that we are in?
It’s easy to ask “What is the easiest thing for me to do in the communities that I am in?”
It’s easy to ask “What can I do to elevate myself in the communities that I am in?”
But it’s so very hard to ask the most important question:
What can I do to elevate the whole community?
The scripture we read earlier today focuses on oneness in all sorts of ways.
We often think that being one means that we don’t dissent from the group. We follow the party line. We don’t disagree.
I’m not sure that this is right.
In a way, each of us already is a community. We are made up of different parts that sometimes disagree. My heart might be telling me to do one thing. My head is telling me another. If I’m wise I pay careful attention to each.
Within a group, you might be the head. You might be the heart. You might be the soul. Your voice is needed… sometimes. Disention and arguing can tear a group apart, of course, when they happen at the wrong time, and in the wrong way.
A powerful community, a Jesus-centered community, is one where a question that runs through everybody’s mind, often is “How can I most elevate this community?”
There are times that is best for the group to speak up. There are times when it is best for the group that we are silent. And there is so much more than this:
There are going to be times when it is best for the group to receive something we don’t want to give. Our time. Our resources. Our attention.
Mine, mine, mine.
But if I see it as only mine, I’m taking it back from the community. If I see it as only mine, it’s only going to be worth exactly as much as it is.
I give up my time, my resources, my attention over to a community which has Jesus in the center, then the sum of these offerings will be worth more than the parts. It’s not so different from when Jesus used these small little pieces of food to feed hundreds and thousands of people: the sum of what we get is more than the total of the parts that we put in.
This is so hard. And this brings us back to the idea of being sanctified. I promised you we’d get back to the word. In the passage we read today Jesus said
“19For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”
It’s not a very fun word, sanctified. We wouldn’t think of it as a party to say “Hey, let’s go out and get sanctified together who-hoo.” In Hebrews 13, Jesus speaks of sanctifying through his blood. In the passage we’re talking about, Jesus is quite focused on his upcoming crucifiction. Perhaps he’s refererring to it here.
The whole word carries this idea of being separated, made better, or purified through difficult experiences.
Jesus wants this for us. He doesn’t want us to suffer for suffering sake. But he does want us to suffer if it will make us better than we are.
There is a kind of suffering that only comes from sacrificing what we need for others in our community. This, I think, is part of why community is so essential to knowing Jesus. Without it we can’t grow past a certain type of selfish, without sacrificing for community we can’t get past a certain terrible brand of selfishness.
This is not fun. It’s hard work. I don’t claim to very good at it. Maybe you’re not either. But there’s only one way to get good. And that’s to practice.
2000 years ago Jesus came and elevated community by setting foot on the Earth. He’s invited us to join him in communities that are elevated. It’s not always fun but it is so worth it.