October 8, 2017: Values (Community)
Scriptures Used: Galatians 6:1-10, Hebrews 10:24-25, Matthew 12:46-50, Matthew 18:20
A few weeks ago, Loran taught a series for the youth about Jesus’ people. She highlighted for our students that Jesus calls the unexpected – the outcast, the marginalized, “those people” – and made them his. Her goal was to open their eyes to all the others outside their group of friends. In school, those friends become, in conjunction with family, their community.
I want to ask you a question. “Who or what or where is your community?” You don’t have to say anything out loud. Just think about it for a minute. Who are the people that you would call first when you have news to share?
I think, for most of us, it would depend on what was happening, but I imagine you have a best friend or two, or maybe a parent, that is the first number you call or text when something major is going on that you want others to know about.
If it is your family, how did you grow where you saw your parents or your siblings or your kids as being relatable? If it’s not, where did you get to know the people you tend to call? Is there a group to which you belong?
These communities are important to us, if we give ourselves to them honestly, because those people are the ones who tend to know us best. That’s a good thing. In other parts of life, from our jobs to friend groups to families and even sometimes our marriages, many people put on a face that makes us more likable. A good community either discourages that because we feel safe being honest, or, they hold us accountable to acting differently to how we truly are.
I believe we live better when we have people who are close to us and share our experiences. I believe that, because the Bible tells us God designed it so we live with other people.
In the opening passages of Genesis, God thinks the first person needed a mate or companion, because people should not be alone. Years later, the original people of God were drawn together by common heritage under Abraham and Sarah. Those people became a nation, and they struggled together. Even more years later, Jesus picked 12 people to follow him, and that group kept growing. Paul had his Barnabas, then Timothy, who traveled with him.
There are times when community is hard. Sometimes we get in arguments when different opinions meet. Sometimes we act foolish and embarrass ourselves. Has that ever happened to you? Where you felt scared to face people because you did something wrong?
Good community welcomes you back – maybe with a light and friendly, “don’t ever do that again” – with grace. One of the hardest things about that is it requires not only patience and humility from other people, but a willingness for us to take an inner look at ourselves and think, “maybe it’s not all about me.” Plenty of people go their whole lives without having good community because they can’t grasp that other people may act and think differently because they have lived differently.
The Bible does not just say, “have community.” It also gives plenty of guidance in understanding what God thinks communities should look like. It’s not just about meeting our needs; it’s about using those relationships in ways that make us better people to in turn love and care for others.
If you need examples of what that looks like, read the first four chapters of the Book of Acts. The early Christians spent a lot of their time together and shared all that they had, because they liked being with each other. As time went on, and they realized that Jesus wasn’t coming to reset the world any day now, they started thinking some folks worked harder and deserved more than others. Certain roles and people felt they were more important than others. Things got dicey. That is why Paul’s letters to the churches are so important in reinforcing Christ’s teaching for those of us who are in this faith for the long haul.
James the brother of Jesus says this in Hebrews: “And let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.”
In today’s reading from his letter to the church in Galatia, what is now southern Turkey, Paul teaches them about what is important in their shared life. Many of them were trying to follow the laws of the Old Testament very precisely and chastised those that did not do the same. Following the law is good when we are seeking God’s will. Following it to be holier than others or to have some higher claim on the church is not so good. We have to do church in a way that listens to all the various people in church. A church is a community.
In our reading from chapter 6, he goes on to say that it is within community that our lives gain sustenance and resilience. We need each other to bear the weight when we are down. By being uplifted, we can continue our work which then goes into what we can give others. Not just our money and our stuff but also our mental and emotional strength. Sometimes, being there for others by just being present is work enough. We need each other so that we are encouraged to live and love as Christ commanded.
We know what happens when a community has good people. We want to be with them; they give our time meaning. Some of you have that. I get excited when I see folks get together for parties and it’s obvious parents are having as much fun as the kids. Last year some of you posted a video of everyone at a party doing the mannequin challenge. Parents, kids – all were involved. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. That’s community.
It is through that shared joy that we develop deeper relationships. We talk more about who we are, what we believe, how we can live healthier. That is ultimately what church should be – where we meet each other and have a good time together. Sitting in a pew by yourself is a start, but then you have to take a risk and join the church both in your presence and in your participation. Church should be a place that we always want to come back to because the people we love are there. What can we do to make that happen more often here?
When Jesus says in Matthew 18 that where two or three or gathered, he is there with them, he doesn’t specify what the gathering should be for. I’m just as inclined to feel Jesus’ presence at game night or pancake breakfast as I am during the holiest high worship. When we allow ourselves to just be who we are around other people we love, Christ shows up through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit likes being around, and we are made better by its presence.
When I began thinking about what I would say today to encourage us to value community as a Christian practice, I had originally planned to ask why it is that people are more dedicated to watching ballgames than being at church, or are at every Zumba or yoga class and only sometimes “make it” to Sunday School. I recently learned of folks in the area who meet to work on their trucks, Jeeps, and motorcycles together on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Those all can be good communities. I’m not going to ask y’all who do that to not do that and come to church instead. That would be holier than thou, and I’d just be doing what Paul told the Galatians not to do.
What I will ask is that, in your community, you honor that you are a follower of Christ. By your presence and prayers and love for them, make them better. Help them find the same hope in Jesus that you have. If there is a way we can minister to them, let me know. If there is a way our church building or resources can help them grow, let’s do that. Take time to worship God with other Christians; take time to devote yourself to prayer and study of the Bible. When it comes to how and where your gifts are best fit to make disciples, be open to where God calls you. We can work out the “getting church part” together later.
God’s out there; God doesn’t just stay in the church building when we leave. I think that’s something we should think about more often. If we cannot make new programs that bring people to church, let’s bring the church to people.
So, let me ask a favor. If you are part of a community that satisfies your soul and is where you are comfortable with sharing your faith, pray for them often. Pray for their needs over yours. Work on listening well and being a peaceful and loving person when you are with them. Give yourself fully.
If you don’t have a community, I invite you to start one. Last week, I brought up starting a Bible Study or small group in your home. No one signed up, and that’s ok if everyone here has a place where they can live in community. In case that isn’t true, I’ll ask again – do you have a community of people with whom you are willing to be open about your faith? If not, start one. It doesn’t have to be about the Bible. It can be about Jeeps, or crafts, or sweet tea on the porch. It could be about a shared love for beta fish. Just get together and build shared life.
If you are like me and do that through service, we can still use help with visiting the homebound, caring for our members, and developing a missional culture here. The building could use some work, and I like working and moving more than talking, and I bet many others are the same way.
I encourage you to value communities and people who lift you up and make you better. I encourage you to devote yourself to the people who make you who you are, and if you don’t have that, I encourage you to explore how to get it. We are made in the image of a God who is always in relationship. Let walk in the footsteps of Christ, be empowered by the Holy Spirit, and love each other as God shows us how to love. Amen.