As I was leaving Tallahassee to move to Austin I got online and wrote my farewell post. Here is what I wrote.
Tonight we are going to talk about community. The hardest part about leaving Tallahassee for me was leaving my community, my friends, the people I spent every day with. It was this group of people I had spent most of my life with. It was people that I didn’t just see every day but I knew them well and they knew me well. It was this painful tear-filled goodbye because community is one of the most special things you can have in life. And it is beautifully designed to be this way. So tonight we’re going to look at what it means to be a part of community and what relation this has on our daily life. And so we’ll break this down in a few points that hopefully inform how we approach community. And maybe by the end of this if it’s an area of life we want to explore more a desire will be placed to do so. Now I want to say at the top of this. You guys are great at living in community. When I visited in May last year I left with an assurance that I’d be in the hands of a good community and this was just by meeting a few of you. I think you welcome people well. So tonight won’t reflect all these problems I’ve observed in my year at the table rather let’s draw each other deeper into something I think we are doing well. So I’m going to try and mirror the structure Steven has set forth the last few weeks and we’ll have a few bullet points.
So first point:
1.God is a community.
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
So God is a them (Father, Word, and Holy Spirit) and God created a them. Even community itself is part of this image of God. And that’s a very important point. Community itself is part of the image of God. What we learn about this divine relationship should inform all of our relationships, not just romantic, not just family but all people. In the same way that God is three but one. So is the truth of Christian community. Paul says: the body of Christ (the church) has many members but is still one body.
We’ll come back to that.
When I first started anything that resembled a Christian life it was like I had entered this new kind of reality. This new way to live. This newly revealed purpose for my life. And so I started jumping after opportunities to serve and started spending more time learning and after a while it just became very overwhelming. I was on this mission and for a while I kept much of it to myself. Especially when I briefly moved to this new town. I was trying to evaluate these new things in my life and I was surrounded by people who weren’t living this way. I didn’t have a Christian community. And so over this year and a half I didn’t do much with my faith because I was living it alone.
So point #2. You don’t do this alone.
Seek out Christian community. It is for this reason God created the church. When you give your life over to Jesus. When you decide you are ready to follow him there may come a point where you try to do that alone. You try to search for the answers by yourself. Maybe you just want to be an individual and search for answers away from influence. I’ve been there. I’ve tried that.
I was fortunate enough to have these two young life leaders Matt and Trevor. See they knew that a person trying to follow Jesus on their own is such a difficult task. So they didn’t let me do that. They didn’t have all the right answers, they weren’t perfect people, heck they even made mistakes. But they loved me so freaking well that they walked me through this part of my life and honestly we are all still walking this life together.
Here’s something that seems true about the church. You can tell people about Jesus alone. But you can’t show people Jesus alone. You can tell people Christ has forgiven them but in community people can look at you and the way your treat one another and see that it is different. When they see your weakness. When they see someone wrong you and that you forgive one another. People can tell that our relationships are different. This is the relationship the community of the church is called to reveal to the world. Christ is revealed through our relationships with one another. Jesus says so. 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
See our generation is very strong about building up and being an individual. Great pride comes from this. We hate when people try to define us and so we separate ourselves from certain definitions or we try very hard to be a unique individual. I mean so many of my friends, so many people I have met say things like “I love Jesus but hate the church” They see the church and think I don’t want anything to do with that. But this isn’t an option. The church is how we display the love of Christ and the truth of the gospel to all people. Christ designed it this way. It’s not about a building, it’s not about a tribe, it’s not even about a theology. It’s about the body of Christ.
Jesus says in John 17: 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
We can’t say we don’t need the church. It’s part of the plan. This doesn’t mean you can never take issue, have problems, or even make efforts to reform the whole thing. BUT the church is the vehicle to which Christ is changing the world. The church is the vehicle to which the gospel is proclaimed. The church is the lens for fallen humanity to see Christ, to see truth, to see life, Christ who is alive in us. We are invited not just into Christ but into the community of the Trinity. “That they may also be in us.” Which is why our unity is so necessary. We can’t live for Christ in isolation because it goes against the very image of God. The image of the divine community that we are invited into.
This is also true of forming cliques, or limiting your groups to those on the inside and not welcoming those outside of it. It’s one body. Now of course you will associate with people who are more present in your day to day life but we are to be recognized by how we love one another. This involves in a very strong way inclusion. We’ll come back to this.
So, We cannot do this alone. Because we are all members of one body. Christ sees us as a family and so we should live as if this were true. And so if you follow Jesus, if you have the spirit of God in you well then you are my brother, you’re my sister we are one. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[g] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. You are attached to the image of God. You are invited into the divine relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit.
- You should be known.
To not be known in a community is to be isolated. Community is this fellowship of believers that carry each others burdens and meet each others needs. Redo the “Me-too” analogy from Christ. “Whose been to Disney? Whose been to Hawaii. Whose lost a family member to cancer? See this is different. You can actually feel that energy and that connection. When our stories are known likened stories can help heal one another. It’s not just my burden but our burden. “I know what that’s like, I can be there for you.” I can show you that I survived. Community should provide for one another. And if you are so known in a community people will know and notice when you need help. Community should provide for one another.
Acts 4. 32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.
Not just sharing thoughts and ideas but truly caring for one another. Knowing for one another. Providing for one another. If you have a need, be known. If you have a temptation, be known. If you are struggling, be known. Allow others to come along-side you. Allow others the opportunity to reveal the love and care of Christ to you. So that others may see and wonder. Let your brokenness be the image to the world of how Christ heals us through his body of believers. When the early church was living this way the book of Acts teaches that they had the favor of all people and that every day people were coming and entering into the salvation, the healing of the world. People came and saw the community of the church and witnessed a way that was different. And this revealed to them, this invited them, it placed a desire in them to be a part of it. Let your brokenness do this for someone else. Because it’s not about you. Christ is for you.
When I was in Africa we were very much trying to encourage the people of Pader to share their testimony. To let their story be known because it’s the greatest evidence of God for other people, this proof of your transformation. Who you were and who you are. What you’ve been brought through. And they were so worried about others knowing their stories and spreading them around the town. But even that has a selfishness to it. You have no idea how God could use your story for someone else. You have no idea who else needs to hear me too. People need to hear that you survived what they are going through. If you are afraid of your brokenness or your mistakes then it is possible you haven’t accepted forgiveness for this. It’s possible you haven’t accepted grace for this yet. And as these people began to share their stories with one another it was amazing how many of them had gone through similar things and you could just see the unity that came about, this bond that grew out of simply making themselves more known.
So let people see who you are. Let people know what is challenging. Have someone in your life who is interested in what’s going on at work. Who will just be there if nothing else to listen. Who can help you be known.
Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 2:8
8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
Or: Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.
- Unity and Accountability.
God gave us a process of grace to maintain unity of the church. Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
We should call one another towards a sameness so that the image that people see of Christ isn’t a confusing and twisted image but a same image. That starts with you. Not by critiquing other Christian sects. Our lives reveal to others the character of Christ. We ourselves do this to other Religions so we should understand the truth of it. Think of the way in which Americans view Islam. A very small group of Muslims have given much of the world a perception of all Muslims. Because people looked at one small group they assumed that the source, Islam must be about those things. Often times these assumptions aren’t rooted in any research or questioning and so don’t just assume people will know the difference between your character and the character of Christ. What does your life say Christ is like? This sameness sounds so difficult and even cultish if we’re just going to be honest. And it seems this way because we’ve placed no effort into this. Our behavior, our values should resemble that of Christ. And when this doesn’t happen, when we fall short as we often will we have family, members of this body that care about the entire body of Christ. Because as we just said “it’s not about you.” If after these three attempts the person’s pride reveals that they do not understand “it’s not about them” then consider them as they are; not engaged in the body of Christ. Not about the unity. They are about themselves. And while this is difficult and painful God uses the church to bring about individual transformation of his people. This isn’t about micromanaging God’s work in another’s life. You are not the transformer of someone’s life. But you get to invite people into transformation. You do this by reminding people of the character of Christ. This is accountability. Reminding a person of the character of Christ.
One of the great things that happens in Christian community is a struggle to handle this the right way. I’ll just say of my experience or even a past boss. I just didn’t get along with them well. They did things that I strongly disagreed with. And I wasn’t the only one to think this way. And instead of drawing them into the character of Christ me and other coworkers we united over our issues with our boss. So rather than invite our boss into an accountability we gossiped behind their back. We didn’t view them as a member of one body. We grew critical of them.
It’s the same for issues more aligned with our age. Say a friend goes out and drinks too much. We often make the mistake of spending too much time considering who should go and talk to this person. And before we know it we are all talking about the wrong thing this person has done behind their back instead of approaching this person privately. Now it’s a public issue and we have broken the unity and we’ve broken this person’s trust. Rather than heal we’ve created a new wound. And so approach this person as if you desire healing. If someone has done something that has hurt you don’t let all this anger build up, don’t bring in all these other opinions, just take a moment to calm down. Try and understand what had happened. Don’t react in a dramatic way but with clarity approach in love. Seek resolution, because living this way communicates something different to those who are not believers. It shows them that we actually believe what Christ has done for us. And that we can treat others, love others the same way.
- The idolatry of community.
God didn’t call us to make one great big Christian party where nobody else is invited. If there is one are that we all could improve on it’s probably this. And look it makes sense. But we need to actively reach beyond this. For many of us we find something like the table because we’re new to a city and we are looking to find Christian community. And for many of us the first community we found in Austin were Christians. And so we found the people to live life with and we found the people to do fun things and hang out with but….their all Christians. And so our need is met but we aren’t sharing and providing that need for others. In our content and satisfaction of meeting our need we aren’t reaching out. There are empty seats in this room and we need to keep praying for others to be invited into this beautiful things that often meets our needs. The mission is all people everywhere. And to do this we need to meet people outside of our Christian community. Where do you actually live your life. Maybe you have this pocket of Christian friends over here but actually you spend 90% of your life over there. And so how can you show those people something different. Not demand that they join your community but rather you show them something they didn’t know they wanted. Live it our for them, let them smell what you are cooking. And maybe they will want to taste. When you go to a grocery store try and meet with the same employee. Treat them differently than every other customer. Strike up a conversation with them. My roommate in college everywhere he went he treated employees like friends. Every register he went to he engaged with the person in a way that was different than everyone else. When you meet a homeless person or see them on the side of the road. Maybe you don’t have money on you maybe you don’t feel like a handout is the best way. Whatever is in your mind still treat them as if they matter ask them about their day. Ask them their name. Remember it the next time you see them. Show them you are different than the ten cars ahead of you. Be like Jesus show up into someone’s world and live in a way that demands curiosity. As Jesus invited the disciples. He showed up and said “come and see.” Live a way that demands that a person come and see. Let people know that they are invited into your life because you care about them. That you are known by the way you love others and by the way you love your community. May that love be the invitation. May your life reflect the beauty of Christ. May your relationship display the divine relationship of God.
So I want to share a final point about the greater community. The whole church. The body of Christ. The body of Christ is not about whose tribe is right. We are connected deeper than this. It doesn’t matter if you are Baptist, Methodist, Anglican, Episcopal, Catholic, Non-denominational. The unity of the church is not about getting everyone to see things your way. It is about your common love for Christ. To constantly argue about our faith is to show the world division. Rather give yourself completely to Christ and let other people come and see. Rejoice in your commonality. Spend your energy being true to you and your calling and don’t waste it on divisive arguments. It’s not about you but Christ. It’s not about your team but Christ.
And so I happily end this sermon with a parable about the Dave Matthews Band. It might be my last chance people!
For the past ten years I have traveled thousands of miles following the Dave Matthews Band. I have found this Christian unity in the fans of this band. Yes, the people stereotyped as potheads, drunks, frat boys. These people have shown me Christ.
At EVERY SINGLE show (I’ve been to 25) I make new friends. We gather together and share stories of shows we have been to. They invite me, a complete stranger, to join their tailgate. Have some food or a beer. Strangers offer me FREE TICKETS to concerts. We talk about our favorite songs, what songs we would like to open, what songs we’ve been lucky enough to see, which band members we have met. We share our lives with each other. It doesn’t matter who we are. We may be atheist, we may be Christian, we may be gay, we may be straight, we may be Republican, we may be Democrat. But we all love each other because we share a common UNITY. We love the music of The Dave Matthews Band. This love breaks all diversity and unites us. It overcomes every class we could be included in, every difference we may have. And we get along, gather, and we celebrate TOGETHER.
May our community look a bit like that. May our love for Christ translate as a true and celebratory love for one another. And may people see this and want it. Let’s offer the world a place to come and see. There are empty seats. Let’s invite the world into the divine community.