Community Redux

Colossians 3:12-15

12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.

Philippians 4:8-9

8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

I’ve preached on these two texts from weddings to Love Campaign to almost anything because I think they are THAT important.  I wish I could blow them up big and put them on the walls here where we worship or in the college room, where we do much of our life together.  In fact, I may put them on the wall in the kitchen in the Upper Room, our residential hospitality staff.  I want us to be evermindful of all of the words we use – whether to build up or tear down; our actions – whether they are loving and full of the grace and love of God or if they’re from the darkness of the world with its jealousies and deceit; lastly our meditations of the heart – what we input into our bodies whether that’s good, nourishing, and sustaining things or it’s candy that when you eat it, you may get a momentary high, but you are sure to crash eventually.

I’m preaching on these scriptures because we’re continuing our Animate series and this week’s lesson is Doug Paggit talking about Community:  An Unexpected Family.

What are some of the communities to which you belong?

Developing real, authentic, hard, and messy community is definitely NOT a spectator sport.

Community changes YOU.  I’ve often quoted my campus minister, Risher Brabham, at his retirement lunch saying, “The only way I could have lived this life is through community.”  I truly believe that.

Stanley Hauerwas writes these words, “Saints cannot exist without a community, as they require like all of us, nurturing by a people who, while often unfaithful, preserve the habits necessary to the learn the story of God.”  The story of God.  What are the habits of God?  If you are a runner and your running partner is faster than you, won’t you work that much harder?  Or if you’re in a big race like the Imagine No Malaria run at  this year’s Florida Annual Conference, I watched Ryan practice and push himself harder because of the trash talking, yes, because he was with people that pushed him harder.  Won’t you push yourself more to develop holy habits if you surround yourself with a faithful community?  As Hebrews 10:24-25 says,

24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Community surrounds us and pushes us harder for the Gospel, to live our lives as the hands and feet of Christ.

Louise Erdrich writes these pull no punches words, “Life will break you.  Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning.  You have to love.  You have to feel.  It is the reason you are here on this earth.  You are here to risk your heart.  You are here to be swallowed up.”  We’re here to protect your heart as much as we can protect it.

You do not have to walk this road alone.  You don’t have to be an island.  As the Tenth Avenue North song says, “No man is an island, we can be found // No man is an island, let your guard down // You don’t have to fight me, I am for you // We’re not meant to live this life alone”  You don’t have to do it all on your own.  We can be fellow sojourners.

Kurt Vonnegut says it’s a different way but it’s the same theme verse, “What should young people do with their lives today?  Many things obviously, but the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”

It has to be intentional.  You don’t just stumble upon community, no matter what the people in charge may lead you to believe.  Community is created and nurtured and watered and pruned and…..Community is not easy.  It takes work.  It gets messy.  It gets realer than any Real World or reality tv show.  It takes practice and it takes trust.  And yes, it takes sometimes being uncomfortable when someone calls you out in love and accountability.

It doesn’t have to be cookie cutter people either.  We’re not looking for Stepford Wives clones.  The beauty of community is that we’re all DIFFERENT but we’re all UNITED with one goal in mind.  I love this quote by Frida Kahlo, you know the lady with the eyebrows, “I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feel bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do….Well, I hope that you are out there and read this and know that yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”

I have on my wall at my house this picture that says, “Family is like chocolate with a few nuts sprinkled in.”  We’re a cast of characters.  I’m leaving after church, to spend until Friday morning with my family.  Pray that  we don’t stress each other out and we don’t yell or spew forth stuff that we would only say to a family member because we know that they will love us anyway.  You see, in community like a family, we have to be aware of our words of venom wound sometimes.  It’s hard to unhear something.  We must be aware of our words and our actions, when we hang up on someone, how does that make the person feel?  We have to be intentionally loving in both word and deed.  So may God button my lip when I speak a bad word about someone.  May God put lead in my feet when I want to walk across the room to give someone a piece of my mind.  You see, in community we’re not all in the valley’s or the mountaintop’s at the same time.  It’s a hodge podge always.  That’s the point of being a family, a community, a body.

What do you bring with you to the community?  Do you bring the gift of hospitality and welcoming people?  Do you bring the gift of conversation and an even-keel spirit?  Do you bring the gift of exhortation and teaching?  Do you bring the heart for justice, longing to bring the community to bear witness in the suffering of this world?

Romans 12:5-8 (NRSV)

so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

We’re going to go on this journey together as a community of faith.  We need each other.  We can’t do this alone.  We lift up joys and concerns, we support each other.  More than that, we need the community to share the love of Christ.  You see we can use each of our gifts to make our Gospel message stronger.  Our collective strengths, cover our collective weaknesses, like the web of the finger, if you cover them with the strength of your fingers….We are STRONGER TOGEHER.  I’ll close with this quote from Jean Vanier, “One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals.  When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.”

Amen.