Sunday sermon 11 November – Building Community
Readings: Ephesians 4:1-3, 29-32; John 17:20-21; Acts 2:44-47; 1 Cor 12:12, 26-27
One another (or: the glue for true community)
We’ve looked at forgiveness in the last little while. How are we doing with our forgiveness? In our home group this week we were faced with the challenge of one of the hard sayings of Jesus – the consequences of not forgiving are quite severe really.
And last week we talked a bit about the saints – God’s holy people – called out to be His and by implication to be different.
Where does this all happen?
God’s main desire for us is that these things – forgiveness and transformed lives – happen in COMMUNITY.
Community means being together with people that we have things IN COMMON WITH. It’s a close relationship – a building together.
It’s in our home groups and other small groups that this happens best.
A congregation always has things that separate people – rows for example. Aisles. Limited time (how much time is there when we are here only on Sundays and not every Sunday?).
A congregation is a worshipping assembly – the church together.
A COMMUNITY is something much tighter really. Not only do communities have things in common – they are also united and have some kind of geographical location.
In the old days that would have been a parish – which had borders and a sense of identity. And a vicar on a bicycle and probably a community Mr Plod – a policeman on duty. It reminds me of the Noddy stories we read as kids. Except Noddy didn’t have a vicar.
The truth is that those borders don’t exist in our cities. We live in very lonely times where people have no connections. There are thousands that are very lonely out there. Small groups can change that.
Here are some suggestions from children for a world system to end loneliness:
Kalani (8) suggests: People should find lonely people and ask their name and address. They ask people who aren’t lonely their name and address. When you have an even amount of each, assign lonely and not lonely people together in the newspaper.
Max (9) suggests: Make food that talks to you when you eat. For instance it would say, “how are you doing?” and “What happened to you today?”
Matt (aged 8) suggests: We could get people a pet or a husband or a wife and take them places. (Makes you wonder about Matt’s view of marriage).
The last response is the most moving:
Brian (aged 8) says: Sing a song. Stomp your feet. Read a book. (Sometimes I think no one loves me, so I do one of these.)
People go to churches, join bowling clubs, and go on blind dates because of loneliness. They also despair because of loneliness.
The church – is an alternative community
The Bible is full of references to community – usually expressed in terms like “one another” or “brothers and sisters”.
We used to sing a song that went like this:
We are heirs of the Father
We are joint-heirs with the Son
We are children of the Kingdom
We are family – we are one
We are washed, we are sanctified
We are cleansed by the blood
We are born of the Spirit
We are children of the Lord
We are members of his Body
We are objects of his love
We’re partakers of his holiness
We are citizens of heaven above
We are longing for his coming
We are looking to the skies
We are watching, we are waiting
We shall fly with him, we shall rise!
We shall reign with him forever
Men and angels – shout and sing!
All dominion shall be given
To the family of the King!
We have Jimmy & Carol Owens to thank for this.
It was quite the rage at the time – that song – because the Holy Spirit had begun to shake up the church – out if the pews and into real community. And people began to discover what the bible taught about our true identity. About being born of the Spirit. About the church as a family as it was meant to be. And unity was key to this – churches began to work together and lots of new churches that started back then were United Churches.
People probably read Ephesians and the words of Paul: Eph 4:3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Not that we are meant to keep the unity! It is the natural outcome of becoming a Christian – you became part of the body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 12 became very popular (and still should be): 1Co 12:12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.
1Co 12:26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.
1Co 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
Galatians chapter 6 was recognised as a normal expression of Christian faith together:
Gal 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Gal 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
And of course – the passage that the hippies of the day in their communes would have loved (and probably do in their old age now):
Act 2:44 All the believers were together and had everything in common.
Act 2:45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
One can understand why community for some people was a real possibility. The renewal in the church was wonderful in those years. But it wasn’t meant to be a phase.
The reality is people need community now more than ever.
They need reality.
They need integrity.
They need authenticity.
And you can’t experience that on your own – or by church attendance!
Being a Christian is a life-changing experience that we do TOGETHER.
THE TRINITY in fact is a model for our unity.
And OUR Unity is based on TRINITY! There’s a hint of this in the passage from John 17 which we can break down like this:
Joh 17:20 “My prayer is not for them alone. (the disciples back in the day)
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, (that’s us)
Joh 17:21 that all of them may be one, Father, (unity again)
just as you are in me (Father in the Son)
I am in you. (Son in the Father)
May they also be in us (all of us in the Father and the Son).
so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (People will believe because of what they see here!).
This Unity and community is reinforced in other places wherever more than one member of the Trinity is seen in action. Note how the members of the Trinity refer to and defer to one another:
For example: Joh_14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. The Holy Spirit would remind them of Jesus’ words.
And then at the Transfiguration:
Mar 9:7 Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!“ The Father points to the Son.
And the words of Jesus about His words: Joh 7:15 The Jews were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having studied?” Joh 7:16 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. Jesus points to His Father.
And here He does something similar: Joh 7:28 Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, Joh 7:29 but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.”
And once again: Joh 8:28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. Joh 8:29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”
And also here: Joh 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
If we are to be remotely like God as His children, then the “one another” life has to be foundational to our community.
Paul’s greatest and most profound explanation of this kind of mutual concern is this one:
Php 2:1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, Php 2:2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Php 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
More directly there are a series of “one another” injunctions:
The bottom line, starting with Jesus:: Joh_13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
Then all of these from the most important letter in the New Testament, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: Rom_12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves.
Rom_12:16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Rom_13:8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
Rom_14:13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.
Rom_15:7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
Which ends with a practical act at the end that is not always welcomed in our culture: Rom_16:16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.
And of course a series of others from Paul:
1Co_1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.
Gal_5:13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.
Eph_4:2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Eph_4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Col_3:13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Col_3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
1Th_5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
And more from the letter to the Hebrews:
Heb_3:13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
Heb_10:24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
Heb_10:25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Even James adds: Jas_4:11 Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.
And Peter: 1Pe_1:22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.
1Pe_3:8 Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.
1Pe_4:9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
1Pe_5:5 Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
And inevitably a whole series of “one anothers’ in John’s letters including the statement:
1Jn_1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
And then from the Apostle John we have these obligations, commands, and implied conditions and requests :
1Jn_3:11 This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.
1Jn_3:23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.
1Jn_4:7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
1Jn_4:11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
1Jn_4:12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
2Jn_1:5 And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another.
Are you convinced yet?
Are we this kind of community yet?
So many of us don’t really know each other yet!
We need name tags to get past that greeting stage!
Come along people! There’s work to be done!
Many of us – especially the younger ones – don’t actually have the skills to really take chances on the older ones! And many adults can learn more about connecting to strangers.
All of us need prodding to take risks. How often I have to point out to people – “do you see that new person? Do you know them? Would you like to speak to them?
And then I ask “who was that? Who is this person?” And so it goes on and on.
May the Holy Spirit shake us again!
May there be a shaking! How ironic that greater community has come out of the shaking of Christchurch.
May you be stirred in your heart and conscience today – to reach out.
If we can’t get it right here – what then about our need to welcome strangers and make new friends? And how will we do what we are supposed to do GO into all the world with this good news?
It starts with time. Time together. And perhaps a conversation with someone you don’t know that well over tea.
And it could end with your being in a home group – where you really do benefit and are also a blessing to the others in the community we call church.
And beyond that – you going out to connect with people you’ve never met before – in pubs and clubs and wherever they are!