Wednesday, April 2, 2014

God in Community

Unity, fellowship, community; unless you've been under a rock, you've heard these words a lot in recent years. As I wrote in today’s bulletin article, I did a Google search for the word “community.” The search came back with 1,450,000,000 possible web pages. Talk about “community” is everywhere. We have a President that talks repeatedly about “community organizing.” We have people spending great portions of their lives in front of a computer, chatting and making connections in “virtual communities.” We have many of our young people in our world planting “community gardens.” And we have congregations, scores of Christian congregations, adopting the name “Community”. In Tyler alone, we have: Grace Community Church, Crossroads Christian Church, Harvest Community Church, New Life Community Church, New Days Community Church, Friends Community Church, St. Gabriel Community Church, Lakeview Community Church, and on and on…you get the point, literally dozens of other congregations that have adopted this word as the catch phrase on their marquees! In fact, community churches are the fastest growing group of congregations in America today. Have you ever wondered, “Why the fascination with community?”
The world around us may answer that question in all sorts of ways: “Because community makes people treat one another better,” “Because community brings much more joy than isolation,” “Because community forces us to experience diversity.” The people of God, however, should answer that question a bit differently. Why community? Because God created us for community!

And, considering who God is, I guess that should come as no surprise to us…

The reason we were created for community is because God, in God’s very nature, is the essence of community. We've all heard the word “Trinity,” but few of us understand where this word came from. It all started when a group of Christians began to wonder how the God the Father and Son related to one another. We have disagreements in our time about really important things like instrumental music in worship or whether or not to use a praise team. Those Christians way back when disagreed on smaller matters, like the nature of God! In reality, this was perhaps the most important discussion ever joined by Christians. Who is God? Who is Jesus? What do we do with the Holy Spirit? Are they equal, or not? Are they the same, or not? The Church debated these questions for centuries. In fact, from the 2nd century through the 4th century, these questions dominated most gatherings among Christians. But finally, through prayer, conversation, and, I believe, the guidance of God’s Spirit, they came to some conclusions, and many of the texts that have already been read this morning were important factors in those conclusions. Succinctly stated, Christians have affirmed for centuries that God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are of the same substance. Father, Son, and Spirit are One God, One God in three persons. A single being, but in Its very nature, community.

Now, I’m not going to proceed with a long, drawn out lecture on the doctrine of the Trinity. I reserve that kind of “special joy” for my church history students in the classroom. What I want us to concentrate on this morning and in the coming weeks is this, if God (Father, Son, and Spirit) are One God, what does that mean for us? What are the practical implications of God in community? The reason this question is so important, so fundamental, for us is because of what we read early in Scripture, in the first chapter of Genesis, just before God sat down to rest after a long week at the office, God said…

“…Let Us make humankind in Our image, in Our likeness…”

What does it mean to be made in the image of a God in community? You've heard me say this about 100 times, and you will hear me say it 1000 more times before it is all said and done. This is so important—foundational to who we are as human beings and foundational to whom God is. It is worth repeating again and again until this idea is second nature to us! Very simply, it means that we were created to be in community as well. You were not created to live isolated from the rest of creation. You were not created to live a radically independent life. You were created in such a way that you NEED your neighbor. You were created in such a way that you, in fact, are not complete without your neighbor.

Do you know what one of the most common things people in our society crave? People in our world crave relationship. Isn't it strange that in a world full of people, that we are such a lonely society? We see each other, but sometimes we do not see each other. We are surrounded on every side by people, but more often than not, we fail to look each other in the eyes. Our dinner tables look like this:

And if you think your family is alone in its addiction to technology, you are wrong:

Some folks in our society are recognizing this issue and trying to find ways to reverse the trend. There is a housing development in Lubbock called “Vintage Township.” In talking with the developers of that project, they will say they are not just selling houses. They are not building houses; they are building a community. The huge selling point on those homes is the front porch. Homes promise a front porch for everyone, a place where neighbors gather and form relationships. Houses face each other with large courtyards and picnic areas between them. Why such a concept? Because deep inside ourselves, we can only tolerate so much isolation, because beings created for community, can tolerate isolation only so long.

In his book, Creating Community, Andy Stanley writes about a time not so long ago:

Back then homes were constructed with front porches, so when people took evening walks or afternoon drives, it was commonplace to “run into” your neighbors sitting on their porch. One thing usually led to another, and before long, you were invited to sit with them and enjoy casual conversation and a cold beverage. People actually took the time for one another and saw value in this spontaneous interaction. Talk time on the porch was a way of life. As one writer has observed, ‘The American front porch further represented the ideal of community in America. For the front porch existed as a zone between the public and the private, an area that could be shared between the sanctity of the home and the community outside. It was an area where interaction with the community could take place.’”

Church, don't you just long to find a front porch somewhere? We live in a society with remote control garage doors. We get home, don't even get out of the car, and close the garage before we exit our cars. And often we emerge from our caves only to get in our cars again the next morning. And sometimes our cave mentality manifests itself at church. We arrive just as the announcements are finishing in Bible class. We move into the room and sit in the seats that are now molded to fit our individual bodies and we leave as quickly as we can. Yet we wonder, “Why am I not finding community in this family?” Maybe if church buildings had front porches things would be different. Or, maybe, if we began to realize how important building community is, maybe if we began to realize that community is not casual conversation, maybe if we began to realize that real community is such a deep connection that it resembles the connection between God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), maybe if we understood all of that…maybe then we would seek and find the community, the real community, that God desires for those made in His image.

“Nourishing Our Relationships in the Body of Christ” is a value of this church. Historically, our church has been passionate about building these kinds of relationships with each other. Let’s never lose that part of our identity. In fact, let’s make that impulse even stronger and in doing so, we will actually become more like God! Over the next several weeks, we are going to be looking at this issue more deeply.

As we begin that study together, let me remind you of something church. Those people sitting next to you, and those down the aisle from you, they are not casual acquaintances, they are not other autonomous individuals, they are family. They are members of Christ’s body. They are part of your community. Together, you and they were created in the image of God. May God help His creation to become what He created them to be.

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