“We are a family business and a growing institution. We are a network of relationships, some close, some distant, some acquaintance-like. We bleed and play, pray and breathe; nothing new. We are looking for the sweet undergrowth of awareness of God in ourselves, each other, and the world.” – Wendell Berry
That is a quote from novelist, poet, activist, and cultural critic, Wendell Berry on the nature of life in Christian community. And what I love about this statement is how blunt and poignant it is. This is what a healthy mission statement of a Christian community looks like. But, how do we find that “sweet undergrowth of awareness of God in ourselves, each other and the world?”
I’m going to talk this morning about the search for such a thing. These are collection of practices in being a healthy community.
1) We look for a calling and establish identity
No community has ever been successful without knowing why they are there and where they are going. The famous quote: “Know Thyself” comes to mind. I think about God giving the Israelites their history after being delivered out of Egypt; which is now the first five books of our Bible. Because in order to move forward, they needed to know where they came from. I think about our gospel reading last week, where Jesus is given his identity and his purpose as Son. We as a community, our identity is this, we put it on everything, because it’s who we are. We are a spirit-led. christ-centred. contemporary urban church. This is our ethos and we seek to embody it in everything we do. Which leads into our next point…
2) We live into our calling and identity, acknowledging that it is a dynamic and ever changing force, shaped by those who take it on.
This a hard one. This is where words become action; and where identity becomes lifestyle. This is also a hard one because we have to rely on others; on each other. What does it mean to be a Spirit-Led, Christ-Centred, Contemporary Urban Church? Ask 10 people here today and you’ll probably get 10 different answers. Which is awesome
But, the part I want to highlight is the second part: We acknowledge that our identity and calling is a dynamic and ever changing force, shaped by those who take it on. That’s why we get 10 different answers about what our identity means, because each and every person in this room has the potential to profoundly impact this community.
The Apostle Paul writes something really important about this, and we read it this morning. And we know it’s important because he begins with “I do not want you to misunderstand this.” Paul says,
“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.
A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice, to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophecy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from God, or somewhere else. Still another person is given the ability to speak in tongues, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts; who alone decides which gift each person should have.” – 1Corinthians. 12:1-11
This is really, really important. When we welcome people into our community and invite them to take on our identity, we take a huge risk. It’s as if we were handing them a glass ball, filled with all of our hopes and dreams of what this community is to us and what we hope it will be for others; and we hope they don’t drop it. We want so dearly for them to like what we like. But, when you take a risk on somebody and invite them to be your peer, you’ll discover that they offer an incredible gift; a gift that has the potential to profoundly impact our community. And I’m not just talking about the ones that can sing, or read, or pray publicly. I’m talking about them and the ones that show up early to put coffee on, who stay late to clean up, the ones who cook a meal for 20+ people every week at our evening service, the ones who help count offering, the ones that serve on parish council or corporation. I could keep going, but I think you get it. At one time all these people, all you people were new. And it was in taking a risk on you, we discovered, you were exactly who we needed around here. Not because you like what we like. But, because you are a valuable part of a diverse network of relationships, experiences, hopes and dreams. You make us who we are
3) We care for each other
We are one body. And when every part is doing well we rejoice together. And when one part is not doing so great, we stop, we listen, we support, we care. This all requires vulnerability. It’s one of the key habits of those living in community. We can’t fake it and we’ve got to be real with each other. That’s not to say everyone needs to know everything about everyone. But in this community, if you don’t have a person or a few people you can just be real with, whether in a connect group or just a friend, I’d encourage you to keep seeking that out.
This is how healthy community happens. We know who we are, we live out who we are, and we care for each other. If you’re new to this community, I’m so happy you’re here, because you have the ability to make a profound impact on this place. And if you’ve been waiting for an invitation, here it is. We need you.
You know something happened this week in our wider community that’s been weighing heavy on my heart and many of yours. And that is the decision of the Anglican Communion, the global body of Archbishops and Primates, to impose a 3-year probation on the Episcopal Church in the US for allowing the marriage of same-sex couples in their churches. This has upset and saddened a massive amount of people around the world, and for good reason. But, in light of what a healthy community looks like, what I have a hard time understanding is how a community or communion that believes in the dynamic expression of faith, manifested through many internationally diverse communities, can cut off one of it’s own limbs because it cannot bare itself to understand why that part of the body does what it does. It scares me, because this is not what community is. Community not only embraces diversity, it celebrates it. And to quote, Executive Archdeacon David Selzer:
“One would think, or at least hope that communion in the midst of difference should be a reality that we could not only aspire to, but achieve.” – David Selzer, Executive Arch Deacon, Diocese of Ottawa
These essential parts of a healthy community we’ve been talking about this morning, don’t just apply to us, or to other small “c” churches. They apply to the whole network of churches that not only call themselves Anglican, or Baptist, or Pentecostal, or any other denomination. These are vital components of the global church. All Christians sharing in communion in the midst of diversity. In a statement following the sanctioning of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Michael Curry said:
“Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.”
This is who we are. This is what we do. And we will continue taking care of each other. Loving as Christ loved. We will carry on.