The Drawing: Into Community
This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, May 10, 2015.
Reading: Acts 2:42-47
Over the last three weeks we’ve been exploring the purpose of the Church. There are many ways to talk about church, many metaphors that we can use to get at its primary purpose, but the one I’m most drawn to—the one we’ve been talking about for the last few weeks—is best depicted as a drawing.
It is a visual representation of what Jesus described as the greatest two commandments: 1) love God; and, 2) love neighbor. This very simple depiction of two simple rules places God at the center and all of humanity at points surrounding God. As people move closer to God, they move closer to neighbor. As people grow closer to one another, they grow closer to God. Love God. Love neighbor. The drawing depicts well what we’ve been talking: you can’t take one commandment and leave the other. You can’t love God apart from loving your neighbor; and, you can’t love your neighbor in ways that are genuine apart from God. You must do both: love God and love neighbor.
When we focus on both—when we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and we love our neighbor ourselves—we find a new community is born: a community with distinctive marks. That’s our focus for today: the marks of a community when it’s members seek to love God and neighbor.
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today. It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray. Amen.
In making his newest documentary, Korengal, author and filmmaker Sebastian Junger wanted to explore the answer to the question of why — despite its dangers and deprivations — men actually miss war when their tour of duty is over. A large part of the answer is the intense camaraderie created in combat — a brotherhood that they lack when they return home. In a recent interview, Junger posits that this absence of camaraderie is often at the root of why soldiers sometimes struggle so acutely to adjust to life after deployment. They come home, Junger says, and realize for the first time what an “alienated society” they truly live in. What they need, he argues, is a country that “operates in more of a community way.”
He then adds: “But frankly, that’s what we need.”
We all need community. But, the brutal reality is that it’s becoming harder and harder to find. Many of us may have never even experienced it. True, genuine, real (and yes I know that’s redundant), authentic community is hard to find.
In 2015, humanity is more connected than it has ever been. Technology—internet, cell phones, social media—these things connect us in amazing ways. They allow us real time updates. Information that would have, in previous generations, taken hours, days, if not weeks, can now be streamed live via the internet, a cell phone or satellite signal. The reality, though, is that technology is only good for helping us convey information. It’s not good at cultivating community.
Most of us are more familiar with networks than we are with communities. In an essay included in the book, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, John Gatto describes the difference between networks and communities. He argues that if we truly want to experience life and develop to our fullest potential as human beings we need to spend more time in communities and limit time in networks. Now, in full disclosure, I do not own this book. In fact, I’m paraphrasing a paraphrase from the website artofmanliness.com (see the full article here: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2014/07/01/communities-vs-networks-to-which-do-you-belong/). Yes, I see the irony in quoting extensively from a manliness site on Mother’s Day, but its good stuff. Here are three bullet point differences between networks and communities.
- Networks are artificial, top-down; communities are organic, bottom-up.
- Networks encourage passivity and consumption; communities require action and contribution.
- Networks can be location independent; communities are attached to a place.
Networks are much more common in our society than communities. If you want to know to which you belong—if you’re curious whether your connections with others are more of a network than communal—consider these questions:
- Do the rules, regulations, and culture of my group come from top leaders that I have never met personally, or do they originate from the group itself?
- Do I know the names of every person in my group and interact with them face-to-face?
- Does my group have a physical meeting place?
- If I left the group, would anyone know I was gone? Would there be any repercussions for doing so?
- If I got sick, or needed a favor, how many members of my group could I count on for visits and assistance?
- Am I required to contribute to the communal pot, or can I utilize the benefits of the group without making any contributions beyond dues/fees/taxes?
You know: it’s interesting to ask those questions of the church. Is the church a network or a community? In the church is there communal discernment or are decisions made from above? Do you know the names of every person in the church and interact with them face-to-face? Does the church have a place to meet? If you left the church would anyone know you were gone? Would the community be less without you? If you get sick, or need a favor, how many members of the church could you count on for visits and assistance? Do you contribute to the communal pot or can you utilize the benefits of the group without making any contributions beyond a monetary gift? Is the church, as you experience it, a community or a network?
In our reading today from the Acts of the Apostles, we see the first glimpse and description of the early church. They lived in community.
42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47, Common English Bible).
Over the last few weeks we’ve been talking about how we as individuals can live into the drawing, but today we get a glimpse of the community formed when we seek to understand and live into them together. Without a doubt, the early church was more than a network of people who got together once a week to shake hands, guardedly share the events of the week, and worship God. The early church was a community; and that’s something, I think the contemporary church should strive to be.
As the early church put the two greatest commandments into action, as they grew in love with God and neighbor, the scriptures record that they committed themselves to learning, fellowship, sharing and prayer. These were the distinctive marks of Christian community.
“The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching… A sense of awe came over everyone, God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles” (Acts 2:42a, 43, Common English Bible). The early church was devoted to learning. They didn’t presume to know everything. They didn’t pretend to have all the answers; instead they were committed to studying together the way of Love from those who had walked with Jesus.
“The believers devoted themselves to…community [life together]… All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together…and ate in homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity” (Acts 2:42b, 44-46, Common English Bible). They didn’t live life alone, secluded in their own homes. They met together every day. It was the only way that they could “shoulder the burdens, share the risks, and celebrate the joys of fellow members.” They didn’t rely upon a prayer list in a bulletin, an email, a newsletter, the pastor, or even a phone call to update one another on what was going on in each other’s lives. They were updated on what was going on in each other’s life because they gathered together in person, and shared life with one another. When anyone had a need, the community rallied to meet it. They invested everything—their entire livelihood and all they had—in order to insure that all might have something and no one would have nothing
“The believers devoted themselves…to shared meals… All the believers were united and shared everything. They shared food with gladness and simplicity” (Acts 2:42b, 46d, Common English Bible). In a culture that eats its meals on the go, this may seem strange, but they knew the conventional wisdom of sharing food together. It nourishes not only the body, but the soul to sit, even if it’s in silence, and share a meal together.
“The believers devoted themselves…to their prayers. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone” (Acts 2:42d, 47, Common English Bible). The early church prayed, true prayer, that sought God’s will; that petitioned God not for their personal desires and needs but for the reconciliation of the world with God; then, having discerned God’s will through prayer, they demonstrated God’s love to the world and “The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47d, Common English Bible).
Learning, fellowship, sharing and prayer: these are the distinctive marks of Christian community. It’s this type of community that will lead to the abundant life in God’s Kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim: a communal life where no one and nothing is lacking, where everyone is loved and God is glorified; a community where all are drawn in love toward God and neighbor. This is the community drawn together and depicted in the drawing. This is the community, I think, God is calling us to; and, it’s the community I’m striving to live. I’m not perfect in living it out and neither are you; but, together, with God’s help, we can move closer in Love and live into this community together.
God of love—teach us your ways. Teach us to grow in love with you and our neighbors that we might experience and model true community. Inspire us to deeper devotion that we might commit, like the early church, to learning, fellowship, sharing and prayer. And, as we recommit to these practices, O God, add to our number daily. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
 “Communities Vs. Networks: TO Which Do You Belong?” by Brett & Kate McKay, artofmanliness.com, July 1, 2014 <http://www.artofmanliness.com/2014/07/01/communities-vs-networks-to-which-do-you-belong/> Accessed May 8, 2015.
 See para. 219, “Mutual Responsibility,” in The United Methodist Book of Discipline: 2012 (Nashville, United Methodist Publishing House, 2012), p154.