Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Year of Jubilee: Community - Communitas

 “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load. The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him.
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” Galatians 6:1-10

The Cirque du Soleil is like a circus and Broadway rolled into one. It has the contortionists and strength shows, the trampoline and trapeze acts of the circus, plus the costumes and live music of a theatre show. And you get to eat popcorn. Watching the 8 man trapeze act was amazing. Two guys were sitting on this swing thing, their legs locked in through bars, going back and forth using one another’s weight to get to great heights. Above them on a framework of bars another guy would start the dipsy doodling circling and rolling around the bars and then fling himself into space, timing it just right so he could grab the wrists of one of the two men on the swing. It really was fantastic. It is also a wonderful metaphor for church. Yes, there were clowns and such, but that is not what I refer to. What I saw was amazing teamwork. These men were strong each and every one as individuals, but they all came to points in the performance where they totally relied on someone else to be there for them. There was the sense that they were a team, a community.

For these men and the rest of the performers it was more than just living communally, more than just being together. They participated and worked both individually and corporately to accomplish a very specific goal. They were there to entertain with a world class performance of a specific program. That focus on common task and the commitment to see that task accomplished brought them into a deeper community than normal – something more intense, more chaotic, and something called Communitas.

Communitas is that sense of being equal partners in an intentional and progressive social way; that together the community is becoming something new, something outside of the normal social structures.
For a church that means becoming something more than just an institutional or traditional church. It means we are actively pursuing God’s purposes for us as a community, as we strive to become more like Jesus both individually and as a church.

Shane Hipps is teaching pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids MI. His deepest desire is to be a catalyst in people’s movement towards God. Shane speaks nationally on the topics of faith, media, culture, post modernity, and the church. He has this to say about community:

There are 4 things necessary for community:
1. A shared History: this helps to establish a sense of identity and belonging. They say it takes a pastor between 3 and 7 years to begin to be able to effectively minister in a church. One reason is it takes time to have a shared history. I can now travel back almost 4 years with most of you here.
2. Permanence: Something fixed or consistent. It is how you get shared history. You have to stick to something. People who go from one church to another don’t gain permanence. They will not belong to any community. Common faith also helps with this permanence. You say “Nazarene” and we all get you.
3. Proximity: You have to be with one another over time to create meaningful connections. You have to take the time to show up. As a church we seek ways to get together in the midst of busy lives, because getting together helps immensely in creating connections – but you have to be intentional at it, as with each of these areas. It is more than history, it is closeness.
4. Shared Imagination of the future: A sense of we’re all going in the same direction. This is the hardest of all. We have different opinions and different perspectives. One of the reasons Jesus spoke of humility is because we have to get beyond agendas. It is this fourth point I want you to reflect on today. Service to the community lies at the heart of the Communitas’ mission. By its very nature, to serve is a collaborative process; doing with, as well as for someone.

What is our mission as a church? What is our motto? Why do we have it? We have it because this is our shared imagination of the future. It is where we want to go as a church, and where we as a community of Believers want each of us to go. In fact, we believe it is a vital road that we all need to be on with others regardless of whether we fit into one community or another at the present. If you aren’t part of one, find a community you can join because this is a journey where we need friends on the way. The journey has 2 parts.

To Know the Love of Jesus. This first part is expressed in the passage we read earlier. As you read Galatians 6, you get a sense of community involvement and while the chapter is addressing an individual’s error, it is written in the context of the community, the church. That speaks to you and I. Here we are in community, but we have come as individuals. We come from different age groups, different social structures, different histories, both good and bad; both of our doing and as bystanders. Part of what makes us a strong community is those differences, for they add to the whole mix of who we are as a group.

To know the love of Jesus is to know Jesus. You have to have an understanding of who He is (and who He isn’t) and who you are before Him. One of the reasons we meet on Sundays is to seek to know God better. We look at the Bible and see what it reveals about God. This book reveals His character, and so we encourage people to read it, to memorize it, to study it. It shows us God’s character – and reveals our own character. You want to change? Do it with the guidance of the one who created you. He wants to make you more like His Son, more like Jesus. He wants your life to be involved in eternal things, not simple things of no consequence. You and I both know that those eternal things are all focused on people. So we do our best to focus on people and relationships and becoming more like Jesus.

So here we are, all of us on this journey, this spiritual pilgrimage. As community, we are all progressing to this imagined future of looking and behaving more like Jesus. Is that your commitment? Are you with us on this journey? This is what this community is about. Let’s pray and renew our commitment together. Pray after me in your own heart this prayer:

Jesus, today I make this commitment to be more like you. I commit to do it in your strength, your way, not mine. I surrender all that I am and have to this task, and I join my brothers and sisters on this path of surrender, that we may become a community that reflects your love and grace. We confess our shortcomings and sins that get in the way of this journey. Forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness that blacks our relationship with you. We praise your name, Amen.

To Live the Love of Jesus.  Just being in a community with others who have made that commitment is quite the thing. The only problem is if that is the only commitment we make we become a modern monastery. We need to have a purpose beyond ourselves if we are to be truly a communitas. This common purpose we share is to “live the love of Jesus in our communities”. This church building is like a mission station. We come to learn and be encouraged, to be equipped and discover our gifts and talents if we don’t already know them, but we don’t really go into the mission field until we leave the door out front. What do we do with our faith out there? How do we live our life in such a way that Jesus can be seen? We sing, “Shine Jesus Shine” but do we live it? Is Jesus seen in our business and money management? Is Jesus seen in how we look after our stuff? Is Jesus seen in how we talk with our neighbours, in how we interact with them? Some people only show their faith as it relates to the church, and so people think Jesus is only concerned about them if they go to church. How small a God is that? Living the love of Jesus is living big on the compassion scale, on the “life on the street” scale. Excellence in all you do is a hallmark of following Jesus.

Our church, our community, our Communitas, is about coming together to know the love of Jesus, and going apart to live the love of Jesus. We all subscribe to that. That is who we are and what we are about. Like those trapeze guys who have their own strengths and part of the program, at the same time as relying on the others to be there when they need them.

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