It’s a buzz word right now in churches. I’m not sure why. I haven’t spent any time researching what feels like a resurgence of the word or the idea. But maybe community’s making a comeback because we spent too much time in the eighties and nineties individualizing Christianity and singing about “me and Jesus” over and over in praise and worship choruses only to discover there’s more to Christianity than just me and Jesus. Or maybe we’ve begun to promote community again because we’re finally re-discovering our faith in humanity after WWII dismantled it. Or maybe it just took forty years for the Youngblood’s lyrics “everybody get together, try to love one another right now” to finally sink in to our psyche.
I’ve been in a lot of communities in my life. There was my family growing up, my home church community, Wyatt Park Baptist, and my Noyes Elementary School community. There was the community of my parents’ friends and their kids that always used to hang out together and take weekend trips to Lake Viking together. There was my neighborhood on Folsom Terrace and Ashland Court, which was another community. When I moved on to Bode Middle School and Central High School there were lots of communities to belong to, but I think they may call those cliques. ☺ In college I found community in Delta Zeta Sorority and in the Christian Student Ministries on campus. But it wasn’t until I moved to Waco, Texas and made friends at Truett Seminary that I began to give language to all these different groups in my life. And while in Seminary, I was taught by my fellow seminarians, my new church and my new friends, that community was what it was all about.
I’ll never forget one conversation with my friend, Lance. While I can’t remember the context whether it was about paying bills or dealing with sick parents, I remember he said to me, “Well, I’m saving up money for when Phil’s dad dies; I figure we’ll have to fly up with him to be at the funeral.”
I remember being startled by that statement. But I nodded my head as I began to understand the community I was entering into. It was a group of friends who stood by one another, defended one another, encouraged one another, rebuked one another and would use their savings to fly to a funeral of their friend’s father whom they didn’t even know.
We called each other sister and brother when I lived in Waco, not because we wanted to be Catholic or cheesy Christians but because we were literally that close with one another. I remember Phil would introduce me as his “little sister, Ann.”
I think because we were all single, all went to school together, and most of us went to the same church, we became a community that literally lived with one another. Every Sunday we intentionally ate a meal all together and called it Sunday Lunch Bunch. If two people in our community began dating and then their relationship ended, it grieved our whole group who wept over the loss.
And of course, winding through all these events and relationships was a theology of community. An idea that church meant more than a building you attend on Sunday morning, but instead was something we are, something we do. We were church to one another. The disciples rallied after Jesus’ death, at first scared, then mobilized to action and growth, and finally willing to die for the relationship they had with that man.
And because of the relationship we have with Jesus Christ and our eternal endebtedness to him for accepting us as we are, forgiving us, and setting us free to live abundantly in God’s love, so do we participate in the church today, so do we live out what it means to be church to one another. So do we reach out a helping hand to someone who could use an extra one, so do we reach into our pocket when our neighbors have lost their jobs, so do we reach into our soul and revisit hard times when friends need to be encouraged by our story.
Do you know what Jesus prayed for right before he died? He prayed for the unity of all believers, that they would be one in Christ. He prayed for community.
And so here we are today. Still trying to figure out what it means to usher in the kingdom of God, still trying to figure out how to be church to one another, still trying to live authentically as a community of Christians.
Of course, one of the hardest parts of being in community is when someone refuses community. My uncle passed away last weekend. He was an alcoholic and he was in a rut. And everyone in his community reached their hands down to him in the hole he had dug for himself, and tried to talk him in to taking hold. But he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t. He insisted on staying where he was, alone. And it cost him his life.
Time and time again we as a community at FBC reached out to Scott Walker. And time and time again he took our hands, but one day he didn’t. And while he is still with us, things have never been the same.
It’s hard watching someone make a bad decision. It’s especially hard for me as a college minister. I have to let my students make their own adult decisions. I can give advice, and model Christian living and share God’s love, but I cannot live their lives for them. Only they can do that. They are responsible for the things they choose.
It’s hard watching people who are hurting. We Pittman girls are pretty sensitive people, so it’s hard for me to watch someone who is sad and extend empathy to them, but not be able to help them. It’s hard for me. It’s hard for any community because we want our community to be able to live life to the fullest, but ultimately, all we can do is love.
Because ultimately, we are all accountable to God ourselves. Our communities have the capacity to save us, but only if we take their outstretched hands. I can’t tell you how many times my community has “saved” me. To this day, I still miss the close community of friends I had in Waco, Texas. It was a beautiful time in my life.
But I’ve found beautiful community here too. When I first bought my house, something exploded and water was all over the place. Marshall, the business manager at our church, left work and went to my house to take a special fan that would suck up the water. He hardly knew me! It wasn’t his “job” to take care of me, but he did. One morning after one of my boyfriends broke up with me, Elspeth, Valerie, Amy and Cinda showed up at my door with flowers and donuts and four pairs of listening ears and hurting hearts. When I found out my uncle died on Friday, I made it through acupuncture, made it through a meeting, made it all the way until the evening when I went over to my best friend’s house, and there, with true community, I knew it was finally okay to cry. And I did.
Community has the ability to enlighten and encourage us or it has the opportunity to corrupt and condemn us. And that’s why Christ prayed for future believers. In our unity we can demonstrate Christ’s love and in our disunity, we can destroy one another. So take care that you are in a community that loves you and comfort yourself that the best you can do is love them back. You cannot save them, you cannot take away their pain, but you can love your community, and if you’re lucky they’ll love you back.
On a road to Jerusalem, a wounded man discovered that his enemy, a Samaritan, proved to offer true community. On the road from the pig sty up to his dad’s house, a son discovered his father provided unconditional community. On a cross the disciples discovered what it really means to love your neighbor and to lay down your life for a friend.
Community doesn’t always come where you expect it. And you’re welcome to deny its extended hand, but like Jesus, my prayer tonight is that we give thanks for the beautiful community we have in this church, in our families, in our schools, in our workplaces, and amongst our friends. It is my prayer that we enter into fervent prayer for one another as we all experience difficult times. It is my prayer that we extend a welcoming hand and an open heart to the people around us. And it is my prayer that if that hand is refused, we stand in unity nonetheless.