Life is better in community.
Life is wonderful and messy and joyous and painful and dangerous and delicate, and all of it is beautiful. And it is intended to be shared.
It was created to be shared. We were created to live in community.
Community is more than simply a collection of people. Proximity does not make a community, though it can aid it. Living in the same town does not create a community, though it can create a need for it. Community is formed when people come together to serve a common cause, and it is held together by self-giving and sacrificial love.
Community accentuates life. It is in community that victories are shared, joy becomes contagious, and milestones are celebrated. It is also in community that the messiness of life becomes something beautiful, and heavy burdens are shouldered by many rather so they cannot crush individuals, and the emotional strength of those who possess it is distributed among those who do not, so that there is always a shoulder to lean on or cry on.
It is possible to be a party of a gathering of people who are not a community. And it is possible for a community to fall apart when the self-giving, sacrificial love that held it together gives way to rumor, innuendo, lies, accusations, suggestion and gossip. When forgiveness is withheld, friendship becomes exclusive, and love becomes a commodity which we distribute with caution, community quickly falls apart.
And when that happens, life is still messy and painful and dangerous and delicate, but it is no longer wonderful or joyous or beautiful. Instead, it is just tragic.
The phrased used by magicians, “abracadabra,” is said to have Hebrew (or arguably Aramaic) roots. Depending on the etymology, it can be translated either as “I create that which I speak,” or “it came to pass as it was spoken.”
And anyone who spends any time observing the way a community functions recognizes that the way we speak of our community determines, like magic, the way our community operates. When we speak life into community, the community operates with a bold and empowering freshness. And when we speak death into our communities, our communities die. Abracadabra – the reality we speak is the reality we create.
In the beginning (of the week) the church spoke its new reality, and it happened, and it was good. Or bad. Just as God spoke us into creation, the words of our mouths shape the realities available to us. Our words become flesh, and live or die among us.
Most people recognize this as true. If the coach of a little league softball team says “well kids, we already know we’re going to lose this game, but let’s try not to embarrass ourselves,” Abracadabra, the conclusion of the game has already been determined. The team will lose. On the contrary, if the coach says “we’ve worked hard to compete well against this team! Let’s give it everything we have!” you can be sure that the team will, indeed, give it everything they have.
Where charity is absent, community is absent.Let’s be blunt… we’re talking about the church. When we act like defeat is a foregone conclusion, we have defeated ourselves already. When we speak the death of our congregation is imminent, we’re probably right. When we call leaders unfit to lead, followers unfit to follow, and workers unfit to work, we end up with leaders who people are unlikely to be followed, followers who are unable to trust leaders, and workers who are left without work, or the desire to work. When we speak like we’re on a carriage to hell, we invite hell into our presence and hand it the reigns.
But when we speak the truth that God is a God of miracles, of unfailing love, of immeasurable possibility, who redeems, rebuilds, and restores, who is always for us and never against us, and who brings unexpected victory out of impossible odds, then we have started to place our faith in a God who is faithful – and we have stopped defeating ourselves. When we speak the victory of God into situations that feel like defeat, then at the very least, we begin to imagine new possibilities and place faith in the redemptive nature of Christ rather than the destructive powers of hell; and community takes shape accordingly.
And the God who we have placed our faith in is a God who knows a little something about community.
Not only did God create humankind to be in community with Him, but God existed in community before he ever created humankind. We worship God in three persons; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is perfect unity, perfect relationship, and perfect community.
The term scholars use to describe the inner-relationship of God is perichoresis, which is Greek, and can be literally translated as rotation. Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist in constant movement; in divine, circular dance. God is perfect, unblemished, unthreatened community.
God knows a thing or two about community.
And God has called his people into a special kind of community. God calls us to come together as His Church. And one of the most awesome things that the Church does is to remind us that life is beautiful. The Church is a community that is set apart from other communities, so that we are not subjected to the fear that is prone to spreading through a community, and we are not threatened by the lies that are closely guarded in order to maintain false community, and we do not find our meaning in frivolity, power, personal gain, or any other attribute of this world.
But these very things are constantly creeping in, aren’t they? Frivolity threatens our worship as we chase trends and show rather than chasing God. Power is at stake with every decision and every change – especially when there is fear. Personal gain has shown itself to be a challenge and struggle for clergy and laity alike.
These things have always challenged the church. But they are especially challenging in a society like ours, in which every decision seems to be binary and without nuance. Everything is black and white, left and right, correct or incorrect. There can be do disagreements without demonizing those who disagree with us. A person does not simply disagree; they are the enemy. How can community exist in a society like this?
The simple answer is that it can’t. Our community – our churches – will fail as long as these are the prevailing practices. Where charity is absent, community is absent. It really is that simple.
And that’s why the community of the church is so important. Because the church is a community of Christians – and Christians are quick to forgive, slow to anger, speak and listen with charity, and recognize that disagreements are not only inevitable, but they’re also okay – we survive disagreement! Community is stronger with diversity! The community of the church, which is shaped by people who are pursuing Christ together and marked by self-emptying love, thrives when we learn to live together charitably.
And our lives are better, too – because it is only in community that our lives can be lived as they’re intended.
When the church connects – when the Spirit of God empowers a people to truly reflect when it means to exist in self-giving, loved-enriched, perichoresis-reflecting community – nothing compares. That’s the kind of church that, I think it’s safe to say, we all want. But abracadabra – that which we speak, we create. What do your words say about the future of your church?