One of the pithy little sayings that I have often heard is that “siblings keep you from being weird”! My apologies to all the “only child” people out there, you are not weird! This is a comical statement, but it gives a good lesson in what Christian community should be. Apart from typical sibling rivalry, older siblings often keep younger siblings from doing harm to themselves or causing embarrassment to the family. They often set the tone of what family expectations are. In a perfect world, there are lots of lessons to be seen here. But we don’t live in a perfect world, we live in an angry world. A world ablaze with conflict, injustice and a polarizing tribalistic identity that often puts believers at odds with one another. There is no courteous agreement to disagree while remaining friends. If we don’t agree with each other we are wrong, out of touch, punished, cut-off, villainized and perhaps even mocked on social media.
As Christians we need to practice life in community, being the body of Christ. By doing so the world, our angry world, will see Jesus through us. Community serves as a public testimony of our connectedness to Jesus and one another. I think Jesus said it best; “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another” (John 13:35). Sadly, we don’t often live that way. Christian community is not about circling the wagons, shutting ourselves up in our holy huddles with those who look like, live like, and agree with us on all points.
In his classic book “Life Together”, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (if you’ve not read it, get it and read it, again, and again!) says this: “It is simply not to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end, all of his disciples deserted him. On the cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause, he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian too belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes . . . There is his commission, his work” (Life Together p. 17). So we today, – In it, not of it, our place is in the world, our angry world as witnesses of the truth of the Gospel that brings healing, peace, justice and hope through Jesus and Jesus alone.
Our COVID-19 pandemic environment challenges us in our practice of community and social engagement. We are restricted, at times, to smaller groups, fewer gatherings, and more online and social media presence. There are great opportunities to proclaim the hope of the Gospel, to give voice to the voiceless and help guide people from anger to peace, to a better community. Therein is the challenge for us who seek to be in community as the body in an angry world.
In all honesty, I’ve been saddened by what some from the body have publicly vented on social media against others from the body with whom they disagree on everything from recipes to social injustice, from positions on the pandemic to governmental conspiracy theories. I am saddened that we are not loving one another so that the world sees Jesus and are drawn to Him because of our love for one another.
The necessity of healthy community for believers today has never been more needed. As siblings keep us from being weird, so Christian community keeps us from ourselves. Community allows us to speak into each other’s lives, challenging erroneous or harmful thinking, and strengthening one another when we are down. Community can keep us off the soapbox we want so desperately to ascend to air our opinions.
Only when we begin to reflect the characteristics that mark us as different from those in our angry world will we make a difference. We must enter the whirlwind of our culture with a message that helps instead of hurts, a message that heals rather than enflames, a message that draws others to Jesus.
May our words, both inside and outside our community be the balm that soothes and heals the open wounds of the social injustices we encounter, and the sweet honey that attracts lost lives to a better community, an eternal family.
The world is not our home or our destiny, we are here but for a limited time. Let us steward that time wisely.
Praying for peace and opportunity to live as a disciple!
Rev. Bill Allan AGC President