I Peter 2: 11-25 (sel)
Annie Dillard, author of 'Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,' says that if we really knew what was going on when we came to worship God, we'd best wear crash helmets . . .
We have been talking about community. As St. Paul puts it in Romans 12:5: "We, being many, are one body.”
The major text we’ve been considering is in Ephesians 3 - "I pray that you, being rooted & established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide & long & high & deep is the love of Christ, & to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."
A few years ago I was in Ephesus, part of a trip with other to visit the ancient sites, now mostly ruins, of the seven churches of The Revelation, the Bible's last book . . . and Ephesus is one of the cities.
The day we were in Ephesus, we paused to have devotions – sitting high in the amphitheater where Paul and his friends had been brought, after their teaching and Jesus-actions had caused a riot. Luke records in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles that the crowd shouted for over two and a half hours: "Great Diana! Great is Diana of the Ephesians. The Temple of Artemis (or Diana), considered one of the wonders of the ancient world, was located in Ephesus. The citizens were devout and proud of the fact.
A colleague, Dr. Harry Gardner, led a devotional time as we sat high in the theatre. He began with these words: "When Paul came in to Ephesus, he came in hot!" I'll never forget that. Paul was full of the Spirit of Jesus and passionate about the Gospel, and about sharing it with the people of Ephesus. He wrote elsewhere that the love of Christ constrained him. I hope that may be said of you and me.
We have been thinking about Paul's use of spatial dimensions to describe God's love, and so I’ve been thinking about my visit to Ephesus. We saw the ruins of the temple of Diana; it's beginning construction was in the 8th century BC. The length of the temple in Paul’s time was 425 feet & its width: 225 feet. It was completely covered with white, highly-polished marble. It had 127 columns that were 60 feet high, supporting the roof.
When Paul shared his heart and passion that the Ephesians Church would know the fullness of God's love, in all of its dimensions, I think he may have been comparing and contrasting. Those who listened as someone read aloud his letter could have looked up to see the huge temple dedicated to Diana.But Paul is saying: "I am not talking about that – or any such Temple; not even about the Temple in Jerusalem. I'm not speaking of a such an ediface made of stone, bricks, marble and mortar; I'm talking about another Temple that reveals the fullness of God's love, one that will fill the whole earth as an expression of God’s love.
This temple is comprised of all the followers of Jesus who’ve embraced the Gospel and received its Holy-Spirited effects and fruits, so much so, that the members of this Building are filled with God's love - at least they could and should be.
We are thinking about the depth of God’s love as shown so wondrously, so fully in Jesus, which is to be demonstrated today in the Community of Love, the Church. God reached down to us, reaches down, still - bends His ear to hear our prayers, our cries, our groans, our worship, stoops to rescue and to save, lifts us up and out to a firm place of standing and blessing. The Psalmist wrote that God had 'lifted him up and out of the pit, out of the slime of miry clay, and set his feet on his rock and established His way.'
Maybe it’s like a grandparent, and I know what this is like, though bones are creaking, groaning, protesting, who gets down on the floor and lets their grandbaby crawl all over them, playing, encouraging, holding and hugging.
How deep is God's love? St. Paul writes in Philippians 2 of how Jesus left aside the glories of heaven, descended to this earth and humbled himself – even to suffering death on a Roman cross. He bore our sins himself in his body on the cross so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness. By his wounds we have been healed. For we were like sheep going astray, but now have returned to the Shepherd & Bishop of our souls.
Jesus came to the lowest, descended to the depths of our humanity, in the midst of depravity, and yet He did not sin.
How deep the Father's love for us,
how vast beyond all measure
that He should give His only Son,
to make a wretch His treasure.
Corrie Ten Boom suffered in a Concentration Camp during WWII because her family had dared to hide Jews from Nazi tyrrany. She had a sister, who were murdered there. But Corrie's words are words of hope, because she knew the God of love. She believed that He is God and he is good, despite the ravages and results of sinful humanity she saw all around. Her voice echoes to us today in the midst of our own need, our own pain or discouragement: ‘There is no pit so deep but that God’s love is not deeper still.'
THE COMMUNITY OF LOVE IS TO SHOW THIS – GOD’S DEEP LOVE.
We Show God’s Love . . .1. WHEN WE EXPERIENCE SACRIFICE & DEEP SUFFERING
Like her Master, the Community of Love is no stranger to suffering. The Church of Christ, that Scripture calls 'the Body of Christ,' experiences suffering daily, around the world. We e know this as we follow each day the news out of Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and elsewhere. Said the hymnwriter: 'It is the way the Master trod, should not the servant tread it still?'
Jesus disciple, the Apostle Peter wrote (I Peter 2:11-25) - "It is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth. When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted himself to Him who judges justly."
The Christian Church, the Community of Love, was built on this strong, deep, firm foundation. Said the early Church leader: 'The Blood of Martyrs is seed.' Most of the Apostles died as they sought to lay the foundations of churches throughout the world, in the missional advance of the Gospel. Sacrifice means putting ourselves out for others. We are to extend ourselves to and for others, first of all those in the Body of Christ - not exclusively, but first of all, say the Scriptures – perhaps as a kind of training-ground or practice-pad, with people who know we’re amateurs at all this, but trying to do it better
Is it costing you very much, anything at all to be a follower of Jesus? Are you sure you are?
Then there's Friendly Fire . . . All of us have experience communal times when things did not work out the way they should have, the way we’d hoped for. We have been hurt; we know others who have been hurt (and perhaps have left and never darkened the door of another church). We will be wounded by ‘friendly fire’ – wounded even by the Community we love. One can be emotionally disemboweled in (and by) some churches. And sometimes when things go very badly wrong, we’ll be tempted to whine and complain, to leave for somewhere else – even temptd to give up on church and God.
The great musician Franz Schubert composed six Latin masses. And, in each of them, when he came in the credo, to the part that affirms belief in the Church: "one holy Catholic and apostolic Church," well, he left that bit out. He found it difficult, you see, to move from the sublime contemplation of the holy, to the ridiculous band – that all too human and sometimes mundane group of frail pilgrims called the Church. Maybe we want to say - 'And who could blame him.'
We can understand that musically, but Schubert had another reason. It is that he and his brother, who was 12 years older than he, were brought up in a Christian home that was full of bigotry, and so he developed a distaste for the church, and they both turned to a more unconventional sort of faith. He just left out the church; he would not be the first, nor last to do that. But there’s no community that will not disappoint you and let you down, for just as in any family or organizataion there will be various aspects of dysfunction. But it's spiritually dangerous to leave out the church; it jeopardizes the soul, being in danger of despising what God calls precious, the Bride for whom Jesus died. The body an survive without a hand but the hand cannot survive without the rest of the body.
But the Community of Love can also bring to us Deep Care. There are people in this community who are there for us, and we know it. They help and console; they lift us back up. They remind us that even in painful times & experiences, God’s at work, for we can see and experience it in and through them. As we receive all things as from His hand, even bitter things that happen can make us better, for we sometimes grow best through adversity. As Margaret Clarkson put it in her book of this name: Grace Grows Best in Winter.
2. We Experience God’s Love . . . (and thus too we can show it)
We may enter into the deep cousel and purposes of God. Community provides opportunity and space for that to happen. This is one of Paul’s major themes in his letter to the Ephesians: all that God wants to do is in and for and through God's People, the Church - to touch the world. 'God placed all things under His feet,' writes Paul, 'appointing Jesus to be Head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.'
Jesus is the Revealer of the Deep Things of God and also the deep things of our hearts and this Jesus is our Master & Friend. In Christ, said Paul, 'are hidden all of the treasures of wisdom.' In Him we find the deep wisdom of God, the profound ways this world is supposed to work. It's th wisdom and knowledge that can put it right-side up (and each life too, as we trust Him and obey HIm). Jesus is Key to our experiencing and living the Christian Life and our growing into fuller participation in the Life He called ‘abundant.' He brings us into a deeper love of God and for our world.
In I Cor 2:9, Paul refers to some quotations of Isaiah, an Old Testament prophet: - "It is written: "What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, & what no human mind has conceived" -- the things God has prepared for those who love him." But Paul adds: 'But these things God is revealing to us by his Spirit, for the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.' God’s Spirit brings truth to us, speaks truth to us in all kinds of ways - primarily through Scripture but also through the loving, truthful, caring words and actions of other members of the Body of Christ: this Community of Love – the Church.
The 'deep things of God' may come to us as a word of direction, or correction, perhaps as a word of encouragement or warning. Such a message can come from a seemingly chance word shared as we worship and fellowship together here. Some of us come to church expecting to hear God in the message, the sermon; and maybe you will. We come, expecting to hear and experience God in the music and in the worship; and maybe we will in this way too. But it is also possible that some of us will hear God simply by the words of a friend. It is not just that the Message is the message, but the whole service can be the message, and some individual part or the combined whole. God may speak or touch your life in some way through what someone says to you, how they welcome you, how they show authentic interest and care, share their life with you.
Now, What Can we do Intentionally That Will Enhance Community?
1. Increase our Shared Life of Prayer.
There is this week as many weeks, prayer gatherings in homes. A Community of Love prays for one another, prays together when possible. People of all ages gather and mentor or are mentored. We bless one another in our times together, in our conversations. Perhaps we can simply stay and interact with people, instead of rushing off to pursue our busy day. We have official greeters at the door but as or more importantly all of us could be moved to interact with each other; yes with friends, but perhaps more often than sometimes we do, with someone new, someone on the sidelines, or one who cannot stand as long. There's always someone who needs to be noticed, listened to - and hugged.
2. We can have (more) communal meals together – potluck suppers and the like.
The Alpha ministry rediscovered the joy of this simple approach. Let’s organize "look who is coming to dinner" Sunday's and we will; but the point of these, surely, is to encourage and demonstrate what could be happening on a regular basis, unannounced and not organized for any specific time, so that our homes are open, hospitable gathering places. The Lord’s Table (Eucharist or Communion) is also to serve as example for it too is about invitation, welcome and hospitality – about inclusion and embrace in our homes or whever we may be. People may be welcomed in the vestibule and over coffee fellowship downstairs, but they will not be fully part of this community until they are invitged into our homes - and we into theirs. Throw more potatoes into the pot; make more perogies; figure out how to feed more people in your home, gathered together at your table.
3. We can make our boards and committees 'Gatherings,' in essence, small group gatherings.
We can include time for prayer, sharing and interaction, eating together and listen to each other's stories, and then follow the necessary business and planning and functioning. Many who tried this have found that the meetings are shorter and that business flows more readily and happily, and is more quickly done. If Church leaders do not model community, community will not happen. It takes time and patience; it will be messy and not always fruitful nor create quick progress. It may be slow and not so slick, but it will build a temple, a community of love, that lasts. It will create - as somewhat has recently called it: ‘Slow Church’ - but it may well lead to ‘Deep Church.’
4. We could take some tests together.
Perhaps we'd have a night, or have small group or leader-groups and committees and take a test, like Myers-Briggs, Kolbe, True Colours. This would help us discover the gifts of others and learn how to receive and best acknowledge the unique contributions of others. And it would give each one more permission to simply be our God's-gift self.
5. Older Ones Can Mentor Younger Ones.
We intentionally seek to give who we are away to others. If every young person in the church, and each child in school, every young person away at college, had someone praying for them, asking them how things were going, remembering their birthday, being interested in their families, this would be a godsend to them, could revolutionize the church and deepen our sense of community. Young couples needs advice and encouragement from older couples. Those who have had children need to pray for and offer wisdom and assistance to those who are still having children. And there are people who have gone through divorce, or who have an autistic child, and those suffering from all kinds a brokenness, like being beat up for being gay, who need help and need to help, who need to share and need to be shared with.
We are to be the community of love. This is how we are to be known, says our Master, Jesus. Everything else - our doctrines and our differences, our preferences and opinions of whatever - everything else is secondary, second to our being lovers: lovers of God, lovers of one another and of the world around us, just outside our door.