February 1, 2009 A Gospel-Formed Community
Psalm 133, Phil 1:3-11, Romans 12:3-9
Hannah and I have not had many opportunities to choose our own church. So in the fall of 2006 when we walked in to New Creation Fellowship, we weren’t sure what to expect. It was a typical enough service, with nice looking people, children running around, familiar songs, warm coffee. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing noteworthy. Until their sharing time. And it was here, in a 10 minute time of passing the mic around, that we knew we were home. Cancer. Riding bike as an expression of faith. A struggling prayer/spiritual life. A passage of scripture tht had been meaningful. Candles lit for unnamed concerns. Anger at the president. A lamp was lit in prayer for the people of Iran. Call it transparency, authenticity, sharing. Call it whatever you want. But it was people loving each other. Plain and simple. And we were drawn in.
We experienced that day what theologians have been saying for years, that the church itself is part of the good news we Christians embrace. The church is people. And the gospel is relationships.
Jesus exemplified in his life how gatherings of people can be good news. First of all, he gathered to himself a group of people. He had his 12 disciples, his 3 confidants, and when he sent the disciples out it was 2X2. The church is people, and that reality was and is part of the good news.
This is no different than what Jesus taught. Love is what makes sense of the world. Love. Love. Love. That’s it. He said there is so much love to go around we need to extend it even to our neighbors, and even further still to love our enemies.
The value of relationships for Jesus spilled over from his life and teachings into his prayers. Where he prayed that we “might be one,” just like Jesus and God are one. The early church must have glimpsed an answer to this prayer, because Luke says in Acts that “we are of one heart and mind.” Paul used even more poetic language, saying that we are one body. “We are the body of Christ, and individually members of one another.” There was no such thing as a Christian.
There is no such thing as a Christian.
There is no such thing as a Christian.
But only the church, only the body of Christ. Only people committed to their faith and to their faith community.
And if that’s true, than it is also true that there are no great individual acts, or great individual people. Only communities out of which great things grow. Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Teresa of Avila, Dorothy Day: for all their greatness (and they were great!) they were always only part of the body of Christ, and individually only as strong as the entire body. And so it is with us.
We too, are not alone. We are not alone in our despair. We are not alone in our collapsing finances. We are not alone in our brokenness and doubt. We are not alone in our joy and in our celebrations. We are not alone in our calling, or in our service. No! We are the body of Christ. We are the church. And you are loved. We bear one another’s burdens. Our love is patient, and kind. We forgive not just 7 times but 70 times 7 times. When our peace is broken we will work to restore it. We will love you through prayer. You are not alone.
It is the role of leadership to love our people. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, even if their intentions are ever so honest. But the person who loves those people around him will create community.” That is the role of leadership, to love each member. To build up the body of Christ. To connect people where there was no connection. To strengthen relationships in home and school and work and church. Because you are not alone!
Some of the ways we build relationship at Houston Mennonite Church are through Sunday morning gathering time, our communal decision making process, listening to all voices, sharing time in worship, intercessory prayer, dealing with conflict and Reconciliation, annual membership signing ceremony in January, fellowship meals, Sunday schools, small groups, our on-line blog, email, hospitality.
On Sunday Feb 1, 2009 we introduced a new seating arrangement that better reflects our theology of community. After all, “We shape our buildings, and then our buildings shape us.” A traditional arrangement shapes us to think of worship as a performance by some, and as being in the audience for the rest of us. A circular arrangement places the focus on the people, and more centrally on Christ (through altar, Bible, and candle) as the center of the people. Sitting in the round is a way of practicing our relationships, and highlighting our theology.
But we also have said that we want even more relationship, and an ever deepening sense of connection with each other So I ask you two questions:
First, how can we incorporate new relational practices into our already existing life and ministry settings?
Second, only once we’ve wrestled with the first can we move on to this second question. What are new life and ministry settings we need to create to meet our longing for relationships?
When people love
Relationships are so important to what we are trying to be about here. That makes us realize that our small size is an asset for us, not a roadblock. No, we are not a mega church. And we don’t offer all the programs they might. But just like they offer assets we can’t, we have assets they can’t even begin to touch. A small congregation allows us to know and love each other at a deep and affective level.
We are the body of Christ, and individually members of one another. May it be so for us!
We are Houston Mennonite Church.
And we are what we value.