September 24, 2017

Easter People (3)

Road to Emmaus (detail), Buoninsegna

By Chaplain Mike

Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren…(Matthew 28:10)

Thus far in our series on the “newness of life” that is ours in Christ we have discussed:

  • Our new baptismal identity in Christ. We have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3)
  • The new freedom to obey that is ours in Christ. We are free to “put off” attitudes and actions that are contrary to genuine love now that we have “put on” the new creation.

Today in Colossians 3:12-17, we look at the new community of love in Christ, the forever family into which we have been born anew, the supportive context in which we learn to live and love as God’s children.

In Scot McKnight’s book, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, he quotes a sermon from Pastor Efrem Smith about the connections between life in Christ and the church:

We can’t arrive at the beloved community
until we arrive at the beloved church,
and we can’t arrive at the beloved church
until we find the beloved life—
the life of God’s love for us in Christ,
and that is visibly seen in Jesus’ giving his life for us.
Life of God, church of God, and the community of God.

One.Life, p. 99f

As many of us know from our discussions on Internet Monk, this may be one of the hardest aspects of being Easter People for many to face. A number of us find ourselves in the wilderness when it comes to church. New life in Christ? We’re good with that. New obedience in Christ? Though we lament our constant failures, we nevertheless recognize that Jesus changes lives. But new community in Christ? Frankly, we’ve been disappointed, or worse.

However, the reality remains. I like the way Scot McKnight puts it: “The dream of Jesus never lets anyone dwell in solitude; the dream of Jesus never creates individualism. The dream of Jesus always creates kingdom community” (One.Life, p. 101).

I think we are right to think of this community primarily in terms of family.

God ordained that babies should be born into families. He did not intend that any of us should enter the world alone or find our way in it alone. Instead, he made it (when families function according to plan), that newborns would be welcomed into a multi-generational household of relationships in which they might be fed, provided for, nurtured, taught, enjoyed and treasured, protected, and guided along the path of life by those who love them with a commitment that is deeper than voluntary attachment. We choose our friends. We do not choose our kin. We are part of them and they of us from day one.

Families, of course, like every part of creation, suffer because of evil, sin, and death. Family relationships are not what they should be. That one sentence summarizes the vast majority of this world’s literature, art and drama. To say “dysfunctional family” is to be redundant. Nobody helps us or hurts us like our families.

The new community of Jesus, the church, is the extended family into which newborn Christians are welcomed. Baptism provides our entrance into this new clan of parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles. God’s intention is that the church be the supportive community in which believers live and love, grow and mature.

Today’s text describes many of the dynamics involved in that.

  • Humble, kind-hearted regard for one another: “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
  • The practice of forgiveness: “bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”
  • Bottom-line, a commitment to love: “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”
  • A commitment to seek peace and express gratitude: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.”
  • Keeping God’s Word the central energizing focus in the community: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
  • Letting Jesus mediate everything you say or do: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

These instructions sound beautiful, but the relational situations they imply are as down and dirty as they come. Family life demands hard stuff like patience, putting up with the faults and idiosyncrasies of others, practicing forgiveness, dealing with complaints and conflicts, and learning to accept teaching and admonishment.

Last year, we ran a post that reminded us of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s teaching about life in community, from his classic book, Life Together. Bonhoeffer, who led a seminary whose students lived a communal life, wrote realistically about the false “wish-dreams” many of us have about Christian fellowship in the church. Our utopian visions of “perfect love” inevitably disappoint. Focusing on the church of our imagination, we find ourselves unable to accept the church as it is.

We concluded the post with the following three points that remind us we can only live out the life of the new community as we live out our baptism each day; dying to sin and rising again to newness of life in Christ.

  • Christian fellowship, Christian community, our “life together” in Christ must not spring from some utopian ideal we have in our minds or a longing in our own hearts for human connection.
  • It is a spiritual reality, already created for us in Christ, here for us to receive with thanksgiving.
  • We go into every relationship, every interaction, with our eyes on Jesus first, and with the realistic perspective that we can only relate to others by means of grace, forgiveness, and trust in the Word of God. We relate to one another through Jesus.

Comments

  1. Much to ponder. Much to receive and live into. I wincingly like Bonhoeffer’s words as well : “If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ”.

    Truly beautiful and humbling. God has done so much for us in Christ. How can I be such a whiner!

  2. “Truly beautiful and humbling. God has done so much for us in Christ.” Amen!

    “How can I be such a whiner!” It’s easy. Watch me! 😀

  3. David Cornwell says:

    How can any pastor lack for something to preach?