Image by SimplySchmoopie via Flickr
For the last several days I have for the most part been stuck on the couch dealing with severe back pain because of a herniated disk. Because of this I have been in a position that I don’t much care for — depending on others to help me. My wife has been an amazing help to me through this as have a number of people from our church.
This is such a tough place for me to be. I hate to rely on others for my care. It feels unnatural to allows others to do for me what I should be able to do for myself. The truth is, at the moment, I can’t do for myself so I must do what comes so unnaturally to me… allow others to help. I hate it, but God is teaching me something significant here. While I am stuck on the couch, the world has not come to end. God has raised folks up to help me in a number of different ways and to continue on in my ministry where I have been unable in the last couple of days. Perhaps I should pay more attention to what God is capable of doing in my weakness instead of what I can do in my strength.
Consider 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10
Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. (The Message)
If you have been following this blog, you know that I have been reading Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together. I have taken a lot way from this book about what it means to be in community with one another as the body of Christ, but I still feel like there is much to learn. In preparing for Sunday’s sermon, I have been looking at 1 Peter 2:1-10 and in light of my interest in community have latched on to verse 5 specifically which states:
like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ. (NRSV)
I think this passage is significant for those who believe the church is nothing more than the building we meet in on Sunday. I have known many folk that are members of the body of Christ, but fail to see the church as more than the building in which they meet. If we hold this verse to be true, then God’s church is built upon the people who make up the body of Christ. Those who follow after Jesus, are a living stone built around the capstone of Christ.
Perhaps our churches would be much healthier if each member resolved to see themselves as a living stone, or brick, in God’s building process. There were many men and women of faith who came before us to lay a solid foundation for our church and there will be men and women of faith who will come after us and use our faith as their foundation to continue God’s building process. May we all allow for God to move us from individual living stones to a spiritual house where we all may serve Him.
Confession is not only good for the soul, it is also good for the community. Bonhoeffer explains the value of confession to the community in Life Together.
In Confession, the break through to community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown.
To be in community is to be known to some degree and our sin rages against this. Our sin isolates us from those we would be in community because it want us to create walls and build barriers to keep who we really our secret and in so doing keeps us from every having to change our behavior. The Gospel demands something entirely from us. It seeks confession and full disclosure. It shuns the idea of hiding, preferring instead vulnerability and authenticity. The Gospel provides us with a choice: to continue to live in sin and therefore isolation or to choose full disclosure and community. Our natural inclination is to fear confession and vulnerability. Its frightening to imagine placing our trust in another, but in order to build a stronger life together, we must find the courage to confess to the Father in and through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. We must also find the courage to confess to one another so that we remove ourselves from isolation and into relationship and accountability. No easy task for any of us, but nothing Jesus asks of us is ever easy…its just right.
I find that I can be guilty of listening to part of what someone has to say and then either assume I know what is going to conclude the statement or begin to formulate a response before I know where the rest of the statement is going. That type of listening is hardly listening at all. Its dangerous and it can be hurtful to the party you are supposed to be listening to. In Life Together, Bonhoeffer reminds us of the importance of listening. He tells us,
The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love of God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only give us His Word but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to Him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.
What a profound statement. Many of the arguments that exist in churches might be remedied faster if we were more inclined to listen first rather than speak first. Unfortunately, we tend toward selfishness and do all that we can to be heard instead of doing all that we can to hear what others are saying.
May we as the body of Christ open our ears as God opens His ears to us. May we listen before we speak, not just in part, but wholly hear the heart of our fellow brothers and sisters.
“We are bound together by faith, not by experience”
Nearly every article, book, or essay I have read about developing a stronger community inside or outside of the church mentions the need for shared experience. This kind of community is often marked by some type of shared activities meant to bring us all closer together. Its pretty tough to argue against this concept. It makes some sense. If we want better communities than it is necessary to commune together. This become significant we we share in partaking Communion together at the Lord’s table. It is an individual experience for sure, but it is also a corporate experience that serves on some mysterious level to foster a deeper connection between us.
However, Bonhoeffer reminds us that it is not simply the experience that binds us together. The experience itself play a role, but there is something deeper at work at the table. We are not simply bound by a shared activity, but by the faith we share in Jesus Christ that brings us to the table to begin with. The same is true for any activity that shared by brothers and sisters in Christ, it is never the event itself that connects us to one another, but it is the presence of Jesus that does the uniting.
This is also how we can be bonded to others in Christ that we have never met. Those Christians that live on the other side of the world are still connected to us not through shared experience but in and through Jesus. This make the church a truly global body. As Bonhoeffer makes clear we are connected by much more than our shared time together. Our communities are not defined by the accumulation of hours spent together, but through our head; Jesus Christ. I know Christians are often separated by denomination, culture, ethnicity, and any number of other things that we lean on to keep us apart, but maybe its time we spent more time focusing on the one thing that transcends all of those differences and unites us together in the body of Christ as its head…and just in case your not sure who that is yet, its Jesus.