Partaking in Community – June 7, 2009
June 7, 2009
Mark Twain said a lot of wonderful things! For example, he said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is [still] putting on its shoes.” Or how about this one. “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” But here’s one of my favorite. Twain once said, “Sincerity is everything! If you can fake that, you’ve got it made!”
That’s great stuff! But the one I really want to start with today is this. Twain once said this about parenting. (Some of you have heard me say this before.) “When a child becomes a teenager, you should put him in a barrel and feed him through the knothole. And then when he turns 17, you should plug up the hole!”
Those of you who have had teenagers know wonderful that can be! It can be a totally amazing thing watching children transform into adults! Last week we saw those, who many of us remember as little kids, standing before us being confirmed. I hope you realize what a beautiful thing that was.
However, the humor in Twain’s quote belies the fact that there can also be some difficult and even heartbreaking times in the process of raising teenagers. Parenting can often become more and more difficult as children grow up and start to have minds of their own. And the thing that makes it tough is that there is an increasing number of adults all living together under one roof.
It’s been said that you can take any two adults and put them together in the same house, and eventually they’ll come to a point where each is ready to toss the other one out – or worse! Isn’t that true? People have different habits and different ways of doing things. And those differences start to grate on us after a while. Think about it. Why is it a big deal which end of the toothpaste tube gets squeezed, or whether the toilet paper comes over the top or underneath.
Do you remember The Odd Couple? It started out as a Neil Simon play, but became a TV Show with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. One was the quintessential “neat freak” while one the quintessential slob! It was a wonderful example of the difficulties of different living styles brought together in close proximity.
Then, of course, there’s marriage! When two people are dating, things are all wonderful and beautiful. The problem is that they don’t see all those little quirks that come out after the honeymoon is over, and they start living together under the same roof. There can be some very challenging times during that fascinating process of bringing two lives together into one.
Now, I say all that today because we’re looking at this story from Acts 2. And here we have a description of the very early days of the Christian church, when people were existing together, sharing all things in common, distributing resources to any who were in need. And I’ve often wondered whether these people ever got to the point where they were ready to toss each other out!
It’s not really clear from this passage if these people were living in an actual building together, sharing common facilities – as though they were in a compound or a fraternity house or something. But the closeness of this community is unmistakable here! And the fact that they were able to share life together on this level, may have been just as much a miracle as the whole Pentecost experience!!
I may have mentioned before about a time we went to Kansas City for a Christian music festival. When we got there, we found group of protestors at one of the entrances. Being morbidly curious, I went over and asked them what they were “protesting.” And it was very interesting. They were protesting the current state of the Church. They were living in a communal arrangement like the one described in this passage from Acts. And the were saying that if you weren’t living in such a community, then you weren’t following Christ.
Well, I get my dander up when someone says you have to do such and such or you’re not a Christian. And I remember thinking about all those other Christians, who ever lived before, who never lived in such a community. And frankly, that constituted most of the Christians down through the ages. So those people’s premise was a huge judgmental statement about a lot of people! But, then I wonder. Maybe they were on to something.
As I said last week when I gave you a little hint about this service, the principles of Christian community are still the same, whether we live under one roof and share everything in common like they did, or not! We in the church are a Christian community. We say that all the time. When we baptize someone, we ask of the congregation “will you, by your fellowship, strengthen their family ties with the household of God.” That’s a wonderful description of Christian community!
You see, we don’t just watch church on TV. That’s not the nature of the Church. When it comes to thisfaith, we don’t just listen and take in. That’s only half the story. We also give of ourselves. We share life together. We do those things whether we live in a “communal” arrangement or not.
I want you to think about that community today. Here at Eddington we like to talk about our “family atmosphere.” And I’d like you to think about what it takes to live in such a family. Because sometimes family can be tough! Are we ever like an actual family in the way we relate to each other? Do we sometimes get on each other’s nerves? Do we sometimes forget the exhortation to be “slow to anger and quick to forgive?” I know I sound like a broken record on this. But this is so important! We’re all in this together. That old cliché is what makes the Church the Church. But it won’t happen without due diligence! It won’t happen all by itself. It won’t happen if we aren’t intentionally practicing those things in Christian community that are sometimes hard.
The KC group said, “if you aren’t living in a communal arrangement, you aren’t being a Christian.” But I’d like us to think of the principles of Christian community that are behind that statement. If you aren’t choosing to love even those who are hard to love, if you’re angry too quickly with your sisters and brothers in Christ, if you are harboring grudges, something’s not right! I won’t say you’re not a Christian, but I will say that your status of being “conformed to the image of Christ” is in jeopardy! Not only that, but the image of Christ among us is being harmed. And if you’ve ever heard the negative things people outside of the church say about the Church, you know the biggest one is usually “image of Christ” oriented. “Those people are hypocrites!” “They preach love, but they’re always fighting!”
As I said a few weeks ago, we sometimes fall back on the old cliché that “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” And the problem is that too many Christians use that as an excuse not to be perfect! But we follow a savior who said, “You, therefore, must be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) And that right after “For if you love only those who love you, what [good] is that? Do not even the tax collectors that same?” (5:46) Paul would later write, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) And there are there are many more!!
Living in Christian community can be hard, no matter what the actual “arrangements” might be. But it also can make life rewarding and fulfilling and joyful. That’s because God created us to be in community. He made us to be complete when we are in connection with others, and with him. And when it’s working right, we have that joy of life, and that fulfillment in our hearts because we are in community together!
So as we think of the early days of the Church, let us strive to live that relationship with each other. Let us work every day to grow in that love for one another. And let us choose to live in that joy God gives us in this community of faith.
Eternal God, we thank you that you choose to share this life with us. You love us even when we are frustrating to you, and that’s amazing. Teach us to do that, to grow in that love, to share the joy and peace that you give us. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.