Posts Tagged ‘community’

JOHN 10:11-18

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Who were, or are, the “other sheep” outside the fold of the twelve, for whose sake also Jesus had come? By the time the Fourth Gospel was written (c. 95 CE) the early Christian movement had been forced into a clean break from the parent traditions of Judaism, so it may be this non-Jewish mission field that the author has in mind.

The mystical tone and content of this Gospel enabled his community to see in Jesus the revelation – or more accurately, the incarnation – of an eternal and universal reality. If Jesus was the name these early Christians gave to the timely event in history that opened out to include something that was also above or behind history, then might this same outreaching grace of God have been actively present elsewhere and at the same time, but in different circles, throughout the world?

If so, then because God is at work for the redemption of all people, this single divine initiative, refracting into the many rainbow colors as it breaks into the world of time – experienced as red here, green there, and violet somewhere else – can all be known by the name of Jesus.

This is not to say that “all religion” are equally true. But those that propagate a vision for the human future that centers on genuine community, and that inspire their devotees to lives of compassion and forgiveness, might meaningfully be regarded as sheep of other folds, who recognize and respond to the voice of the good shepherd.

JOHN 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

On Easter evening when Jesus first appeared to his disciples, the storyteller says that they were in a house with the doors locked – “for fear of the Jews.” The following week Jesus came to them again, but this time we are told that the doors were only “shut,” not locked. Is it possible that we are witnessing something of a gathering force in this troubled circle, a dawning realization that they are not alone, that a greater power is available to them and even now present within them? They may not be quite ready to go out on their apostolic missing in the world, but this small clue seems to suggest that the disciples of Jesus were getting past their fears.

On both occasions, the first words of Jesus are “Peace be with you.” What is this peace of which Jesus speaks? More than just the absence of trouble or the extinguishment of anxiety, this peace is nothing less than the fulfillment that comes with the vision, the taste, and the joy of wholeness.

For the past several readings we have been exploring the key elements in the formation and health of community – and community (Jesus called it the “kingdom of God”) is the Bible’s most perfect picture of wholeness. Trust among partners, supported by the individual faith in the gracious ground of the divine; fidelity to the ideals and covenantal aims of their life together in relationship; a compassion that flows out of a deeper identity and inspires their mutual care and help; along with the forgiveness that allows them to rise above guilt and blame and recapture the hope of their shared future.

At last, the long ascent of our human spiritual evolution had reached a place where all the necessary ingredients for real peace were present and accounted for. Now it’s up to us.

JOHN 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

The really good news of Jesus was that God’s fidelity to the world is so great and so wide that nothing we do can either earn or disqualify us from the love of God. This insight arises out of the biblical precept, assumed without debate as the bedrock beneath the foundation of Western theology, that God and creation are not co-equal, nor are God and humankind equal partners in the covenantal project. In some early traditions, this disparity between God and humanity produced a definite anxiety over whether God might at some point become so exasperated with the shortfall of human obedience as to commit the entire fiasco to damnation.

By the time of Jesus, however, the ideal of an infinite patience and unconditional love in the heart of God began to open human experience to a divine grace so far-reaching and irresistible, that (perhaps?) nothing could permanently escape its redemptive power.

The term for the extreme energy in love that penetrates every resistance, absorbs every attack, returns kindness for malice, and welcomes the prodigal with a generous embrace, is forgiveness – the fourth essential element of true community. In brief, forgiveness is the act of remaining faithful to covenant while working to rebuild a trust that has been broken or betrayed.

I JOHN 1:1-2:2

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that ourjoy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true;but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Christian community reaches back for its anchor in the life and ministry of Jesus. The longer history of covenant that lay behind Jesus had impressed upon him the importance of fidelity in the formation and longevity of healthy relationships. It was fidelity, or covenant faithfulness, that held God and the desert nation of Israel in a bond of partnership based on Law. And there were times, as mentioned in the First Testament writings, when even God had been prevented by the constraint of covenant obligation from acting impulsively against the people. On one occasion Moses finally succeeded in getting God to repent from His plan to destroy the sinful nation by reminding Him that no one would respect a deity with a reputation for unfaithfulness.

The writer of this epistle reminds his audience that “doing what is true” is essential to the business of being a Christian who lives in the light. It is not enough to merely profess with the lips that you believe this or belong to that; the proof is in your commitments. When the impulse for self-protection or self-promotion begins to tempt your focus away from the bonds of relationship, covenant fidelity is to act instead for the health and future of your union with others and with God.

PSALM 133

How very good and pleasant it is
    when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
    life forevermore.

How very good and pleasant indeed! And yet how rare and endangered true community can seem, especially so in times when our differences outnumber and threaten to overwhelm our agreements. In truth, even though genuine community is the ultimate aim of the evolutionary process itself, valid historical and present-day examples are fewer than we might think and its existence is much more vulnerable than we would wish. The destabilizing forces of egoism (individual selfish ambition) and tribalism (over-identifying with the group) are to some degree constantly present beneath the surface and interfering with its formation and health.

For the next several readings we will be reflecting on the elements of true community, those essential virtues that allow for the genesis and fulfillment of what Jesus called the reign (“kingdom”) of God. The first of these we will name trust, interpreted as the acknowledgment of dependence on realities and persons outside oneself, along with the willingness to adopt a belief in another’s dependability (trustworthiness). Making ourselves vulnerable is a function of how secure we feel in relationship, and also how trustworthy we feel ourselves to be. Our trust in others is a function of our willing and full release to the God of grace.

1 CORINTHIANS 12:3-17

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?

The influence of the Corinthian church plant on the subsequent history of Christianity cannot be overestimated. It was at once a highlight and a profound burden for the apostle Paul – almost from the day he began the mission. Family disputes, immorality, infighting among rival divisions in the congregation, negotiating tension between wealthy and poor, Gentiles and Jews, men and women, slaves and free citizens – the volatility of this group was at times almost more than Paul could manage.

And then this. Perhaps members were so eager to use their talents and resources for the cause of Christian outreach, that in their enthusiasm to plug in and make a difference the congregation began to divide according to the distribution of what Paul would come to call “spiritual gifts.” Whether a natural talent activated by the Spirit of God or more like a special ability endowed on an individual by the Spirit from outside, Paul at least was persuaded that spiritual gifts were how the Church does its work.

                                                                                                            

Whereas a primary role of God’s Spirit was associated with creativity, life, inspiration and wholeness, the upsetting consequence of all these purpose-driven charismatics contending for influence and recognition was the opposite. Elitism was motivating the like-minded and similarly equipped into competitively higher ranks, to the point where the very integrity of the congregation – not to mention the public image of the emerging Christian movement – was in jeopardy.

This is when Paul came to perhaps his most important insight. The Church, he said, is the resurrected body of Christ, the continuing voice and active work of Jesus in the world. Insofar as Christ lives in the individual believer, his or her spiritual gift will necessarily be used for good, be inspired by love, and build up the body rather than tear it apart. Each member has something to contribute, and the outcome will always be unity.

When members begin to grow possessive of their gifts, however, when they start comparing and competing for the stage, this is not of God.

It wasn’t long before the Christian movement fell apart along these dividing lines, of what each faction felt was most important. Today there are hundreds of separate denominations – some based on the gift of teaching, others on the gift of prophecy, others on healing, others on miracles, and still others on ecstatic utterance. Add to this the further disagreements over doctrines, sacraments, purity, and inclusion, and what you have is more like the dismembered cadaver of Christ.

MATTHEW 11:2-11

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

As the forerunner of Jesus, John the baptist was early on forced into a paradigm shift with respect to how his personal expectations matched up with the living reality of Jesus himself.

John had preached the coming of God’s messiah, who would ring down the curtain on history, bring divine vengeance on a sinful world, and make everything right. What he witnessed instead was a spiritual teacher and activist who called people to the compassionate life, proclaimed the universal and unconditional forgiveness of God, and challenged us to be more concerned with being true (authentic, genuine, real) than being right.

Quietly John dispatched a delegation of disciples to inquire of Jesus whether he was or was not in fact the one they had been stumping for. In reply Jesus simply asked, “What do you see?”

John had been anticipating the end of the age by way of an intervention from outside the world-system, as it were. Sinners would pay, pagan kingdoms would fall, and everything would be put in order once again. Jesus, however, followed a different path because he also had a very different vision of reality.

According to his gospel (“good news”), the New Reality that brings the end of this present age is not breaking in from outside but breaking through from within. His work was to empower the poor, not make them rich; to heal the body, not simply rescue the soul; to restore outcasts to full community and personal value in this life, not simply promise them heaven and beatitude in the next.