I loved seeing our community at Awakening Church at one service this week, and while we were worshipping outside, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of togetherness.
I never get tired of talking about community. I often viscerally respond to the presence of good community, even in the most ordinary experiences, like sharing an amazing meal where good food and conversation are never lacking, or going to an intense football game where everyone around me is cheering with me for our team, or being at a concert where everyone is feeling the music together. In situations like these I stop for a second, look around, and know that this togetherness is desperately good. We belong to each other and with each other like this. Embarrassing as it is, I admit the theme song from the show Friends does it for me—“I’ll be there for you” and all that. Or when I see ads on TV with people gathering around a table, I can just tell they are having a good time and they obviously deeply love each other. You, I trust, aren’t as sentimental. But in all seriousness, we all want to be known, to be understood, to belong, to matter.
It’s as simple as this: We are created for each other, and we long for community because we are called into it by God.
That’s what the Greek word ekklesia, from which we get the word “church,” means—those who are called out, the way the disciples were called out of their old lives into a life walking with Jesus. I think it’s important to remember that becoming the Church—this radical new kind of community where social status, race, gender, and all other barriers are irrelevant—wasn’t their idea. It was Jesus’s idea. They didn’t come together like a group of guys forming a community basketball league; they came together because Jesus called them together and made them into the Church. So, as the Church, our desire for togetherness is rooted in Jesus’s call, which is strengthened by his command to love each other as he has loved us and his prayer that we all would be one as he and the Father are one (John 17: 20-21). We long to be in community because God, who is a community of persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), has made humanity in God’s image (imago dei) to also be a community—and we can’t do that without getting up close and personal together.
But this means community is scary—it’s messy and uncomfortably close.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul puts it this way: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. […] Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:10, 15 NIV). We are called to be a community where our happiness and pain is mixed up in each other’s happiness and pain, where we really know each other deeply—secrets and faults and all—and love each other anyway. And I do not mean “love each other” in a sentimental, greeting-card kind of way (like those TV commercials I mentioned), but in the way that real families love each other. Even though they may drive each other crazy, they know deep down (maybe buried very deep down) that they belong to each other and couldn’t imagine life without each other. It’s the same in the Church; we are all brothers and sisters because we are called together as the Church to be a family, bound with that same kind of unconditional love.
We as the Church are called to be a community characterized by radical inclusion, raw honesty, indiscriminate hospitality, abundant generosity, unconditional love, and I could go on. Often this community we so rightfully crave seems dauntingly far away. Trying to be [come] this kind of community is difficult, and things get in the way of being the community and the people we know we should be. Sometimes it seems that we are often most deeply wounded by the people closest to us; our community is made of people who are (to use a terrible cliché) only human after all. But still we go on meeting together, sharing life together, and loving each other anyway because that is what we are called to do.
We couldn’t live—I mean truly live the abundant life Christ came to give us—any other way.
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