Readings: Romans 12:1-8 Matthew 16: 13-20
We pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our sustainer. Amen.
In this past week, not for the first time, I have been contemplating the nature of community. Aware as we are of the many different personalities and backgrounds and experiences of those we end up in community with, it begs the question of how we manage to maintain a togetherness that gets us through the ups and downs of close relationship. And the truth is that sometimes we don’t and it doesn’t.
Sometimes the hurt is too much, the lack of attention too consistent, the division too high a wall to climb to the top of when you might not find anyone else there. Other times the priorities you have change or, as we say, life moves on.
Communities that jell usually have a strong under pinning ethos – like the co-housing development in High Street focussing on sustainability and communal space – or an over-riding commonality of purpose like supporting the community you live in to support you. It takes effort and enthusiasm and communication and even then it doesn’t take much to fracture the relationship, at least for some.
Good community allows for diversity but encourages common ground. Community has to work hard to ensure no-one is intentionally ostracised and individuals have to work hard to grow and sustain community despite the odd hiccup. And to be effective community we need to help each other - generous at sharing our gifts but also at receiving the help of others, something we are not always good at.
Allow me a moment of nostalgia here: I was reminded of how a good rural community works the other day when I watched a video of cattle droving down in the Catlins – doesn’t happen so much these days of course – but there was a farmer and a neighbouring farmer, their horses and dogs moving cattle from Tahakopa down to Tautuku – helping each other, cars stopped and patient, cattle off the road on the beach where they could, greetings exchanged as they passed by……
In the readings for today we explore both what it means to be a strong community of faith and what the foundation of that community is.
In the letter to the Romans Paul is exhorting the Christian community to live out their faith in a way that reflects their baptism, their commitment to the way of Jesus and to recognise that holy living is in itself an act of worship to God.
And the way he drives this home is by using the analogy of the body – made up of many parts, each of which needs the other to be effective. Smell, touch, hearing, seeing, tasting, engine rooms and things they make work!
And why is he needing to paint this picture for them – because he is warning them against becoming too haughty, too proud, thinking themselves better than others. For that only tears the community apart and rips up its foundations. The rock on which the church is built becomes, as the hymn so wonderfully puts it, sinking sand.
It’s not the only thing, of course, that shakes our foundations but it is symptomatic of the dangers that Paul was aware people needed to be alert for in the new born church inRome. Good community works when we remember why we are community. And for us it is because of Jesus, the Messiah, the son of the living God. He is the rock and it is his purpose that holds us close and demands a way of living that is not easily of this world.
As we have been going through the books of the bible, at this stage the Hebrew Scriptures, on Thursday nights there is one absolute that keep leaping out of the pages and that is what God continuously/repeatedly asks of us: to act justly, to care for the widows and orphans, the weak and the vulnerable, and to live in the way of love and reconciliation and mercy. And time and time again the people of Israel turned their backs on caring for the community to which they belonged, the community that God had entrusted to them, and instead looked to their own desires and sense of importance and power. It was this waywardness that God was constantly hauling them back from, redeeming them from the exile, the wilderness of self importance and self absorption.
It’s what we do for each, how we act as community that stands witness for God’s love in our lives, the transforming power of Christ as our guide and light. Not that we come to church or put Christian or Presbyterian in our census forms but how we live our lives as the community of faith. We all have responsibility for caring for the body, for helping each other out, for caring for the needy (which includes each of us by the way), for the law of God is written on our hearts and we can do no other.
Remember those wonderful words, also from Jeremiah: “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. … We can do no other.
We here in this community of faith, we need each other, we support each other, we miss each other when we are separated, we have our ups and downs but as long as the foundation on which we are built remains Jesus, Son of the Living God then we keep strong to our purpose as community – and that foundation is: to love God, to walk in the way of Jesus, to care for each other, to speak up for the downtrodden and shelter the homeless, to make Jesus Christ known in our living. Our understanding of what it means to be Christian has to be constantly discerned so that we are not distracted by those things that draw us away from worshipping God in our living as well as our words.
I think we have some big conversations coming up as a church and as this community. And I think we here will participate well in those conversations because we do have a strong community.
As the public perception of church is leaning more and more to total rejection, as the world sees Christianity being used to promote bigotry and hatred and violence, we need to be outspoken in our tolerance and love and reconciliation. We can no longer keep silent hoping it will go away or afraid of showing that there is a different way.
As traditional church as we know it – parish, full time minister, a building for Sunday mornings, an ‘open the doors and they flow in’ mentality – is squashed between mega churches and strapped funding, we are challenged to think about how today we best function as the body of Christ – do the clothes need changing?
What of the community of Christ in this place – what happens when we are faced with making decisions on our future – building, ministry, mission. Will we have the courage to be bold and outward facing as God’s community of faith putting our focus and our resources into being the gloriously creative and trasnforming body of Jesus, working together with all our skills and perspectives, vulnerabilities and strengths to make Jesus Christ known. And the answer is: Amen