This weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving. We know that many people in our country took time to be together and hopefully be thankful for something or better yet someone in their life. I was proud of my daughter when I noticed she used instagram to let each of her friends know how thankful she is for them. She posted individual pictures of them to let them know. As thankful as we are for our homes and our cars and the things or experiences we have in our lives, what we are really thankful for is people. People make our lives what they are. Yes, sometimes they make our lives difficult, but we can identify, pretty easily, the ones who make our lives great. Those are the people we call ‘community’. My family is my community, my neighbours are my community, maybe the folks you see at Starbucks in the morning before work is your community.
One community I’ve come to appreciate over my life time is the church community I am a part of. For the last 4 years it has been The Village. I can’t begin to describe how wonderful it is to be part of a community of people who cheer me on, encourage me, challenge me, and are constantly helping me follow Jesus in an authentic and impactful way.
This fall we’re taking time to communicate what we’re serious about; things like Faith, Hope & Love (1 Cor 13), discovering Jesus together, Stories (God’s and ours colliding together), Generousity, etc. This weekend we dive into why we are so serious about community. The simple answer is because Jesus and the early church was serious about it.
In 2 John 1:12 we read, “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” If that was a tweet or a FB post it might look like this…What’s John getting at? Various forms of communication are wonderful, but nothing beats face to face communication – nothing beats intimate community. This is why our gathering is so important to who we are and who we want to become, because it’s there and in small(er) groups that our spirituality is formed. Sure, we can listen to online teaching (which might be better) and worship videos (which are professionally mixed and produced). We can follow some inspirational twitter and instagram feeds. But nothing can replace what we learn in community. Nothing replaces how we grow in community. Nothing compensates for what happens, in our hearts, in our lives, in our spirit, when authentic community is going on.
To help us see this, we’re going to jump in Hebrews 10:19-25.
Hebrews is an exhaustive book. It’s a NT letter with a purpose…it’s purpose is to help the Jewish Christian transition from their OT, historical, law oriented way to God, into a new way, a NT love and grace way to God. That transition and change is summed up in one word – one name – Jesus. The first half of this text lets us in on this theme…
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
This is a wonderful snippet of what Hebrews is trying to do. We are told to have confidence in Jesus as ‘the way’ into God’s presence. We are told that to draw near to God, all we need is a sincere heart and full faith. And we are encouraged to hold on to the hope we have found in Jesus. This is, simply put, the basis for any church community. We gather to surround ourselves with the story of Jesus, his death and resurrection, his forgiveness and grace. So with this in mind, the writer moves on to how that truth impacts the christian community.
24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
This writer, as well as the other NT writers, don’t give us an option to have a private faith. We experience Jesus in community. This is the only and best way to discover him.
Scott McKnight says this about church community: ‘I owe my primary commitment to my local church, not because it is what I want and not because it the ideal place, but because the only way for Jesus’ kingdom to take root is when local people commit to one another to strive with one another for a just, loving, peaceful and wise society, beginning at home, with friends, and with their local community of faith.’
Brian McLaren says it this way: Churches, simply put, come to be communities that form Christ-like people who embody and communicate, in word & deed, the goodness of the kingdom of God.
Hebrews gives us three things to consider about community: How it spurs us on towards love and good deeds, how it gathers us together, and how it is meant for encouragement.
The word ‘spur on’ actually means to provoke or poke or even irritate. It’s not meant to be negative, but positive. At the centre of any christian community is a prodding towards love and a poking towards doing good. If we’re known for everything else, but these two things are missing, we are failing as a christian community.
We’re told to gather together. Sounds simple, but in the first century context there was a risk of persecution. People could’ve been fearful to leave their homes for a church meeting. Even with the risk of persecution, this writer says that meeting together is worth it. So he says, ‘don’t stop meeting together’. Why throw this in? Because he, as other NT writers know, that only in the midst of community will we fully discover how to follow Jesus.
His final communal advice is to encourage one another. I remember telling a bunch of high school students a very long time ago that if they don’t encourage each other to follow Jesus, who will? This is what Hebrews is getting at. Christians encourage each other in two ways: one, how they cheer for one another and are there for each other and two, how they are able to share the truth in love, sometimes being the only warning we have before doing something we regret. Both kinds of encouragement can happen in an biblically functioning community.
Hebrews 10:19-25, as well as any other passage in the NT, shows us why we must take community seriously. It’s how we grow in our faith and how faith grows in us.
– – – – – – – – – – – – –
small(er) group discussion
Community either scares you or invites you in? What side do you stand on? Is there a bit of both here for you? Why?
Read Scot McKnight’s description of community. What are some observations you’d make from it?
‘I owe my primary commitment to my local church, not because it is what I want and not because it the ideal place, but because the only way for Jesus’ kingdom to take root is when local people commit to one another to strive with one another for a just, loving, peaceful and wise society, beginning at home, with friends, and with their local community of faith.’
Why do you think it’s so important to read verses 19-23 (our understanding of Jesus) before we get into verses 24-25?
Talk about the 3 things the writer says about christian community. Which ones resonate with you the most? Why are all 3 important?
If The Village was still called _________ church, what word would you want others to fill the blank with and why?