As Pastor and I batted around ideas for a sermon today, community is the one that he decided that I should speak on.
Community, what is it? Well, let’s get back to that in just a moment, but keep that question in your head.
What’s the Largest Organism in the world? How about the Blue Whale weighing in at 109 tons and over 100 feet long? Or maybe a giant redwood at over 200 feet high with a trunk 100 feet around?
No, actually it is the Quaking Aspen. It rarely gets over 100 feet high and you’ll seldom find a trunk more than a foot wide.
But…… the Aspen’s have a secret.
When you look at an Aspen, you do not get the entire story, until you dig deeper.
The Aspen’s preferred method of growth is by new shoots off the old roots. In this way an individual plant may cover hundreds of acres all growing from a single interconnected root system.
While the individual stems rarely live over a hundred years, a stand like this one may be 8000 years old.
The interconnectedness of the Aspen gives life and strength. When a fire comes through the forest every tree may be burnt down.
However… the Aspen root survives and quickly reestablishes itself, usually taking over territory formerly inhabited by Pines, Maples and Oaks.
Does and Aspen live in community?
Back to, what is community?
Merriam-Webster defines community as:
A unified body of individuals, joint ownership or participation, common character.
Community is can also be defined as Sharing, participation, and fellowship.
Let’s think of the Church. What should the Church look like?
We in the church are meant to be like the mighty Aspen, not like the oak fighting for survival on our own, but growing from a common root of fellowship in Jesus Christ.
It is not to often in the Bible, that we see that we are told to do things on our own. Prayer is one of the few things, but there is also the command to pray together. As a matter of fact, most things we do as Christians should be done together.
God created family so we could have relationships that become intimate so we could enjoy one another’s company and companionship. God wants companionship, relationship and fellowship with us. If God wants this and we are made in his image, then we should seek out the same. Have you ever noticed in the wild how there are swarms of bees, flocks of birds and herds of buffalos? Coincidence? I think not.
In a lot of major cities there is something called HOV or Car Pool lanes on the highway. High Occupancy Vehicles lanes get you there faster because you’re not slowed down by individual vehicles driven by individual people.
These lanes are meant for vehicles with multiple people, and not as some have done, manikins, or animals dressed as people.
On the Highway of life, God wants you to travel in a High Occupancy Vehicle. When traveling in the HOV lane you pass up most of the jams you would have gotten into alone. That is the gift of community. You need to fully participate, to enjoy the benefits of the gift.
Listening to Christian Podcasts is not really community.
Listening to Christian Television program is not really community. Not in the sense that we are called to do. Community is not simply belonging, but participating fully, not to be faked or dressed up like a manikin or an animal in the car of a HOV lane.
If you stand by yourself, you are week. If we stand with others, we are much stronger. There really is strength in numbers.
In Ecclesiastes 4:10 it says:
If one falls down, his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
There is no strength and support in being alone. But in community we find both strength and support.
As some of you know, I grew up in a non church going home. As a new Christian my original ties to the churches I went to were a personal relationship with the Pastor. This was NOT community.
However, the pastor at a church in Carol Stream recognized the need for community. He suggested I play softball on the church team. From there I started to go to Bible studies because some of the guys I started to meet were also going to studies. Softball was a fellowship community that sparked me to get into a small group that was doing bible study. From there, I was involved in many other groups over the years.
Well, my wife and I decided to move to Elburn. I had asked a couple of the people at the church to assist us with the move. So on moving day as the couple of friends arrived to help me, I noticed many more than I had asked for help from. All in all that day, about 20 people showed up. What I expected to take all day and night, turned into 3 hours. I was amazed at the fellowship that was taking place and the community that I had been apart of and had not even realize it. God was working and gave my wife and I strength in numbers.
Claria Knall a young mother from Oklahoma wrote, it was one of the worst days of my life. The washing machine broke down, the telephone wouldn’t stop ringing my head ached and the mailman brought a bill I had no money to pay. Almost at the breaking point I lifted my one year old into the high chair, leaned my head against the tray and began to cry. Without a word my son took his pacifier out of his mouth and stuck it into mine.
From the time were born we know people who need love and need to be cared for. The church ought to be a place where the deepest love and the deepest caring for each other is real.
Fellowship and community is also the place of accountability, which means growth towards the right things!
By having community with fellow Christians, we have models of Christian behavior and ethics. These models are very important to keeping us on the right track. The world can be a very tempting place. We never get so spiritually mature however, that we don’t need the gentle rebuke or reminder from a Christian friend.
In Acts 15, one of the most pivotal moments in Christian history took place. The question arose, “What do you have to do to be a Christian?” People strongly disagreed!
Let me give you a flavor of this by reading the first 2 verses of that chapter.
Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into a sharp dispute and debate with the others. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.
Paul being the sharpest theological thinker of his time and possibly ever, had his own ideas of how to resolve this issue. And instead of making a decision that impacted everyone that followed him, he instead went to take up the question with the other leaders of the Christian church. He went to Jerusalem to consult others about this important issue.
Why? Because he was accountable and a part of a larger fellowship. He knew he was not living in a vacuum where he could unilaterally make decisions for everyone.
Even the brightest minds in Christianity are accountable to the others.
We too have a place (the church) in which we are accountable to each other—not in a rigid sort of way, but a place to bounce ideas and thoughts off of one another to get other perspectives.
We as Lutherans’, come from a disagreement in the first place. Prodistents are nothing more than protesters. Even Martin Luther wanted to debate the issues, not break the Church. In the ELCA we have always been good about the idea that there is room for ideas, even if we disagree, we can agree upon our disagreement, so as NOT to break up the community known as Church. We are stronger together, even disagreeing on some things, rather than being apart due to the disagreement.
A preacher in Tennessee said his father was not a Christian and never went to church. He said everyone else in the family would get ready and go to church and his dad would stay home.
A preacher would come by and visit and his dad would always give him the same pat answer; I know why you’re here and I know what you want, you want another name and another pledge, you don’t care about me. He said if I heard my dad say it once I heard him say it 20 times.
He said towards the end of his life his dad got throat cancer. He had surgery and couldn’t talk. He said as his dad was wasting away in the hospital room it was filled with flowers and cards almost all of them from someone in the church.
Food came to his house from his mom’s Sunday school class at the church. He said people came and prayed with my dad from the church.
He said one day even though my dad couldn’t talk he took a scrap of paper and scribbled words from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. “In this harsh world draw your breath in pain to tell my story.”
He said, dad what is your story? His dad with a trembling hand wrote on the scrap of paper, “I was wrong, I was wrong about the church.” He said he got to talk with his dad about salvation in Christ before he died, simply because of the love and the fellowship of a church.
Our good deeds speak loudly! And that only happens when we are on the same page as a church!
Not only does that work outside the church to help others but also here on Sunday morning.
Sam Walton founder of Wal-Mart early on in his business, had a pledge he made all his employees say.
From this day forward if a costumer comes within 10 feet of me regardless of what I’m doing in this place I’m going to look them in the eye, I’m going to smile, I’m going to greet them with a good morning, or good afternoon or what can I do for you, so help me Sam.
Wouldn’t it be great if everyone in this church would make a “good Sam” pledge? From this day forward every person who comes within 10 feet of me regardless of what I’m doing in this church, I’m going to look them in the eye, I’m going to smile, I’m going to greet them with a good morning, or good afternoon, or what can I do for you, so help me God.
In Ephesians 6:7 it says-- Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord!
How do you serve when you are all alone? You only serve yourself. It is within the fellowship of believers in which you can then serve and help others.
All to often we find excuses as to why we cannot participate in Fellowship and Community within the church. That is not to say you must be at all events, participate in all Bible studies, and never miss a function. By no means is this the case. But ask yourself.
Are there things that I am avoiding?
Groups I am not part of but maybe should be?
Are there opportunities for me to grow in Christian Fellowship and community?
In case you missed it, there is an opportunity coming up.
One of the ways we can practice community and fellowship is through the small group experience that Pr. Ben told us about in announcement time. . .
It takes a community to raise a child. Imagine what a community of Christians with Christ can do.
Thank God for the community of believers that he has built.