From the response to Monday’s post one thing is clear: I’m not the only one who cares about community and mission. It seems like a bit of a flash point, actually, whether people see community life leading to mission or as something that stands on its own.
I want to explain why I’m on this topic: Jesus cares about these issues. They go to the heart of authentic Christianity.
On the night we call Maundy Thursday, Jesus shared his last Passover with his friends, creating what we know as the Lord’s Supper. John’s Gospel spends a surprisingly long time, a full five chapters, on the events in that borrowed upper room. At the end, after supper, Jesus spends chapter 17 praying for these disciples who have been his community and who will soon be called to fulfill his plans in the world without his visible company.
That’s a very important context. What he asked God to do is probably important too.
First, Jesus prayed for his followers to be really closely connected to God. He asks
“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us” (John 17:20)
Wow! Jesus is the Son of the Father; they are two of the three Persons of the Trinity. They are so close that they are actually one God — this is the Gospel where Jesus made a point of the fact that he and the Father are in fact “one” (John 10:30). That is how close he wants us to be to God: as close as the Father is to the Son in the Godhead. That is a very high bar for our spiritual lives.
Second, Jesus prayed for his followers to be really closely connected to each other. He asks
“that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one” (John 17:22-23)
Wow! That same image of the intimacy of the Trinity is to be the model for how connected the disciples should be to each other. He wants the quality of our community life to make us truly one, even if the naked eye sees individuals. Like the Persons of the Trinity, we are to be truly and inseparably united, with interwoven lives. That is a very high bar for our community life — and it makes community life part of spiritual life.
Third (and this is the really important bit; if I could incorporate a sound bite I would play a drumroll or a fanfare as you read), Jesus prayed for our unity with God and our community life specifically for the sake of our participation in his work in the world.
“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21)
“…that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:22-23)
Wow! Intimacy with God? It’s about mission. Community life? It’s about mission. When Jesus is on his knees telling God what he wants for our communities — little country churches, big suburban megachurches, monasteries, para-church ministries, whatever — the whole package is about bringing the truth of Christ to the world he loves. He wants our lives woven into him and woven together with each other, and all of that is supposed to take us beyond ourselves.
Our work in the world is living the truth about Jesus by loving neighbors far and near, in word and deed. That can take countless forms.
- It may be that the community life strengthens the individuals for loving their neighbors quite apart from formal ministries.
- It may be that the community is prompted toward joint action, loving neighbors near or far in formal programs and ministries.
- But If, over time, our life in Christian community does not lead us to bear witness to the world in some way we need to consider the truth of our claim to be Christian community.
So here is my point: the true nature of the Church, the nature of healthy Christian community, is that as we draw together toward God and each other, we will find ourselves doing Christ’s work in the world.
Where have you seen the Church live this journey from community to mission?
What makes it a challenge in your community?
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