Saturday, April 28, 2007

Repelled by Community

I was talking with a good friend of mine yesterday about the church and community. We served together in Kansas City and, in fact, he was my pastor there. We were talking about a church he served where folks may not have been particularly interested in what it meant to be a community of faith. I reminded him that this is true in all churches throughout all time.

It is remarkable in the Christian church that we have such a unique (in all the world religions) model of unity in Jesus of Nazareth and ideal of the unity of the Holy Trinity and yet we have more trouble than anyone in living out that unity. My friend said, "It's strange how we are both drawn to and repelled by community."

It is true. Community and unity of believers are called to be a-part of one another's lives. Apart may be the best word to use here. It is a word that in the second sentence of this paragraph means together, and yet it is a word that means divided, as in apart from. Of course, I believe in the radicalization of community, just as Jesus prays for us in John 17:21-23: that they may all be one. 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. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so 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 (NRSV). Though this sort of community is what we desire, we are also repelled by it so much that when we see even the possibility of it, we will create dissension and dismemberment in order to undermine it. It is the sort of soured milk we insist that others smell, knowing in our hearts that the milk was never meant to be soured.

The icon pictured above is of Saints Peter and Paul embracing. It is a compelling, charming icon of the saints. When I see it I feel like I should turn away in offense, but I know I want to truly know what this window into heaven shows me, unity. Gregory Boyd wrote in Myth of a Christian Nation, "By God's design, people are not to be won over to his kingdom primarily by our clever arguments, scary religious tracts, impressive programs, or our sheer insistence that they are going to hell unless they share our theological opinions. No, they are to be won over by the way in which we replicate Calvary to them. They are to see and experience the reality of the coming Kingdom in us." The reality of the Kingdom of God is not merely an ideal, it is as real as the body and blood of Christ. It is time for the community of faith to call on the Holy Spirit to ignite us, melding us together as an alloy: One body under One God by One Baptism.

Let us pray, together, Fr. Sergius Bulkakov's prayer for unity:

O Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour
thou didst promise to abide with us always.
Thou dost call all Christians
to draw near and partake
of Thy Body and Blood,
But our sin has divided us
and we have no power to partake
of Thy Holy Eucharist together.
We confess this our sin and we pray Thee,
forgive us and help us to serve the ways
of reconciliation, according to Thy Will.
Kindle our hearts with the fire
of the Holy Spirit,
give us the spirit of Wisdom and faith,
of daring and of patience,
of humility and firmness,
of love and of repentance,
through the prayers of the
most blessed Mother of God
and of all the saints.

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