Community and I have long had trust issues, and more than anything, I have had a desire to avoid it at all costs. I was the community-dweller that wished I could become the wall paper, standing stalk still in concrete laden shoes and sending out invisible force fields that screamed alarms and clanging bells when anyone got too close. When anyone would even dare to take the smallest snips to the thorny wall that I had let grow over my heart, I would turn tail and run as fast I could in the other direction.Community is messy.
It's messy, it's convoluted and it's complicated. Just think back to the last event committee meeting you attended, the last worship rehearsal, the last small group pot-luck you tried to help organize. Think about all of those personalities, all of those hurts and other people's idiosyncrasies. While we often look at them as annoyances, they actually enhance the nature of community and help to shape us as Christ-followers.
John 15 says " Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me and I in them will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing" (v. 5). And I am sure that we have all heard many sermons on this fairly famous passage. However, there are a few things that struck me when Pastor preached his sermon several weeks ago.
"I AM [emphasis mine] the vine." Singular, the one and only, nothing else but I AM. Jesus is the only true source of our strength, our sustenance. By our choice we have been grafted to Him, attached to the wonder and beauty that is Him. Staying attached, embedded into the only source we will ever need, is the only way to accomplish anything, for "apart from me you can do nothing." And it seems simple, this abiding. The Greek have a word for this remaining, meno,- to continue to be present, to last and endure and who wouldn't want to affix themselves to the wonder of Christ? But this imagery of vines and gardeners is not for the faint of heart, nor for those who would rather live in the concrete shoes, content in only receiving God's grace as a passive recipient.
"[We] are the branches" - yes WE. We were not meant to live as islands, we are meant to engage in community. We are meant to twist and wind ourselves around the trellis of God's grace and do this thing called life together. Each of us winding around each other and finding new openings from which to practice community. This bending, moving, shifting and making room for each other, this is how we bear fruit. Yes we need to be secure in our attachment to Christ, but have you ever seen a vine with only one single branch? I have not.
Practicing community, practicing the Christian faith, is not simply individual steps we take in order to be obedient to God. Practicing the Christian faith is entering into "practices of communal action" (P. Goodyear), that lead us to God's grace. Practicing community is living our lives while participating in what God is already doing. It is banding together and stitching what Jesus taught us in prayer, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven", to the fabric of our being.Over the next several weeks I want to spend time exploring the practices of community. I am extremely grateful to Pernell Goodyear and his wonderful insights into this idea of doing life together. Will you join me? Will you participate in this Community Manifesto?