Community on Mission

Sunday, June 23, 2024
Becoming in Christ
Psalms 133 & 2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Rev. Brendan McClenahan

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Paul gives himself completely to love and serve others for the sake of Jesus. “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path”. 

Why? So that his ministry might not be discredited. He wants there to be a real witnessing community in the world, and he’s willing to suffer for it. 

This means he’s facing obstacles from outside: endurance, troubles, hardships, distresses, beatings, prison, riots, hard work, sleeplessness, hunger. 

But also obstacles internal. He’s practicing purity, understanding, patience, kindness, bearing the Holy Spirit, love, truthful speech, power of God, righteousness.

The real problem for Paul, though, is that all of this effort may be in vain because the Corinthians are not joining him. He realizes that he’s turning into a superhero. “YOU go and do all the ministry work, Paul, because you’re an apostle.”

There’s a discrepancy between Paul’s willingness to suffer, and the Corinthians who are every day growing more callous, numb, and comfortable in their spiritual lives. Already in the church there is a dichotomy between those who are burned out, giving their lives away by themselves, and those who are growing apathetic and comfortable on the sidelines. 

Paul is pleading with the Corinthians to open their hearts and join him on mission. “Join me in giving your lives away like I am. Shift your focus outside of yourselves and your petty issues. If we cannot open our hearts to one another and link arms and be willing to die for the gospel together, then all the world will see is me, the lone ranger, rather than a community of love that witnesses to the resurrection of Christ.” 

Both Paul and the Corinthians are suffering from the same problem: isolation. 

We live in an isolated culture, an epidemic of loneliness. We are congratulated for being self-sufficient and autonomous. Social media is tricking us into thinking we’re connected to others while we grow more cut off from the connections that truly give us life. Our employers offer remote work, promising freedom and flexibility, while we are staring at screens more and more. We have piled up toys, tech, cars, clothes, and entertainment so that we have no excuse to ask anyone for help. And when others ask us for help we are too busy with other things. We have strived to make ourselves completely self-sufficient and isolated. It’s one thing to live in an isolated culture, but it’s also become the M.O. for the church.

I know because I grew up in a presbyterian church. I have heard more sermons than I know what to do with. I’ve participated in more bible studies than I can count, I’ve gone to all the camps, mission trips, and retreats. I’ve volunteered, I’ve joined committees, I’ve taken ministry positions. I’ve heeded the number one exhortation to get “alone with God.” I’ve given my money and things away to the poor. I’ve even gone to seminary. And it was about 8 years ago now that I realized that I was doing this almost entirely as a lone ranger. Once a year I’d go on a mission trip with others but come back to life as normal. Every single Sunday I went to church and left to go back to my comfortable home, alone with my family. Occasionally I put scripture into practice. Sporadically I did good deeds. When it was convenient, I loved my neighbors. I became unsettled. I realized I had reached the end of the conveyor belt of personally-motivated spiritual activity, and I was exhausted and hopeless. I wondered IS THIS IT? After all these years, all I’m left with is a church bulletin with sermon notes, left alone to “apply it to my life” somehow. I was Paul and I was the Corinthians. I was full of spiritual activity. And yet I was numb and disconnected from my own faith. Is this what we are all becoming? Am I just one more member of a group of isolated religious people who are getting dangerously close to discrediting all that we claim to stand for?

“This is NOT Good” says God. God, creates the world in love and says “it is tov, it is good.” The sun, the earth, the animals, sabbath. All good. God creates a human to be his image on earth, tending it like a garden – TOV! GOOD! But then God sees man working and he is all alone. And God says for the first time “LO TOV – NOT GOOD.” It is not good that people represent me in isolation. So God forms another human – a woman – to be like the man. They are to serve together and help one another. And as they do, this little community on mission bears witness to God’s reign in the world

Jesus’ last and most important command to his disciples was to do the same: “Love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another. All people will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” Jesus promises that the church will not be a loose collection of lone rangers, but a community on mission that bears God’s image in the world. In fact, that’s the ONLY witness to the gospel. Good deeds alone do not witness to the gospel. Donations do not witness to the gospel. Buildings do not witness to the gospel. Biblical knowledge does not witness to the gospel… The only witness to the risen Christ is a Spirit-filled community on mission fueled by God’s love for the world. This promise was fulfilled at pentecost when the Spirit was poured out on all the disciples who were sent as communities on mission to every corner of the earth to display God’s love. And here in 2 Corinthians 6 when Paul asks his fellow disciples to open wide their hearts, he is banking on God’s promise of the Holy Spirit. He is urging them to join him on mission, to live like he is living, not just for the sake of being friends, or even for the sake of being community. But so that the ministry, the witness, the gospel work that they do together might not be discredited but become a beacon to the world for the love of Jesus.

Today this is good news: We don’t have to do the Christian life alone. Yes, the Holy Spirit has called us on a challenging mission to witness the love of God in the world. But the Spirit has also given us the gift of one another to accomplish it. To that end, God extends Paul’s invitation to us as well: Open your hearts, forge real relationships that participate in the inbreaking of the reign of God in the world.

This is a hard call to follow. If I’m honest, I’ve gotten stuck here. “Okay Jesus, I’m ready and willing to join others on mission. But where do I start?”

About 2 years ago, my family and I were stuck in this place. We wanted to live on mission with others. We didn’t want to just “go to church”. We wanted to make changes in our lives so that like Paul says “we would not be discredited”. We didn’t know what to do, so we approached some friends of ours, Abe and Mel Overway. We sat around a fire and told them our story and asked them if they would be willing to intentionally engage in discerning what it would look like to figure out what it would look like to live in community like this. We opened our hearts to them, and thankfully they opened them back. Well, Mel was leading YogaFaith in the chapel every other week, which you may have seen or even been to. But she was leading it pretty much on her own. As we prayed, we sensed God’s invitation to join in and we committed to serving alongside her. But not only that, we met on the off weeks to share a meal, and to read scripture, and to pray not only for each other but for the ministry. As we did this, we began spending more time together, and a small community began to form. Others asked to join us, and we invited them to join us on mission to serve and pray for people at YogaFaith. Soon we were about 5 families, and as YogaFaith season began to wind down, we prayed about ways we could do more to serve and love our neighbors. We decided to start collecting food scraps from our neighbors and turn those food scraps into compost. After a year of doing this, I’m so thankful for what God has done. My family is not isolated. Instead, we are being knit together in a small community on mission. My kids get to participate in Christian discipleship as other adults pray for them and serve alongside them. It has been difficult and stretching. It exposes my weaknesses and insecurities. I understand now why Paul mentioned that he had to learn purity, patience, understanding and kindness – because doing mission in community with others isn’t always easier – it stretches you relationally. And it doesn’t come cheap – our family says no to a lot of other things in order to say yes to this. 

As part of my ministry work, I have been able to come alongside many others as they’ve made similar choices to live in community ON mission. Pam and Doug started eating meals at the rescue mission in Holland and invited their friends to join them. Pam and Doug eat These small stories are evidence that God’s Spirit is alive, calling the church to open wide our hearts to each other as we give lives in love for the world. In this way, we have faith that our good deeds don’t point to ourselves, but point to Jesus and the reign of God that is coming to earth. 

One thing that’s been helpful to me and others seeking to live as community on mission is to think of it as an intersection of three things: people you pray with, people you relax with, and people you serve with. 

If you don’t mind, I’d like to lead you in a short exercise. Find a small piece of paper and draw three circles. In the first circle, write the names of the people that you serve with. Maybe it’s the other people on the committee you serve on. Maybe it’s your co-workers. Maybe it’s your fellow volunteers. In the second circle write the names of the people you play and rest with, people you hang out with. In the third circle, write the names of people you pray with, read the Bible with, or ask faith questions with. Now look at these three lists and circle the names of people who are in all three lists. THAT is your community on mission. How might God invite you to invest even more deeply in these people? 

If a name occurs on two lists, ask God whether God might be inviting that person to join the third list. Maybe they are a friend who also joins you in some volunteer work. When was the last time you prayed with them?

If there are no names shared between any of the lists, pray and ask God who you might invite into one other list. Maybe there’s someone you’ve been in a bible study with for years that you might invite to join you for dinner. Maybe there’s a co-worker you might ask to pray with. Whatever it is, let God develop an imagination in you for what it might look like to open your heart a little bit wider to living as community on mission.

For those of you who are giving it your all, using gifts to serve your city and world, remember that the triune God invites you to be part of a community on mission. You don’t have to be a superhero. And for those of you who are growing numb in your faith, remember today that the God of justice and peace calls you to be part of a community on mission. God has given you gifts to use in concert with others in service to the world.

Because of the Holy Spirit, there are no sidelines in God’s reign. I invite you to join me in living out community on mission not as passersby who just just show up and then leave, but as co-laborers who open wide our hearts to each other, eat meals with each other, pray with each other, and witness God’s reign coming to earth together. 

Let’s pray.