The Church is at Its Best When: It is a Personal Community John 10: 11-18

mannequinIt’s always cute when a child befriends a mannequin.  They’re not scared, as some children are; they just go up and give them a hug.  They will pose like them, even holding their hands.  It doesn’t matter if they are headless, faceless, or mere outlines of facial features, the child treats these hardened figures like they are real persons.  The child’s playfulness seems to breathe life into their lifeless frame of a mannequin.

Living up to the expectations of the false self can cause us to feel like mannequins, all dressed up,but hardened at our core.  Many of us spend the first half of life nurturing the false self with unnecessary expectations in the hope of acceptance or success.  Or, we hold onto our false self by allowing our families to impose roles on us to keep the peace among the clan.  Either way, the false self makes us feel like a mannequin. God revealed

Since the Garden, we’ve seen God’s intentions.  God’s breath quickened us and then God stamped us with the God’s image, so we might live as the true self that was created by the hand of God.  This constant story runs through the stream of God’s redeeming work from the Garden to this 21st century moment.  God has sought ways to reveal to each of us that it is through a personal relationship with God that we know our true self. 

Our personal experience with God comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ, which brings new life.  It’s this new life in Christ that enables us to find our true self and let go of our false self, becoming less like a mannequin.  Our true self hold our heads high, our faces shine with inner peace, and our hearts are softened.  Living into our true self is realized through a personal experience with God in relationship with Christ. 

Its personalThis leads to the second quality when a community of faith is at its best.  We’re at our best when it’s a personal community; drawing near to each other, mimicking the way God personally draws near to us so we might know God’s love.  God didn’t love in a generic way; God loves in an amazingly personal way.  God loves every person in the world, not just the persons in the world.  God doesn’t love each of us by loving all of us; God loves all of us by loving each of us

Parents love each child differently.  Lauren, Tara, Erin and Blake are individuals who we love uniquely because they’re unique.  We don’t worry if we’re fair with love, we just want them to know our unconditional love.  

God didn’t reveal how much we are loved by dropping the idea into our heads.  God dropped into our world in the person of Jesus; establishing a deeply personal faith.  We don’t assent to the ideas God loves us.  We know God love by putting our faith in Christ and entering into an ongoing personal encounter with the one who knows us and loves us best. Good Shepherd contemporary

When Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd, he was following in the Father’s steps who personally related to the first Adam and Eve.  As the Good Shepherd, he personally cares for the sheep of his flock; knowing each of them and they know him.  The Good Shepherd knows our name, what makes us who we are, and how we can be more than we are in him. 

The sheep can know him in the same way God the Father knows the Son, and the Son knows the Father.  So we can trust our lives to the Good Shepherd, personally enfolding our lives into Christ.  As, we intimately know Christ as Christ fully know us, we find our true self because.

As the Good Shepherd enters into a personal relationship with his flock, we seek personal relationships in this community of faith.  We belong together for we all belong to Christ.  It’s through personal connections we know our true self.  This happens as we draw near to each other, like God draws near to us so we may  draws more closely to Christ.  In Christ, we become who God meant us to be.  We personally together our life in Christ; connecting to others like the Good shepherd connects to us.

Personal relationshipsAll of us want to be known, accepted, and be a part something bigger than ourselves.  If that is to happen, we have to take steps toward a personal relationship with other persons in a community of faith.  We have to move beyond the shadows of lurking in the pews, not sure if we can trust people to know us.  A community of faith is at its best when we are a personal community that leads each other into a deeper relationship with the Good Shepherd through our personal relation with each other

This has some practical implications.  We will notice those missing among us; both those who were a part of the flock and those whom we need among to make this flock stronger.  We will pursue missing sheep like Jesus spoke of in the parable of the lost sheep.  We will be patient with one another; recognizing each person is unique and develops their faith in her own time and at his own pace.  We will remember each other’s names.  I am embarrassed when I forget a name.  I know it’s not a gift to remember names.  We remember names because we want to remember a person we’re genuinely interested in knowing.  When we really want to know each other we are not just being polite; we are at our best.  What's Your Name

We don’t lose our individuality by intertwining our lives in a community of faith.  Our true person is discovered as we better know Christ and we’re known by others.  We become more fully alive to the true person God designed.  The work of Christ in the body of Christ is extremely personal.

Jonathan Safran Foer, novelist, gave the commencement address this spring at Middlebury College in Vermont.  He began his speech by talking about something that happened to him recently as he sat on a bench in front of a restaurant in Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn.  He was engrossed with his smart phone, cleaning up his contacts list.  He said he became distracted by a woman about 15 years old who was talking on the phone and repeating, “I know, I know, I know.Mama, I know.  Then, the tears flowed as she hung up and put the phone in her lap.  Jonathan said he felt the urge to comfort her, but he was distracted by his own task of dealing with the people on his contact list.  

on the phoneHe said that moment helped him clearly see the human challenge in this 21st century. Technology celebrates connectedness.but it encourages retreat as well.  The phone didnt make him avoid human connection, but it made ignoring her easier and it helped him forget his choice to do so.  

The flow of water carves rock,a little bit at a time.  Our personhood is carved, too, by the flow of our technological habits in this 21st century world.  Social media impersonates friendship; fooling us into thinking Facebook friends really share our life together and personally know us.   Our daily use of technological communication may be shaping us into someone who can say they are connected to many people, while retreating personally from connecting to each other.  Water Carving Rock

We need the personal connections we find in a community of faith.  We’re at our best when we carve each other’s personhood by being together; personally knowing each other.  The spiritual work of the community of faith is to sharpen edges so we grow and to dull places that are to sharp.  We make hearts heartier by bearing each other’s burdens.  We hone our love for each other by drawing near to those who cry out for love.

Most of the time, people don’t cry in public.  Yet, everyone of us is in need of something another person can personally give to us.  There’s no higher calling in life than to be personally attentive to other needs.  There are as many ways to do this as there are people and needs.  Our lives are more about story than stuff; and being attentive to the tale of other persons lives is our spiritual work.  It is messy, painful and almost impossibly difficult, but when the church is at its best, this is what we personally do!

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Published in: on September 16, 2013 at 9:40 am  Leave a Comment  

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