Who remembers the song by Sister Sledge called “we are family”.
I remember reading in a prayer letter that, “these guys feel like family, we certainly row like one!”
I remember thinking we all want to be in authentic community, we all want to be known and loved, we want to be part of the family, and yet as theologian and modern martyr Bonheoffer used to observe people often approach community with naivety, having a somewhat ‘rose-tinted’ view of life within the a Christian family.
Yet sadly relationships won’t always be wonderful, that disagreements will occur and life becomes messy but actual, real, authentic community was painful and costly -a narrow and rocky way of life in community.
Some of Bonhoeffers musings are wonderfully expressed in his book “life together”, which I believe is one of the finest books ever written about Church.
At the heart of relationships is risk, being real with one another is painful -and some of us are far too diplomatic and British at times-. Community and fellowship causes broken people to interact with other broken people.
Hurt people hurt people.
David Watson, a famous evangelist, author and Church leader, observed that community was the crucible in which God does his refining work in us. Community challenges us profoundly, and this is why we yearn for it, and often hate it, with equal measure.
Superficiality is much easier, less costly, and there is little or no risk in getting hurt, come and be tolerated and tolerate us as we keep a relationship of civility going, sometimes for decades.
I remember realizing how far short of Gods standard for us when I read Rick Warrens (author an d Church leader) quote “I don’t want a friendly Church but one I can make friends in”.
Exchanging pleasantries with acquaintances after a religious service over a cup of coffee is far short of what the Bible means when it talks of fellowship and being like a family.
Made more challenging by spiritual maturity and chronological age have very little in common, we see the spiritual babies throwing their toys out the pram, the spiritual teenagers telling everyone else they got it wrong, the spiritual grannies telling us to lower our expectations and become more jaded and cynical having confused spiritual maturity with fossilization.
It is difficult seeing one another with spiritual and not worldly eyes, measuring ourselves not but service duration in but Christ’s likeness in our lives.
It is about resisting the temptation to become like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son, in families jealousy between the siblings can cause no end of grief, and sadly jealousy can be a toxic thing when it seeps into our Church family fellowships.
Moreover the story of the prodigal son shows how easily our hearts can become opposed to grace, we want sinners punished -told off, banned, kicked out- until it is us who have messed up and then we realize afresh how grace is actually the only way the works.
So, being family as Gods people is a challenge.
Yet like all relationships -and maybe marriage is a prime example- although it is something incredibly challenging and costly, although there are many mountains to climb and pit falls for us to stumble into, even so it remains despite the obsticals a wonderful thing.
In fact I once heard someone say that anything of any real worth has to be worked at, true of human marriage, and true of Church community, and that despite the struggles, tears, ups and downs, it is still worth it, it still is the best way of living life most fully, and becoming the people that we were created to be.
Ultimately everything in God’s economy works best when fuelled by love, real love not just niceness nor a conditional love, yet love it both the most wonderful gift of God and yet when we open our hearts to the joy and blessing of love, we also run the risk of pain, yet despite the risk, let us be people that people can say of us “by this we can see that they are my disciples, they love one another”.
Love is a wonderful gift yet one that can be costly.
Despite the cost we all crave community, even introverts feel lonely, and the cruellest punishment we inflict on children and prisoners is isolation or solitary confinement, separate from community.
At our core we are wired to be in relationship with others, after all, God himself declared that it is not good for man to be alone, which although often quoted in the context of marriage, I think applies to a state not of independence but interdependence, meant not to be an isolated unit, but part of the messy chaos of community.
So, let’s embrace community, understand its fragility, seeing beauty and brokenness coexist, seek to bless, let our hearts be soft and teachable in Gods discipleship crucible.