Life Together: Brought Into Community - Ephesians 2:12-14
Dietrich Bonheoffer, had something a little different to say about living together. Bonhoeffer was a German theologian, church leader, and seminary professor during the reign of Adolph Hitler. While leading a congregation in the anti-Nazi Confessing Church in Germany, he was arrested, jailed, and later hung for his efforts to take a stand against Hitler and the Nazi movement. Bonhoeffer is best known for writing The Cost of Discipleship. However, he has written many more, among them is Life Together, a reflection of the life of Christian Community he established at Finkenwalde Seminary, a community that was involuntarily shut down by Hitler's Gestapo. Bonheoffer writes about what a blessing and gift of God it is to live in Christian Community:
It is easily forgotten that the community of Christians is a gift of grace from the kingdom of God, a gift that can be taken from us any day—that the time still separating us from profound loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let those who until now have had the privilege of living a Christian life together with other Christians praise God's grace from the bottom of their hearts. Let them thank God on their knees and realize: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are still permitted to live in the community of Christians today.”
It is by God's grace that we are blessed and able to live in a community of faith. Unfortunately, sometimes we forget that this community is a gift from God. We take it for granted, we abuse it, we misuse it, or we ignore it. Remembering this precious gift of Christian Community, for the next several weeks we are going to reflect on what it means to lives as part of the community of faith.
Today, we begin with seeking to understand what brings us together as a community of faith. What binds us together as a community? At a country club, folks are usually drawn together by their social standing. Groups, such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Chess clubs, Bridge clubs, hunting clubs and Carver’s guilds are all usually drawn together because of a common interest. Support groups come together because of common needs. Family reunions come together because of blood or marriage relations. So, what is it that brings together the group we call the Christian community of faith?
It is Christ that brings us together. It is Christ that unites us. It is Christ that makes us a community and not just a community, but, a family. Paul writes:
“…remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”
Prior to coming into a relationship with Jesus Christ, we were not part of God’s people, unless, by chance, we are of Jewish heritage. God called Abraham, and from Abraham’s descendants rose God’s people, the Hebrew people. Jesus came as the Messiah of the Hebrew people, and all of the first Christians were Jewish. However, through the life of Jesus and the work of the Disciples, it was made clear that God’s family extended far beyond Jewish bloodlines and that God’s grace was extended to the Gentiles, to the rest of the world…so that those who were near to God, the Jewish people, and those who were far off, the rest of the world, were brought together as one, united only through the blood of Christ. We mark our entrance into this family through our baptism.
Bonhoeffer, he would say that there are three points of significance that come from the fact that we are brought together only through the blood of Jesus Christ.
The first thing to consider is that “a Christian needs others for the sake of Jesus Christ.” When we come together through the salvation that we find it Christ, we are forced to acknowledge that we cannot save ourselves. We are not self-sufficient. Surrendering to Christ we realize that we are dependent upon others. That has been part of the fabric of who we are since the beginning when we encounter the only thing that God declares to be “not good” during His Creation. After creating Adam, God looked down and said, “it is not good that man should be alone.” He then created Eve to be his helpmeet, means literally means his “completer”. We are only complete when we are in community with one another. Since Adam and Eve, God has constantly called His people into community, and brought that to fulfillment in the community brought together through His Son.
Secondly, we have to remember that we “come to others only through Jesus Christ.” As Christians, the only way we are to relate to others is to relate to them through Christ. Everyone we come in contact with, everyone we see, when we look at them, we have to look at them as if looking upon them through the eyes of Christ. Paul would remind us that regardless of who they are, regardless of what they have done, we no longer regard them from a worldly point of view, but we are to see them as Christ would see them. We realize that everyone we encounter are our equals, we all stand equally unworthy before the throne of God and because of that, Christ has equally extended his grace upon us all. It means that folks are not less than us because they come from different parts of the state, different part of the country, or have different backgrounds or have different skin colors or speak a different language or have a different political affiliation, it means that we are all beloved children of God. It also means that when we look upon those outside of the community that we don’t look down upon them but look for ways to draw them into the community the same way that Christ has drawn us into His family.
Thirdly, coming to into this relationship through Christ means that “from eternity we have been chosen in Christ, accepted in time, and united for eternity.” This means that God, out of all eternity, has chosen to draw us into His family. God declared our value and chosen us. God came out of all eternity and took on our very flesh and blood. Taking human form God, in Christ declared that we were worthy of salvation…and as we are joined together with Christ through the waters of our Baptism, we are bound not only to Christ, but to one another, in an eternal bond that is not meant to be broken. Through the grace of God in Baptism and in Holy Communion, we are made One with Christ and One with each other. Christ lives in us, and we in Him, and together we live as the Body of Christ, present in the World.
Considering it is the blood of Christ that draws us together, we need to take very seriously the community we have been brought into. As I mentioned earlier, too often we take it for granted, we abuse it, we misuse it, or we ignore it. To do this is to take the sacrifice of Christ for granted, to abuse Christ’s body, to misuse the blood of Christ, or to ignore the work of Christ altogether. How do we do this?
We take the community of faith for granted when we deiced that it is only important to be part of the community once in a while…you know, we don’t need Sunday School or fellowship gatherings or mission trips, we’ll just show up for worship…or “hey, it’s not important that I’m in worship every week…maybe just once or twice a month…or maybe if I just show up for Christmas and Easter.”
We abuse the body of Christ when we mistreat other members of Christ Body—when we speak hatefully to them or about them or when we refuse to speak to them; when we lie to or deceive our brothers and sisters; or when we ignore the needs of our brothers and sisters.
We misuse the God’s family when we come to it only seeking to get what we can for ourselves…rather than first and foremost offering ourselves to God in worship and service and to our brothers and sisters in fellowship and care.
We ignore Christ’s work by suggesting that being part of the community is just not that important. We keep to ourselves and feel like it is just between God and me and no one else.
My brothers and sisters, this community, this thing that we have been made a part of, is a gift from God, a true gift, one that can be taken from us at any moment, we must cherish it, we must honor it, we must thank God for it. Regardless of how we have treated this gift in the past, let us look for how we may more faithfully live into it as we spend the next several weeks learning once again how to live together in community as the “large, loving, caring, close-knit” Family of God, together, in this place.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.