Thursday, May 8, 2008

An Open Door to Community

I once received a pretty good sermon illustration from an online source I subscribe to. It described a man going to visit a friend who was a guard at a prison mental hospital. When he found his friend, the man was out in the prison yard with dozens of inmates. The friend told the guard, "I'd be scared to death out here among all these criminal types. There must be a hundred of them, and only three or four of you guards. Aren't you afraid they'll band together and overpower you?" "Naw," said the guard, "lunatics never unite." I used that illustration in a sermon at another church, making the point that the Devil doesn't fear the Church anymore, even though there are millions of Christians in America, and even though we have abundant spiritual resources at our disposal, because we never manage to work together.

Afterwards, a man in the church told me how much he appreciated the story. He had come to our church years before from another church in that same small town. He had been forced to leave that church because the people in control blamed him for his divorce, even though his wife was the one who had left. He chuckled and said, "You're right. Lunatics don't unite." His unspoken implication to me was that he was still waiting to see if this church would be different, if his new spiritual family would show the ability to love one another.

We're in the middle of a three-part sermon series at WBC asking the question, "What if our church really followed Jesus?" Last week, we learned that a true Christ-following church would be an open door for people to experience and know God in worship. But there's more to the Christian life than loving God; Jesus (you'll recall) said that the greatest commandment was really a two-parter: Love God and love your neighbor.

It's amazing how much time is spent in the New Testament epistles talking about that very subject. It seems God designed the Church in part to be a laboratory where we learn how to love other people. A local church is supposed to be a place where we pray for each other, support each other, rebuke each other when necessary, learn to forgive and overlook others' mistakes and foibles, rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. The Greek word for that is koinonia. In Baptist life, we've traditionally called in fellowship, but that word has lost its snap over the when people hear "fellowship," they think of covered-dish dinners. Instead, we're going to use the word community. Ironically, in our fast-paced, digitized world, an old word like community captures the longings of people's hearts.

Why do we need community in order to be true followers of Jesus? What does real community look like? That's what we'll talk about Sunday.


Anonymous said...

Love the idea of the church being a true! And as a small lab, there is a bit of everything isn't there (the good and the bad.) Thank you for helping us to sort out HOW we make the most of this opportunity, and to not just know ABOUT Jesus, but to know HIM.
ps and glad you will be staying the course this Mother's Day. As one who never thought I'd be blessed with a child, I can't imagine the heartache of those on Mother's Day when the message is directed at a narrow group in the congregation. Kudos!

Jeff Berger said...

Thanks, Martha.