A Reflection on Sunday – Doing Life Together

On Sunday Jonathan wrapped our 4-week vision series by discussing our intent to be a people who do “Life Together”. He drew our attention to Romans 12 where Paul is discussing the importance of the followers of Jesus together constituting a unified “body”. Paul could have chosen any analogy he wanted when unpacking the nature of what our inclusion into life with Jesus was to look like, but he specifically chose the language of a human body. Why is that? It seems that one reason is likely that there are few other idioms he could have chosen which would communicate the absolute essentialness of our togetherness. It’s not just a good idea, or even simply a healthy way to live. Rather, for the human body, if any one part is separated from the broader-whole, the consequences are dire for both! As Jonathan said, if you remove a thumb and leave it alone for a few days, it won’t be a pretty site. Not just for the thumb, but for the way the body is intended to function. The removal of one part severely cripples the experience of the rest of the body. There’s something incredibly important in this for us to grapple with as followers of Jesus. Namely, that God simply did not intend you to live in isolation, or to experience your faith only as a private endeavor. You and I were designed by God for life together! It’s the only place our lives come into the experience of fullness they were designed for! Along these lines, let me share with you a brief theological reflection as well as a brief story.

A bit of Theology…

No (wo)man is an island. At the very core of your design as a human we find community. The reason for this is quite simple…God himself is community. Our designer, the God who shaped and intended life made us in his “image”. We’re told in Genesis 1:26-27…

“Then God said, let us make mankind in our image…So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

What does it mean to be created “in the image” of God? We’re told he created male and female, so that “image” doesn’t appear to be about sexuality. It also seems quite trivial to limit that imagery to the way God looked (short/tall, thin/fat, etc). This is often what we’re referring to when we look for reflections of our image in our children, “oh, he has your eyes”…or…”she has your nose”, etc. It’s interesting that this account of the creation of humanity has a plurality to it. God says, “let US make mankind in OUR image”. Um, who’s he talking to? Simply put, God is talking to himself. Yet, God does not (nor has he ever!) exist in isolation. Scripture makes clear throughout the Old and New Testaments that God exists as a community of persons, which we call in theological parlance “the Trinity”. God has existed, time untold, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God has never known life in isolation. God exists in perpetual relationship. God IS community in and of himself. So, when God created mankind in his “own image”, this meant that he created humanity to exist as a part of community. This is further emphasized when God looks at the man he created, Adam, and made the very first negative proclamation in all of history:

“The Lord God said, ‘It is NOT GOOD for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

When God looked on Adam’s condition as an isolated being, he proclaimed it “not good”! God created Eve not as a servant of Adam, but as a completer of Adam. In relationship they could now reflect and embody the image of God in its fullness…as a community of persons. Simply put, you were designed to live life as God does, as part of a community of belonging and togetherness. Anything less than this isn’t just unfulfilling, but rather an abandonment of what it means to live a full human life. Community, life-together is ESSENTIAL to the experience of human fullness. You are a theological necessity to our experience of the divine nature! The further we get from communal belonging, the further we get from the experience of God! Thomas Merton put it this way…

“To consider persons and events and situations only in the light of their effect upon myself is to live on the doorstep of hell.”

A brief story…

I didn’t come to know Jesus until I was 18 years old. I lived by teenage years, in particular, fairly isolated and self-focused. Shortly before meeting Jesus life was not only less than fulfilling, it had become completely devoid of purpose and joy. I was in a bad place, a lonely place, a less-than human place. Shortly after meeting Jesus (another story for another time!) I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in years. He too had found a relationship with Jesus and was thriving in a way I had not seen in him previously. He was excited to hear of my experience with Jesus and asked where I was going to church. A quick aside…

For the last few months I had been going to the church my family took me to as a child. It was the only church I knew. I would go, sit by myself, not speak with anyone the whole time I was there, and repeat the process the following Sunday. I was learning a few things from the sermons, felt strangely comforted during the worship and actually enjoyed giving my tithe money (10% of my finances) when the basket came around because it gave me a sense of contributing to something bigger than myself. However, the whole experience of church felt lacking. It was good, but less than what it was supposed to be. It’s odd to say, but I somehow intuited that I was missing something….back to the story…

When my friend asked me where I was going to church, I said I was going to my parents’ old church but felt I was missing something. He asked me whether I was connecting with others there. I said I wasn’t. In fact, I said I didn’t know I was supposed to! He promptly invited me to come visit his church with him that weekend. He said, “you’re my friend…they’ll love you!” I agreed to try it out. I met him that Sunday out in front of the little church. I was discouraged as we walked in to see that the vast majority of the people inside were old! I felt like there was no way they would be able to relate with me or feared they would not accept me. I though “oh well, I can still get something from the sermon, feel peace during worship and contribute my tithe to something beyond myself”. In the midst of this thought, something happened to me that would change my life. As I walked slowly down the center aisle of the church, one older woman made eye contact with me and headed straight my way. As she approached me, she motioned for me to lean down toward her (she was very short, and I am quite tall). As I hesitantly did so, she began to reach her hand up toward my face. This was appalling to me because I am also quite a germaphobe! She laid her hand on my face in a very intimate way, looked me straight in the eye and said gently “welcome home son”. I’m not sure what my face looked like in that moment, or if I began shedding obvious and tangible tears, but something inside me changed in that moment. It might be more accurate to say that something in that moment woke up or came alive in a way it hadn’t before. For the first time in my life I felt the embrace of communal belonging in the body of Christ. I have never been the same since.

No matter where you are today, or how alone you may feel, let me make something clear: you were designed by God to experience community. You are shaped at your core to receive and give relationship. You are designed to belong to something bigger than yourself. You are intended to be an integral part of the body of Jesus Christ. If you feel like your experience of belonging is less than it could be, I want to encourage you to step deeper into community here at the Desert and Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard. This week we’re doing “Meet Ups” where you can meet and connect with others. We have small groups that meet throughout the week. We have a Starting Point class where you can come connect in with others who are starting their journey amongst us. In whatever way you choose, I want to encourage you to take the initiative to move from isolation to belonging. You don’t deserve, nor were you designed to experience, any less. You need us, and we need you. Come join us as we press into the image of God by doing “life together”!

Have a wonderful week of relationships my friends!

Peace

Mike Safford

2018-10-04T10:02:26+00:00