Moving is always a troublesome, headache of a chore. I should know, I’ve moved from Georgia to Kentucky to Colorado to Wyoming over a span of five years. For those who may be curious, that is a total of two thousand and five miles across seven states, lugging a family’s worth of stuff nearly the distance from Atlanta to Los Angeles. We have lived in a house, two parsonages, and two apartment buildings (I like the apartments best because someone else does all the yardwork) and have seen neighbors and friends come into our lives through those travels.
One of my fondest memories was that of moving into the Beeson Center Housing my first year at Asbury Seminary. We had to wait an extra week for the seminary to finish cleaning out the apartment. During that last week at home in Thomaston, we spent our time packing and getting ready but also being with friends and family as much as possible. I remember the Siscel and Peterson families coming over to help us load up the truck – and watch my conniption fits when things fell off the truck. Finally, all was loaded, and our family had out sleeping bags to sleep in the floor of the parsonage, part of our plan to get up and get on the road fast with a quick breakfast from McDonald’s.
The Peterson’s, who were the resident Presbyterian pastoral family in town, were the last to leave and would have none of that, though I have no doubt that the Siscel family wouldn’t have either. Christopher and Alisa insisted we come to their house, get a good night’s sleep in a real bed and a hearty breakfast before setting off to the bluegrass. I remember the bittersweet emotion of standing in the Peterson’s driveway, knowing that our dinners together with them, the Siscel family, and others would be fewer and farther between. There was regret in that, not in the decision to go that was a calling, but in that our friendship would be long distance now instead of across town. With a series of tearful goodbyes, we climbed into the truck and drove north to a new experience of life.
When we arrived in Kentucky, the Beeson Housing was empty, being used for overflow for those waiting to move into the new Kalas Housing area. We unloaded and began the process of setting up our apartment, enjoying a nice lawn fort he kids to play on and getting accustomed to the train tracks being less than a stone’s throw from the back door.
Then, the neighborhood began to grow. Along with friends, family, and fellow seminarians, I helped the first family move in and then another and another – Harris’, Balasundarams, Days, Flores’, Halls, Rogers – before long, most of the buildings were full and we had a small village of people all in the same seminary boat with us. We were becoming our own neighborhood, our own tribe, centered around our calling to come from hometowns all over the United States and study together for ministry.
I realized the depth of our community that first Thanksgiving together in 2012. All of us students were looking at finals and church services in the parishes we served and really no way to get back home for the holiday. One of our group had some friends who were missionaries that had retired to a house just off campus, a short walk from our apartments. They allowed to use the house as a gathering place for our holiday dinner and I cannot begin to tell you – although I have and probably will again – what that experience was like. I have come to think of it as dinner in heaven: Kimchi, Korean barbeque, Tex-Mex from the Valley, Cajun infused dishes, and southern style holiday dinner and fixins’. It was one of the greatest meals and times of fellowship I have ever experienced and served to underscore the depth of the community that we shared for the three years our family lived in Wilmore.
Common hope, common life, common mission
Community is central to all developing cultures throughout history, and the Christian Church was and is built around the idea of community. The interconnectedness of human beings is an absolute necessity for our existence, the very thread that holds us together. “…being needy is something that we try to avoid, and dependence is not a trait we are proud of…all human beings are vulnerable and need others to survive and flourish.”
Community is people. “Every concept of community is related to a concept of the person.” That concept of the person is born with each individual bringing something of themselves to the greater group. As each person brings a part of who they are, they change the overall group dynamic, structure, and appearance. Think about a church you know, maybe this one, maybe another one. Think about its personality, the feel you get from the people as you talk with them. Think about what is important to them, what they spend their time and money on. Think about the town it is in and how that affects the worldview and perspective of the people in the group. After you have thought about all these things and others we may not have mentioned and put them together, you have a community.
Looking at Acts chapter two, we find the continuation of a community as it grows into something new. The disciples, that is a group of about 120 people who have been following Jesus, have just experienced a tumultuous couple of months. They have seen the trial and execution of their beloved rabbi and Messiah. In the midst of their dashed hopes, they have also seen his resurrection and witness the miracle of resurrection life, having spent the better part of forty days after Jesus return with the spirit of their beloved teacher. At the conclusion of this time, they watched Jesus ascend into the heavens and are sent at that point to wait on the Holy Spirit. When it comes, everything changes.
The Holy Spirit fell on the disciples as they gathered in the upper room of a home during the Jewish celebration of Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, a festival commemorating the time which God gave the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Emboldened by the presence of the Spirit of God, the disciples of Jesus began to preach of Jesus life and message to the crowds, testifying in the many languages of the Jews and others who were in Jerusalem. At the conclusion of these testimonies, particularly one from Simon Peter, the crowd of people asked, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter responded with a simple expression of what it means to begin the journey of Jesus, “Change your hearts and lives. Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 This promise is for you, your children, and for all who are far away—as many as the Lord our God invites.” The response to Peter’s words was the mother of all altar calls, as three thousand people chose to join the disciples in their fledgling expression Judaism. From this, the community of The Way was born.
There are several things that we can see from the birth of this community and many others that we could talk about, but I would like to look briefly at three that I notice that may well be important to our understanding of Christianity and the continuing formation of our own community. First, the disciple’s community centered around the hope they found in the life and teachings of Jesus (Acts 2:37-41). “The existence of any Christian life together depends on whether it succeeds at the right time in bringing out the ability to distinguish between a human ideal and God’s reality, between spiritual and human community.” What is meant by that is simply that we as those who choose to follow after Jesus’s Way are seeking to live into a reality created and focused by and on God desires, not our own desires. We are truly a community of God when we live into the ideals of what it means to worship and live according to Jesus’s teaching about God.
Second, the disciple’s community was learning from the loss of their beloved rabbi by continuing to live out the teachings he taught them (Acts 2:22-24). They were learning at this first stage that “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.” It is through Jesus in that we are only able to experience true community with one another when we are bonded in The Way of Jesus. It also means that only by being ‘in Jesus’, meaning only when we ourselves are immersed in the life and teachings of Jesus in a way that reflects those teachings and ways of life to the world around us, are we truly able to find community in each other through the common bond of the worship and following of Jesus. “Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.”
Finally, the community had reason and purpose. The disciple’s community saw themselves as reformers of Judaism not starting a new religion, a light to their Jewish brothers. (Acts 2:36) It was not their intention to create a new religion from the teachings of Jesus but to bring a fresh expression of their Jewish faith to the larger community of Jews. The intention was to illuminate the consciousness of the Jews with Jesus’s interpretation of the Jewish scriptures and the Jewish way of life. As the Johannine community writes in the First Epistle of John, “This is the message that we have heard from him and announce to you: “God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.” If we claim, “We have fellowship with him,” and live in the darkness, we are lying and do not act truthfully. But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin.”
Life in the modern church
According to the writer of Ecclesiastes, “…one can be overpowered, but two together can put up resistance. A three-ply cord doesn’t easily snap.” In the modern world, we find ourselves bombarded both within and without the church with messages that express the beliefs of individual communities. Let me say that again, we are being bombarded both within and without our church with messages that express the beliefs of other individual communities. It is our place as disciples of Jesus, followers of The Way, to determine through the reading of the scriptures, the traditions of our people, the reason we have at our disposal, and most importantly, the leading of the Holy Spirit of God how best to live into The Way of Jesus. Working together, each to their own strength and ability, we can accomplish great things for the cause of Jesus, leading others to embrace The Way.
This may seem a tall order, yet we must remember, that we are not alone. “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” And more of greater importance than that, Jesus himself has said: “I am with you always.” Through the power of the Spirit of God, we know this to be true. We know we can live in this truth.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community. Translated by John W. Doberstein. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco/HarperCollins, 1954.
—. The Communion of Saints: A Dogmatic Inquiry Into the Sociology of the Church. London: FB&c Limited, 2015.
Saracino, Michele. Christian Anthropology: An Introduction to the Human Person. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2015.