Christianity flourishes in community

Two years ago, my cousin Tom and I bought a tractor for the farm that has been in our family for over 100 years. Our tractor arrived within a week, but due to pandemic delays our bush hog was on backorder. When Boo from Big Three Tractor finally called, our hayfields had not been mowed in seven years. The delivery driver helped me align and attach the 1200-pound rotary cutter to the tractor’s three-point hitch. Having not hooked up an implement in 25 years, I was nervous and left the bush hog hooked up for weeks. When the day finally came to reattach the bush hog, I spent some time studying the manual. It is not the easiest thing to align a tractor’s three-point hitch, but after ten trips on and off the tractor, a little prayer, and a big spud wrench, I drove the 3 hitch locking pins into place. All that remained was to connect the power take off shaft. The PTO shaft links the tractor to the bush hog and spinning at 2500 revolutions per minute powers the 8 foot mower.  I easily lined up the six-foot drive shaft, but the PTO yoke would not latch in place. I read the manual again…tried again…read the manual. Failed again. Read the manual again and moved the tractor to the flattest part of our gravel road. Failed again. Lamented that Big Three was closed, and the neighbor was at the lake. After 45 minutes of trying, I was ready to admit defeat, but in utter desperation I remembered YouTube. Standing on a hilltop, I got two bars and connected with Tractor Mike. Tractor Mike’s PTO video literally began, “Today I’m gonna do a service to humanity. There is somebody watching this video that has been trying for hours to get their PTO shaft on and they can’t get it on, they have tried penetrating oil, hammers and swearing all with no luck…I’m gonna show you what you are doing wrong!” As if transfixed by a televangelist, I cried out, “yes, Mike, yes, your servant is listening!” Seven minutes later, I sat atop the tractor mowing. I called Connie and then Tom with joy that almost slipped into tears!  Victory feels hollow if we can’t share our joy. Later that night, I pulled out the bush hog manual and wrote in the margins, “tricky hidden double release collar, pull back collar as you slide PTO shaft forward.”  

 Have you ever read something in the Bible and said, “I just don’t get that?” Why is Leviticus 22 opposed to mixing wool and linen fabrics? What does it mean to ‘pray without ceasing’? (1 Thessalonians 5) How do you really love an enemy? Friends, the Bible was not written to be read alone on your cell phone; Christian faith can’t be practiced apart from community. God created us for community. 

All the law and the prophets can be summed up with two rules: love God and love your neighbor. (Matthew 22) How can we love God and neighbor apart from community? How can we practice the fruits of the Spirit alone? Love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control only flourish in community. (Galatians 5) John Wesley said, “Christianity is essentially a social religion, and to turn it into a solitary religion, is indeed to destroy it.” (Fourth Discourse on Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount) Our passage from Acts 2 lays out a blueprint for Christian community which is our model for church lifestyle and practice!

 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching,  

the community, 

to their shared meals, 

and to their prayers.

 All the believers were united and shared everything, 

selling property and possessions 

and distributing the proceeds to people in need. 

A sense of awe came over everyone.

People beyond the church saw the goodness happening inside the church.

And God added to the community. 

Christianity is about community. We need more than a set of Bible verses to live by; we need each other. Acts 8 tells the story of a high-ranking Ethiopian diplomat, who owns a high dollar sustainable chariot, and a very expensive hand-written scroll of Isaiah. The Ethiopian eunuch was literate in at least three languages and served as an ambassador for the queen. This powerful diplomat was riding in their chariot reading the Bible after a trip to the Jerusalem Temple, when Philip ran up to the chariot and asked, “Do you really understand what you are reading?” The Ethiopian eunuch answers for all of us, “Without someone to help guide me, how could I?” How can we understand the Bible without each other? How can we live lives of love, justice, and mercy without others to help us incarnate a Christ-like lifestyle? 

 There are small questions. How do we decide if we can ignore Leviticus 22 and wear polyester and cotton blends? And bigger struggles!  How do we learn to practice love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Friends, Christ is with us; we are the body of Christ. We are the light of the world. Jesus tells us when two or three of us get together, the risen Christ is in our midst to guide us. (Matthew 18; Spirit in John 16) We are not made to grieve, rejoice, laugh, or grow in faith alone. The most profound lessons about how to live after loss, love adversaries, endure tribulations, or overcome injustices are best modeled as we share community. The risen Christ is still showing up in our community today. 

A doctor and I were washing dishes after a youth fundraising dinner. We devoted ourselves to the community and shared meals by washing hundreds of plates. Maybe the only signs and wonders were a surgeon and pastor scrubbing pots. The details of our conversation have long ago escaped me, but the holiness and power of our dishwater conversation lingers in my soul. And so when someone says, “I am not sure I could survive that kind of loss,” I remember the vulnerable beauty of that night’s conversation and can reply, “Yes, I don’t know how I could survive that either, but as a pastor In have walked with Christians who have somehow pivoted from the deepest valleys of crushing loss to live lives of beauty, love and service.” 

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are not theological positions, but ways of living. Christ came to show us how to live and Christ appears among us as we live lives of Love.  You all are the light of the world, so shine your light in community. (Matthew 5) We become Christlike by devoting ourselves to community, to sharing meals, to praying for one another, to giving your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness to the refining of community and the remaking of the world. Love needs a context, a people, a community.   

Today, Amelia, Ben, Emma, and Molly will take their vows to follow Christ and be part of our community. We promise to be devoted to them. We will be asked, “will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life?” And we will promise, “With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround them with a community of love and forgiveness, so that they may grow in service to God and neighbor…” 

Let us devote ourselves to Christ’s teachings, to the community, to shared meals, to prayers, to being united, to sharing everything, to selling property and possessions and distributing the proceeds to people in need. And may a sense of awe come over us and May God add to our numbers those finding their way to God’s love.  Amen!

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