Friday, April 14, 2006

On Easter - and the vital-ness of COMMUNITY

Each of us was made to love and be loved, cherished, admired and liked. No one honestly turns love down. I guess more songs have love as the theme than any other.

Burt Bacharach wrote these lyrics back in the 1960’s: What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It's the only thing that there's just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love; no, not just for some but for everyone.

We were made to be loved and to share love. And, because, yes, there is a love deficit in our world, each of us feels – to one degree or another - unloved and even unlovable.

This thought pattern festers. Left alone in the mire of our own minds and thoughts, this feeling of “Nobody loves me” gains canon status and becomes as “true” as truth gets… at least in our own minds. Thomas Merton writes:

“The soul that picks and pries at itself in the isolation of its own dull self-analysis arrives at a self-consciousness that is a torment and a disfigurement of our whole personality” (No Man is an Island, p. 34).

We wind up as a society of empties demanding of each other what no one can supply.

Good news: You are not who you think you are! You are who God thinks you are… after all, He made you, right? So, who are you? It’s no big secret: YOU ARE THE BELOVED OF GOD! You are God’s child (John 1:12) and God’s children are His beloved – His loved ones (Mark 1:11).

Here’s where we experience a disconnect. You and I read that and say, “So!” Everything we experience existentially says the opposite, and it is this to which we defer. “I don’t care what the Bible says, I know I am not loved!”

What to do? What to do?

Will the knowledge that God demonstrates His love for you by dying for you and shouldering the vomit of your rebellion on the Cross make any difference? Read:

“But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God's sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God's judgment. For since we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be delivered from eternal punishment by his life. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God--all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us in making us friends of God” (Romans 5:8-11).

How much are you and I loved? Enough to cause our Creator to say, “I’d rather die than live without you!” This is the Easter experience.

Well? Still hung up on the experiential level? Join the crowd! We western Americans have been so Easter-ized that the Cross has lost its luster, its effect. How tragic is that! If we have heard that Christ died for our sins once, we’ve heard it a million times!

So, what is it that will make the Cross real enough for us that we will abandon our selves and our “truth” about ourselves for the reality of our belovedness?

In a word, COMMUNITY. Community is that relational fabric upon which life is sown. Community consists of those Christ-following friends who have so experienced the love of God in Christ that they have excess enough to give to others. (Read the article by Henry Nouwen called “From Solitude to Community to Ministry.”) Incidentally, community is impossible without those in hot pursuit of it first having begun to experience that ruthless love of God in the Person of Jesus. Without that in place we all remain spiritual carnivores.

In COMMUNITY, I am free to assail and execute the need to impress. We become free and clear of “our own worst enemy.” We can hear the voice of Jesus’ love emanating from our friends – a voice, a message we would never give ourselves. We can experience the freeing effects of our own friends thinking for us! In community… we can hear others tell us – in word and action – “You have eternal value! You are special! You are loved!”

Jesus had this in mind when He gave the 11th Commandment, when He told us the key to the building of the Kingdom of God lies in the way Christ-followers love each other.

The upshot of this is obvious: the church must build community not institutions, not programs or services.

Bacharach’s song continues (with a few little emendations)

Lord, we don’t need another meeting. There are prayer times and socials, enough for all.

We’ve got so much stuff to do, all kinds of ministry,

Enough to last till the end of tiiiiime!

What the word needs now . . . .