Saturday, 12 May 2018

All Things Common

As we reflect this Sunday on Mother’s Day and think about family, whatever our experience, it is interesting to look at what made those first Christian communities.  The paradoxical need in our overcrowded world is for community: we long to know that we belong and that we matter to those around us. The proliferation of gangs, political parties (those with specific negative agendas) and radical militant groups are just some examples of the possible negative results of that need. Common enemies, ritual practices, or a cause of some sort form a sense of power and meaning for destructive ends. Another emerging and rapidly growing community builder is blogging and tweets. Facebook, Twitter and Blog-sites, join people together from all over the world.

But whether it is the counterfeit brother- and sisterhood of gangs and militants or the virtual communities of the Internet, there is a sense in which these communities fall short of what people truly need. The picture of community we find in scripture in Acts 2 is dynamic and radical. The dynamism is best described when St Luke writes that they were a people of signs and wonders. As much as churches talk about how caring and friendly they are, the most important point of commonality is the presence of the power of the Holy Spirit. It was the power of the Holy Spirit that made the people of faith into a dynamic, multipliable force.

The authentic church is still being characterised by signs and wonders: changed hearts; healed bodies, minds, and relationships; witness and social action in the world. It is sad that signs and wonders is a description that people often only apply to charismatic denominational and nondenominational churches. At its heart, the church is not about what people do, but rather about what the Holy Spirit does through openhearted, open-minded people

Providing good parking, communicating in the vernacular style of the people, and having well-organised welcoming strategies is good, but they cannot substitute for the work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian Church. I wonder what it is in the other organisations that supplies the direction and knitting together of the group? The Acts 2 picture of community is deeply radical to many people and even too many Christians. Luke writes that they “had all things in common.” For a slave community with little or no property or assets, this kind of sharing makes sense. As the church grew, however, this model became rare.

 But the clear picture is that the church was bound, economically as well as spiritually. “They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Most church goers today would be hard-pressed to name their areas of need, economically or otherwise. In fact, we work hard at presenting the image that, because God has blessed us, we are not needy. We love to help the needy, but we don’t want to be like them. We secretly believe that needy people are deficient and inferior to us, put there by God to make us feel grateful and guilty for being more blessed.

Could it be that one of the reasons that our sense of community is often artificial because there is very little holding us together? Down deep in our fallen selves, we really do want to believe that we don’t need each other. The Acts 2 picture also includes the investment of time that community requires. People don’t “go to church”—they are the church. Early Christians were community at work, home, worship, fellowship, and witness. Parents and family’s day by day, as they spent much time together in worship, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”

How different this is from the characterisation of the twenty-first-century communities we live in or the Church we may belong to. Our situation might be described this way: “And since they were very busy people, they spent as little time with each other as they could get away with, eating on the run and never feeling satisfied, competing and scrapping over worship, and having the mistrust and criticism of the majority of the people.” The opportunity to be a dynamic and radical community of faith has been given to many.

So, how do we respond to a family experiencing a death where a wife and children are left behind. Have we as a community learnt the what it is to be the body of Christ. Have we surrounded youth in our community as they face difficulties with love and care? Common grief can become a source of common commitment and purpose. Through tragedies, we can learn better than ever who, and whose, we are: the people of God, dynamically and radically bound in spirit, in goods, and in shared time. And with it there have been and there will be more signs and wonders.

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