Community Positive: Christ to Our Neighbors

    Apr 19, 2015

    Passage: John 15:12

    Preacher: William (Tex) Culton

    Summary:

    Isaiah 42: 5-9 and John 15: 12-17

    Detail:

    Have any of you heard of or read the 2001 National Book Award for non-fiction, “The Noonday Demon” by Andrew Solomon? He has a more recent release, 2012 “Far From the Tree” Parents, Children and the search for identity. Anyway, this author who writes about depressions and love in difficult situations was put in touch, before he began his writing career, with a well-known British biographer from whom he thought he would receive advice like which publisher to call to get the best deal for his books. Instead, the biographer said: “I have only one piece of advice for you. HAVE A VISION AND CLEAVE TO IT.”

    HAVE A VISION AND CLEAVE TO IT……To see lives transformed, families strengthened, and our community renewed through intentional relationship with Jesus Christ.

    We have talked about the vision and its importance as well as its source. We heard about renewed lives and how God’s Holy Spirit makes that possible. Today I’m concentrating on the community: the community positive of faith with which we worship and its positive effect on the communities in which we live.

    Have you ever climbed a wall or a cliff? If you have, and unless you have free climbed without help, you remember being attached to a belaying rope or tied to another climber and the rope always being there for safety. However, you also had to depend on hand holds and foot supports to climb to the top

    My goal is to give you hand-holds on our “Vision” to which you may cling. I think of the spiritual, “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder” and I see us facing this vision as if it were El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. We have to climb it toward the realization of God’s will….We’re roped together, yet each of us must find our own handholds and foot supports. We have the family of God to help us, but each has a personal responsibility to hold onto our relationship with Christ as well as assist the whole community in our effort to make it to the top. Our Community Positive supplies the ropes to which we are all attached….our safety, our help, and another person who is as responsible for me as I am for them. The only way we’re going to make it to the top is TOGETHER.

    So what is community? What is Christian Community and how does our Christian community integrate itself with the rest of the folk in our towns and townships?

    [JOKE]

    A Presbyterian minister was called out by the police because a man was threatening to jump off a water tower. The minister yelled at him not to jump and he answered,

    “I have nothing to live for.”

    "What about your family!"

    "I have no family."

    "What about your friends?"

    "I have no friends…"

    The minister thought for a long while and said,

    “Well maybe we could be friends. I’ll bet we have a lot in common.”

    "I doubt it!"

    "Well, do you believe in God?"

    "Yes."

    "See, I said, we have that in common. Are you a Christian?"

    "Yes."

    "So am I," the minister said, and felt hopeful.

    "Are you a Presbyterian by any chance?"

    "Yes I am."

    "Well I’m a Presbyterian minister. Are you Presbyterian Church of America or Presbyterian Church (USA)?"

    "I’m Presbyterian Church of America."

    "Well, I’m the other, we don’t agree, so if you want to jump…..go ahead!"

    Community is accepting each other’s differences of opinions, different personalities, different nationalities, different looks, and different experiences of what it means to be a Christian and being willing to share your differences with them… since you’re all tied to the same rope that will see you to the top of the ROCK. Never lose sight of the fact that one end of the life-line is held by God… You may not be able to physically see it (lost as it may be from sight, in the clouds), but your faith in God’s love for you enables you to envision it.

    You don’t know my political affiliation, but I want you to know this: My best friends hold completely opposite political views. Love trumps politics. Love trumps denomination/religion.

    We are not a culture that calls for a lot of imagination. Everything is visual and even our music is interpreted for us in videos. I don’t believe that we really understand when we are challenged to “Live into a Vision”…I don’t know if we can see what it looks like.

    Let’s try something together!

    There is a discipline that is used at times to release our imagination in prayer. When we pray we try to imagine ourselves in a Biblical scene, being part of the story. It is not an easy exercise, but it has proven to have wonderful results in releasing people from rote prayers, memorized prayers and praying that is always the same. It encourages a dialogue with God, Christ and the Holy Spirit as one envisions their presence and enters as a person into the Biblical story.

    The vision your session has chosen is put succinctly into one sentence. It has also chosen 5 values that describe who and what we are. But you can’t see them, you can only read them and if they are to have life, you have to understand them and imagine ways in which you might wear them, carry them, and use them to be the church in the world…..You need to use your imagination/vision to live into them!

    So this is what I want you to do: close your eyes and envision yourself in ancient Jerusalem. You’ve responded to Peter’s sermon on Pentecost and have decided to join with other new believers in the resurrection of Jesus. With your eyes still closed listen to this description from Acts 4: 32-37. “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”

    Please, just try to relax and see yourself in Jerusalem with other members of the early church. Give each other nick-names. What would you be called? There is a definite feeling among you….What does that feel like to you. There’s noise; there’s cooking; People going in and out to do what? Go out with them. What are they doing, what are you doing, saying? Now come back in and sit in your usual place and pray whatever       

    You imagine you should say to God.   [SILENCE]     [AMEN]   Now slowly open your eyes.

    Value – We love God and neighbors by helping bring about a community that is thriving and healthy for all.

    You may have had a wonderful vision of what you did as a new Christian in Jerusalem in 33 A.D. I think that the church grew so quickly because of that unique community of faith that took to heart what Jesus commanded….”that you love one another as I have loved you.”

    They had an example; a man with a holy attitude/ not “holier than thou” or “exclusive” but a person who saw a need and met it without worrying about polity, religious law, tradition or what others may think of him. He followed his heart, which happened to be the heart of God. Grace trumped law! Forgiveness had to be offered before anyone asked for it! All were treated the same…no groveling, no lording it over others…..Jesus didn’t tell everyone to sell all they had and bring it to the Apostles, and neither did the Apostles. They seemed to have this common vision (did they remember the story of Jesus with the rich young ruler to whom Jesus said, “Sell all you have, give to the poor and come follow me.”?)

    These early Christians expected Christ to return in their lifetime and lived accordingly, and in doing so brought Christ to their neighbors in their lifetime!

    But what I think is important to begin to understand is that they formed a community that was a window into heaven. They mirrored Christ. They loved one another as God loved them, and with the communities combined affirmation, they went out into the city and lived their faith.

    They began treating each other as with respect, concern and empathy. I believe that was possible, as I said just before, because they had the support of the community; meaning the love of the community.

    So I believe that if we are to have a mission in our towns and townships, we have to practice loving one another as Christ loves us. That living, practical love; a love that is all accepting and supportive and encouraging. That love that rejoices when anyone rejoices and weeps when anyone weeps. The strong caring for the weak and the weak praying for the strong. Sharing successes and fears, hopes and dreams and failures and receiving this information without judgment. That kind of love is too great to be contained by these walls; it is too powerful to be held in by the doors…that kind of love breaks through the walls and blows out the doors. That kind of love shines through the windows and that kind of love `moves with the people and finds a thousand ways to express itself to the glory of God.

    I’ve got to finish up here, but I encourage you to re-read today’s scripture and know that YOU ARE CHOSEN by Christ and Jesus calls you “friend.” There are two attributes of a loving church we can realize. Reminded that not only we, but everyone in this body has been chosen by Christ to reflect the love of God to the world. Remind one another of this and treat one another as if each is chosen. And just be friends with one another. Friendship leaves a whole lot of latitude for behavior different from your own. In fact those different expressions of different emotions is what draws us to one another. Accept difference, but hold this one thing in common: Love one another! And finally remember that we have been appointed to go and bear fruit.

    Pray with imagination and vision, and live your prayer without fear of failure and the knowledge that you have the support of all your friends.

    There is a hymn “We Are Your People” that reads, “We are your people, Lord, by your grace. You dare to make us Christ to our neighbors of every nation and race.”