The thing is, we have some strong defaults. Often, when we think of church, we are not thinking of a people and a shared life, what the greek word ekklesia refers to as the assembly of God's people. Instead, we think of the institution, a building, a program which is more often than not set up to be attended for our consumption. Church gatherings on Sunday morning can often feel more like a movie theater where we are the audience and merely a collection of individuals rather than the beloved community linked together for a common good.
You see, individualism and consumerism are the enemy of God's Dream.
We must all learn to live together as [sisters and] brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way God's universe is made; this is the way it is structured. - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This is God's Dream. And we see this same mutuality and commitment to community expressed in the book of Acts as it describes the early church.
That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers. Everyone around was in awe - all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person's need was met. They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved. - Acts 2:41-47 [The Message]
As The Practicing Church, we don't simply want to "do" church. Instead, we are longing to "be" the church, countering the individualism and consumerism of our day by practices of generosity and community. We want to live into God's Dream for this beloved community, devoting ourselves to the teachings of Jesus, to life together, to common meals and to prayer. To offer our gifts so that there is always more than enough for everyone.
What this means is that your presence matters. Your contribution matters. Your perspective, your voice, your passion, your strengths, and your gifts. If it is true that we are the church, then when we gather for Sunday or meals, parties or prayers, it is your presence joined with the presence of all the others in the community that makes it so. And when you are absent, you are missed. When you suffer, we suffer too. And when you celebrate, we do a celebration jig with you!
And if we are to be a part of God's Dream for us and our neighborhoods, then your presence and contribution matters even more. It will take all of us, living in mutuality and love, sharing life together, generously giving of our resources, our time and our money, and joining in God's healing work of renewal in our neighborhoods.
Our defaults of individualism and consumerism are strong and we are all fighting the currents of our culture, swimming in waters of anxiety, isolation, scarcity and futility.
It feels like there is simply not enough.
My encouragement to you is to resist the powers of the day, to show up, be present and experience the gift and the beauty of community -- where there is always more than enough.
For the kingdom of God is one of abundance and not scarcity.
We may feel like we have nothing to give, but when humbly offered, our pitiful sack lunch can be multiplied to feed the multitude and our widow's mite becomes gold. We may find ourselves overwhelmed, but heavy burdens when shared become surprisingly light. We may feel small and insignificant, powerless to affect change when it seems we ourselves are hanging on by a thread; but when we join our small thread with all the others, it becomes a beautiful tapestry.
We were not meant to live life alone, but together. We were not meant to live in scarcity but in the abundance of generosity. We were not meant to eat fast food, frenzied and disconnected, but to practice faithful presence, sharing long meals around the table where everyone in the community has a place, a name, and a voice. And we were not meant to live small, insignificant lives but to join God's big, beautiful Dream of healing and renewal in the world that is far beyond our wildest imaginations.
Those who sign on and depart the system of anxious scarcity become the historymakers in the neighborhood. - Walter Brueggemann
Wherever relationships are fragmented, it is by living out shalom that they can be made whole. Individualistic societies cause people to feel lonely and alienated, but shalom will bring authentic relationships and restore a sense of community. Greed and injustice marginalize and destroy people and the earth, but shalom restores dignity to everyone and everything. - Randy Woodley, Shalom and the Community of Creation
by Jessica Ketola