The foundation of a community whose variety is united in Christ.
Whether or not you believe the American culture is “more divided than ever” (and there are lots of people on both sides), it’s hard to ignore the divisive rhetoric that surrounds us these days. It seems like “getting along” shouldn’t be that tough, but it is.
The problem is trying to transform human division by human means. There’s little point in trying to “get along” when the tools we’re using are broken. I’m often shocked by the hubris that presumes that after thousands of years of human conflict, “this time we’ll get it right.” Why? Because we have smartphones? Solar power? Proton therapy? The reality is that despite advances in various technologies that give the impression of progress, we’re as spiritually broken as we ever were.
People are constantly insisting that human beings are “equal” but they rarely explain why, or how. In the first half of Ephesians 2, Paul lays out three ways that people, in all their variety, are united:
- We’re united in sin. This natural condition into which we’re born is something we all share, across all demographics of humanity.
- We’re united in God’s love. Of course if sin is common to all than God’s love in Christ is available to all.
- We’re united in God’s purpose. When we’re honest about our sinfulness and receive God’s love for us in Christ, he crafts us into a new humanity that can demonstrate his love to the world.
- Imagine someone very different from you. Include visible differences, like ethnicity and language, but also invisible differences like beliefs and values. Are you able to visualize that person and yourself as equals when it comes to being born in a sinful condition?
- Imagine the same person again, or perhaps a new person who is very different from you. Really challenge yourself to imagine someone whose values conflict with your own. Consider: God loves this person as much as God loves you.
- How might it change our perception of people, in all their variety, if we kept these universal commonalities in mind — that we’re all sinners, and we’re all loved by God?
The Holy Spirit is given to the Church (Acts 2:1-13)
Feel free to watch the sermon video embedded here, but this will be a brief entry with simply a few questions for your reflection. A blessed Pentecost to you, and a happy “birthday” to the Church!
- How have you experienced God’s Holy Spirit, that is, God’s real presence, in your life?
- How would you say you began your journey with God?
- “We don’t get to say ‘Well, we did it!’ It’s always God’s Spirit knocking at our door.” (Pastor Harlan) Can you describe anything from your life that you know were God-in-action more than yourself?
- The Holy Spirit can be unsettling, because God challenges us to find our “blind spots.” In what ways do you sometimes feel challenged by God’s presence?
- “God doesn’t call the qualified, but qualifies the called.” Is God calling you do something, or become someone, that you don’t feel qualified for? How does this truth apply to you?
Paul’s instruction about taking the Lord’s Supper
“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you…”
With these words, Paul is explaining to the early Christians in Corinth something of primary importance for life and faith: the Lord’s supper.
The Hebrew context here is crucial. Jesus didn’t choose his elements at random. He ordained this sacramental meal for the Church from that time until today in the context of Covenant.
Through the history of God’s people recorded across the entire biblical narrative, a pattern emerges. God makes promises. And people fail to remember (see Hosea 11:1-2 for how God perceives our forgetfulness).
It is no wonder then that when Jesus introduced the bread and the cup as the new covenant in his body and blood, he commanded that we “Remember.”
Of course, remembering that for which Jesus died — the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to God — also (ironically) means we can forget. We can forget the sins that so easily ensnare, and celebrate the liberation Christ won for us! After all, God in his omniscience is described as effectively “forgetting” that which has led us astray and embracing us, whom he loves so dearly (see the story of the lost son for a powerful image of this).
We come together as the Christ-community and express his love in many ways: worship, song, prayer, learning, serving, laughing, crying. When we gather as the Christ-community, we enact that for which the Lord’s Supper stands. We are doing this in remembrance of Him.
- Have you ever experienced the Lord’s Supper (a.k.a. Communion or the Eucharist)? What was your experience like?
- Have you ever forgotten something that you knew you should have remembered?
- When someone in our close community forgets something important (like a birthday) what is that experience like? Why?
- Some people think ceremony or tradition is superficial or unnecessary in a community. But Jesus clearly knew that ceremony was essential. What do you think?
- What intentional steps can you take this week to “Remember” Jesus’ good news each day?
Paul and Silas are Freed from Prison
How many doors do you think you go through every day? Front, back, side, garage, gates, swinging, revolving, automatic, elevator…prison?
The apostle Paul got himself in a number of tangles as an itinerant evangelist in the first century, and the story linked above is one of the most memorable. Having liberated a female slave from her spiritual bondage, her owners threw Paul and Silas in prison for jeopardizing their revenue source! Never worry — God isn’t scared by prisons.
One of the more fascinating characters in this story is the jailer himself. Frederick Buechner notes that in a sense we’re all the “Jailer.” We wall ourselves behind the stone and steel of repression, denial, and concealment in an effort to stay safe. The irony is that we are in bondage. The good news is that God liberates the oppressed!
When Paul’s prison doors are flung wide open, the jailer knows that he’d be better off committing suicide than facing the punishment for his failure as a prison guard. But Paul knows better. Shouting “Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here!” Paul embodies this poignant truth:
Alone, death seems inevitable.
But together, God opens doors to new life.
Paul knew that his freedom would be no freedom at all if it came at the expense of his jailer. His freedom was given by God SO THAT he could be a liberating agent for the jailer.
This story does have a happy ending — the sparing of the jailer’s life and the baptism of him and his family. But it came at a cost to Paul and Silas — flogging, humiliation and prison. The reality is that the Christ-community has battles to fight and must at times persevere great challenges. But the end is worth the means — salvation and feasting as God’s Community.
- Imagine you’re Paul or Silas. What would your first reaction be when your prison doors swung open?
- Have you ever experienced the oppression of loneliness, as the jailer did in his moment of desperation?
- Have you ever experienced the joy and freedom of community?
- What can you do in the spheres of community in which you live to live out Paul’s message to the jailer: “We’re all here!” To whom might that matter most in your world?