Telling someone that I work in the church can often be the quickest way to end a conversation with them. One Pastor asked a young man in his local community why he didn’t go to church and the young man replied ‘because I’ve been before!” Most people don’t have to think too hard to come up with a negative story or experience relating to church. I can tell you many.
In a divided society like Northern Ireland, ‘church’ can be sensitive word that contributes to division rather than bringing about unity. Yet, Jesus said that one of the main tests of authenticity among His followers was how they related to each other. There should be traces of love in our system. If we claim to be followers of Jesus, then this should be visible by the way we treat each other. We should ‘love in the same way we have been loved by Him.’
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. Jesus
This means we need to remember that Jesus loved us at our worst. He stooped to wash the muddy feet of His disciples as a way of showing them the trajectory that love takes. This downward love that would eventually lead to the Cross. We forget that Jesus didn’t wait until the disciples had cleaned up their act before He called them. He didn’t issue a dress code or instruct them to behave a certain way before He extended kindness. He didn’t hold back friendship until they adopted His outlook on life. He loved the unlovely. He identified with those who were radically different from Him. If Jesus had only associated with those who were like Him, He would have been forced to remain in Heaven. The Good News for us is that He stepped away from the familiarity and perfection of that community and into enemy territory. The Light of The World stepped down into darkness in order to love those who were different from Him. The church is a diverse community gathered together by the rescue of Jesus.
The church is . . . made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. Christians come together . . . because they have all been saved by Jesus Christ. . . . They are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake. DA Carson
We cannot love one another unless we are actually with one another. Our culture is marked by being together but alone. In the gym with others but alone on the treadmill, in the coffee shop with others but alone on the Kindle, on the train with others but alone with the newspaper. Social media is the obvious arena where many of us are ‘together but alone’. There are plenty of options for being in a crowd but the church should be a community. A diverse community where we are honest about our failures and weaknesses. The Bible encourages us to carry one another’s burdens, bear with one another, forgive one another. This is impossible if we just listen to podcasts and read Christian books. We need to be in community with other people long enough for them to do us wrong, so that we will have the privilege of extending grace to them. We need to disappoint others and receive forgiveness. We need to be real about the challenges of life if we are to receive encouragement and help. This does not happen in isolation. Disciples of Jesus are to love one another in the same way He has loved us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that the goal of Christian community is that we
meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.
Human longing has always been to find someone who would be there for us when we’re at our worst.
When your job’s a joke, you’re broke, your love life’s D.O.A. – when it’s like you’re always stuck in second gear – when it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year.
Our hope is that when things aren’t going our way, someone would love us. Disciples of Jesus meet one another as bringers of Good News. The message of salvation in Him.