We hear much about community today. Most people say that they desire to be in community. Many people talk about the value of developing community. Yet most people never really find genuine community. Instead, they settle for something less. They settle for a superficial, pseudo-community instead of investing the hard work in creating the real thing.
As the body of Christ, we have been called to live in community with one another. Yet, our attempts often fall short. We create surface community that lacks any real depth. When the pressures of life come crashing in, our community crumbles. What does it mean for us to have real community with one another? To begin to answer that, I want to tell you a story.
When I was getting ready to go to college, I signed up to participate in a three-week wilderness experience offered to in-coming freshmen. It was intended to prepare us for the challenges of living in a college community.
I arrived at Honey Rock Camp in Wisconsin both apprehensive and scared. Before we reached the camp proper, the bus stopped and we were all told to leave our things on the bus and get off. As we assembled, the bus pulled away, leaving us out in the woods. A man with a clip-board stepped forward and started calling out names. I was assigned to a group of ten other freshman, with two upper class leaders. At that very moment our adventure began.
For the next three weeks we canoed and backpacked through upper Wisconsin all the way to the UP of Michigan. During that time we were totally dependent upon one another. We carried everything we needed on our backs. We were given a topographical map and a compass and instructed to find our way daily from point A to Point B, without using any roads and without encountering other people. We had to work together to make sure that we all arrived safely.
About half way through our experience one of our members pinched a nerve in his shoulder. He lost the use of his left arm. He was allowed to continue on the trip only under the condition that we carried his stuff for him. We all rallied around to make sure that he could finish with the rest of us.
That trip is an example of what it really means to live in community. We needed to care for one another, encourage one another when things got tough, and work together to reach our goal.
Jesus demonstrated for us what it means to live in community with Him. As we watch Jesus interacting with His disciples, we can see what He expects of us today. Jesus refused to settle for a superficial facsimile of community. Instead, He raised the bar high. He said that genuine community involves genuinely caring for one another. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35) Jesus illustrated what this looks like in the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37) Living in community involves taking the initiative to reach out to those in need.
Jesus also demonstrated that genuine community breaks down barriers that divide us. It is so easy for us to retreat into our safe, homogeneous groups and “protect ourselves” from “those out there.” Jesus took the exact opposite approach. He intentionally shattered the barriers that divide us. He was often accused of associating with “the wrong people.” A case in point is the story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. Zacchaeus was a tax collector, a hated man in his community, yet Jesus intentionally reached out to him with love and compassion. The outcome was a transformed life.
Jesus created community by investing in others. When He called his first disciples, He did it with an invitation to enter His life. “Come follow me.” Jesus intensely invested in the Twelve, sharing His passion, His purpose, and His pain with them. When Jesus was gone, these man turned their world up-side down.
Let me draw a few practical implications from Jesus’ example about genuine community.
- Genuine community begins with an honest desire to share life with others.
- Genuine community is willing to include those who are often left out.
- Genuine community is more about sharing the mundane than experiencing the exciting.
- Genuine community is risking sharing our dreams, hopes, and desires with one another.
- Genuine community is being open and honest about our faults and failures.
When we think about Jesus and community, many people want a sanitized Jesus. They
want a Jesus of love without confrontation. They want an idealized Jesus, who conforms to their agenda, and who never offends or criticizes. But that is not the Jesus of the Bible. Jesus was at times raw and always real. He loved people passionately. Invested in people deeply. Challenged people boldly. He never settled for a watered down, lowest common denominator community. Instead, He constantly raised the bar and called people to live up to a higher standard. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24) If we want to experience genuine community, then we need to take our lead from Jesus.