Yesterday evening, the reflection I offered wound, in part, around the phrase, “the last place I would have expected to see”, referring to places and times and seasons where we might not have expected, or expect now, to find Jesus in our world.
When speaking of the Mission of the church, Rowan Williams said, “Mission is finding out what God is doing and joining in”. Mission is the work of God – seeking out the people he has created for himself, and bringing them back to himself. We see this missiological activity lived out in God’s self from the moment of God’s walking through the Garden of Eden in the evening breeze, looking for Adam and Eve to speak with them – through to the Holy Spirit coming on the disciples to assist them in speaking the languages of all people’s so that they could know of God’s love for them.
When reflecting on the phrase, Christ in our community, I find myself doing a kind of word association game with that word ‘community’. Try it for yourselves sometime: community focus, community spirit, community service, care in the community, Clare in the Community even – if you are a listener to Radio 4.
The concept of community brings with it all sorts of hopes, dreams, fears and wonderings. It also brings with it a subtle judgement – often unspoken – as to who is and who is not ‘in’ any given community. I suggested yesterday evening that:
often, the Church can find itself – in many subtle and unspoken ways – saying, the last place I would have expected to see – as if the Church has a monopoly on the ways and workings of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Some of us will find ourselves doing this about members of our community – in both our church community and the wider community. There will be people who seem to fit naturally, who it is easy to invite along to something, who make themselves known, who seem to reflect something of ourselves – even if we aren’t sure why or don’t even speak this truth. Then there are those though who are on the fringes, who don’t use the lingo, who don’t even know that there is lingo to be used. These remain something other to us, to the church and, so often, to the wider community.
This word community though – just what does it mean for us? A collection; a gathering; a self-selecting group who, by choice of practice, dress, geographical location, school, church, politics even.
Throughout his ministry, we witness Jesus breaking down the barriers of communities, and in doing so challenging the pre-conceived stereotypes of those who are to be classed as in or out of the spiritual landscape he inhabited. In doing so, he challenges the spiritual landscape for Christians across time. This is a truth that is hard to live with – but it is a truth that is liberating and freeing, full of possibility and potential. If we allow Christ to have broken down the barriers of community delineations, it means that no-one should ever have to worry about whether they are in or out ever again – and this includes each one of us: for we are one with Christ – part of his body – in the world that is his for eternity.
Christ in our community seeks to embrace the whole of humanity, because this is exactly who Christ tells us he came to save. As we read: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Christ takes his place in our community in his very self, through the Holy Spirit, but Christ also takes his place both within the people whom we encounter and how we encounter them and the way in which we are encountered by these very people too. What vibes do we give off? What do we see? What do we hear? What do we hear as we listen to the words of the world? What of Christ is revealed or heard or made known – by us, by others, by the work we allow Christ to do?
For me, as for so many I suspect, “finding out what God is doing and joining in” often bumps against “the last place I would have expected to see”. I am not always so good at seeing God at work – or displaying God at work. When we look for Christ in our community we will often be surprised where we find him at work, in whom we find him at work, and how we find him at work. Community focus, community spirit, community service, care in the community: none of these are so very far from the truth. If Christ is there – and he most certainly is – then let us join him – or, indeed, let him join us.