June 3, 2012. St Petri
holy trinity ultimate community
“Community”: now there is word for our times. This word, “community” has grown in stature and use in my life time. It has become a word that reveals a heart’s desire, a direction in life, a longing in the soul, a thing for which many will work towards and even buy.
I and my family have had an interesting experience of this longing for community in the previous 8 years to being Called to serve in our St Petri community…..
We lived in a multi-million dollar seaside housing development in which the Lutheran Church established a new K-12 College and new Lutheran church. The whole community was only 2 years old when we arrived. The population of this self – contained urban estate about 8kms from town grew from 1000 to 5000+ in the 8 years we lived there. Whatever this new place promised was in high demand!
And here’s the thing: as far as I could tell, people were not only buying a house or even a place in a nice environment in which to live, they were buying “community”.
I discovered this by listening to incoming people give their reason for paying the dollars and making such a big move. They actually would almost word-for-word say the catch line of the advertising for the estate, which was “a community where everyone knows your name”.
One TV ad had the scene of a 30 something husband going to the local shop to buy the morning paper and being held up for 2 hours by too many conversations with all the locals out in their front gardens and down at the shop who greeted him by name!
People were willing to take a risk in making a move to a place that promised them an experience of ‘community”. They were willing to pay for this too. They were literally buying in to the idea of “community”; for whatever reason.
In some ways they may have got what they paid for. In others not. Not everyone knew your name. Not everyone wanted to know your name. In fact, with the advent of the automatic garage roller door and low maintenance front gardens, and busy working lifestyle and busy children’s activities and etc, etc, etc, people were hardly ever in their front garden or lawn, hardly ever home and if they were, the most you got to see of them their head through the glass of their 4WD vehicle as they waited for their garage door to open before disappearing inside and the door closing.
Welcome to “community” in modern Australia! a place where you are largely unknown and unwilling to be known in any meaningful way. Where people live inside their houses, hardly ever put their hand up for any kind of community contribution and largely feel quite disconnected and alienated from various clubs, institutions and definitely churches. So much for the current version of “community”!
There is no doubt that our community here in Nuri is very different and much more connected generally, and that is a great gift. However, if I listen to the good folks at LCC or Carers Link or the Housing Association, or just chat with a family new to the Valley (of which there are more than a few) I hear that there are many people in this community who feel the same as those in the new area we came from.
It has been my experience that most people long for community. People long to belong somewhere, somehow.
I am not sure this longing is more strongly expressed than when you are in the teen and young adult years. As a teen I was willing to do just about anything to belong to a group. The clothes I wore, the hair I kept (or didn’t keep!), the food I liked, the drinks I drank, the movies I watched, the sport I played, the company I kept or did not keep was a lot to do with searching for belonging.
What made it hard work was that groups and belonging and being a teenager can be a very hostile place. Trying to fit in and find community is a risky and often hurtful.
I cannot tell you the shift that happened in my view of friends, church, God and myself when I ran into a functioning Faith community of young Christian people at my first ever youth camp aged 14. I finally found the church. I finally found that the church is community as these normal young church teens and young adults welcomed me like I have never been welcomed anywhere, up to that point. They included me in their groups and actually seemed to be glad I was around. They opened up their friendships and hearts to me as a rank outsider.
I think I got a glimpse of the immeasurable love and community of God, the Holy Trinity, through those normal church kids and their faithful ‘20 something’ youth leaders. The simple human welcome, inclusion and obvious care and interest they actually did to me and for me hooked me in. Through them, God the Father, Son and Spirit, the ultimate divine community, began the long process of drawing me further and further into his presence – his community.
Ever since, I have been on a journey that marvels at the mysterious nature of our God – One and yet Three – the ultimate community who allows alienated, isolated, lonely, imperfect and downright selfish people into his beautiful community of self-giving love and respect by means of his gift of baptism and holy meal and that precious word of forgiveness all enacted in the gathering of his community.
Did this interesting leader of people named Nicodemus go looking for belonging in a conversation with this Jesus of Nazareth late that night? I don’t know. But he was invited into a living relationship with God in a way he never thought possible.
Jesus said that this God whom Nicodemus had thought he had known all his life was a little different up close and personal. Instead of One God running solo with all his minions diligently going about keeping him happy by keeping the 613 laws of Torah, God was somehow human too in this man Jesus. God was completely committed to inviting sinners into his holy community – and not because they cleaned up their act and got with the program, but because God loved them and re-created them.
In fact, God’s main goal, according to Jesus, was not to judge sinners and outsiders for their wrongs and their ignorance of church, bible, faith and religious institutions but to save sinners from the death they are dying, from the aloneness that hurts them, the disconnection that diminishes their spirit and increases their searching for belonging in places that are only a facade – like the ad campaign where we used to live.
How was it with Nic when he heard that God’s greatest concern and effort was in saving and healing and welcoming people who could not be a part of his beautiful community apart from his gracious power in re-creating them anew in baptism?
I reckon I know a bit of how Nic might have been: staggered! I was staggered to find the church. I was completely made new through the human word and touch and action of those Christian young people at that camp way back in 1981.
My journey of faith in the Lutheran church has been one long journey with other forgiven sinners into the community of the divine – the Holy Trinity, One in Three.
The need for belonging and welcome and care never stops. This gracious communal God calls “a spade a spade” by naming our self-centredness and idol chasing what they are. Yet in the same breath he welcomes us by the giving of his own Son into the hands of sinners where he is alienated, isolated and abandoned in our place and we receive his life and place and belonging instead of certain and eternal aloneness. He puts us all together in his divine community called the Christian Church, the Communion of Saints.
I am with Bill Hybels from the Willow Creek Church in Chicago, Illinois. For 35 years he has been saying this mantra: “The local church is the hope of the world”. Why? Lots of reason, but the main one: This local church is a sign of the ultimate Community of the Trinity in action. Because of this, St Petri is a hopeful place because God the Father, Son and Spirit lives and breathes his ultimate communal life in us.
If you are searching for and needing community, then you have it. You, as loved baptised person have the closeness of the Father, Son and Spirit coursing through your veins and filling your heart and you belong in this church – this holy trinity sign of ultimate community, community!
Your call is to commit to, work for, be involved with and be filled with that same communal love for people. By your life lived in this community, in close communion with your Trinity God, people like Nic are born again from being isolated, alienated law keepers and hypocrites (because no one can ever keep the law enough!) to people who belong, who know who they are in God and who don’t have to find belonging, but receive it as a gift and live it out in joy.
The goal of God is to save, help, comfort, heal and include sinners in his community of love. It’s our goal too, as we seek to “share the love and hope of Jesus with everyone”. Amen.
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