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Monday, February 14, 2011

The Community

I preached this sermon originally in 2009. In its initial form it began with a shorter version of the poetic retelling of the story of creation, fall and redemption. This rewrite was an assignment for the class I took this past January. The intent of this message is to remind the hearers/readers that Scripture is telling a story we’re all struggling to hear naturally and to call us to share that meaningful story of belonging with others.

Before the beginning there was Community. God, the Community of Love, whom we refer to as the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit had a perfect relationship of mutual love and respect. This isn’t to say that there were three gods - there is One God and this God is the essence of Love. Love neither exists nor is it expressed in isolation, it is expressed in community. This God, this Community of Love was not incomplete, the Trinity was and is the fullness of completion. Community needed nothing, Love lacked nothing. Love was eternally expressed within the Community of the One God in Three Persons.
While the Community of Love was not incomplete, neither is God static. The nature of True Community is expansive. It is dynamic. It is always growing and bringing into itself everything around it. The relationship of the Community, being rooted and established in a deep indescribable love, felt compelled to create. For that is what love is and what love does, it continually creates expansive opportunity for love to be expressed.
So God, the Community of Love, created. God brushed away the darkness, stepped into the midst of chaos and brought forth solid foundations. God molded and formed an unbelievably expansive and expanding universe, and then, in an inconspicuous section of all that began to paint with beautiful strokes a landscape that was begging to be enjoyed.
God walked in the garden she had created. She knelt down and from the same material that formed mountains, deserts and jungles; the same material that made up the fish and birds and lions and bugs, she began to mold something new; something that would see and know and laugh and love. She began to form something that would walk with her, that she could teach and love. She formed out of herself - using her own image as a mold and model.
This new thing God was making would be the pinnacle of everything God had created. She would be able to point out the sunrise and this new thing's breath would catch; when a thunderstorm would pass through this new thing would come running to God for protection; he would hold this small creature and explain that everything would be okay.
God formed this living being. He breathed his own life into this thing. The Community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit - the relationship that was full, complete and needed nothing - invited these new small frail children to share this powerful community. And it was so very good.
God could have formed these creatures without the ability to choose their course. That was a decision that God made with the stars and planets and mountains and streams. None of these had been given the freedom to choose - planets and moons are in their orbit and have no ability to decide to do otherwise. Mountains are tall and strong but they will never think, "I want to be a valley now." Gravity does not consider whether it will influence objects or not.
This decision allowed the universe to be orderly, but it also ensured that no planet would ever decide to write a song about the Father. True, God created great beauty in the planet, a beauty which is itself a kind of song, but it isn’t a song that the planet created in response to its Creator. In humanity, God has created something which is able to create as God creates - not on the same level; neither as equal nor rival, but as something which understands, as God does and because God does, that when love is present beautiful things result.
The children could not be like the stars or the trees, they had to be able to choose.
Some say that God was disobeyed and so his wrath was stirred. I think its much more sad and tragic than that. The Lord had created these children to live in the trusting, loving relationship that she enjoyed as herself; God had created room for the Community of Love to be experienced. In the moment of choice, the creation rejected both Community and Love. The course of the Story was altered from its intended trajectory.
This crisis was devastating and cataclysmic, but it would not have the last word. It WILL not have the last word. Even in the midst of great crisis, when Creation rejected the relationship of love and community and instead launched into selfishness and isolation...The Creator continued going to his creation. He called a man named Abraham and made a covenant with him. The Lord God blessed Abraham and promised that through him all peoples on earth would be fact, all of creation would be blessed.
As the children of Israel continued year after year to cycle through seasons of confusion and clarity, The Lord kept going back to them seeking to restore and reconcile community with her creation. He patiently taught and corrected and reminded and invited and urged and groaned and pleaded. The Community could not stand to see creation languishing in isolation.
The sending relationship with great leaders and the inspiration of great prophets continued until the Community of Love decided that ambassadors would no longer suffice. Once again, God would walk in the garden with his creation. Once again the missionary God sent himself - which is the nature of true love and true community. And Jesus the Christ walked among us.
Jesus gathered a community around himself and continually invited the broken, overlooked, forgotten and oppressed to rejoice because the Community of God was at hand; it was here and they were invited in.
When the time came for Jesus to return to the Father, the Spirit was sent. The Spirit wasn’t sent to wander aimlessly. She came to form and cultivate community in the Church in anticipation of experiencing Community on earth as it is in heaven. The Spirit called for the community of believers to be sent to the ends of the earth; continuing the ministry to which Jesus had dedicated himself, continuing the ministry to which God had called Abraham, continuing the ministry which God initiated in the first garden, continuing the Act that began in the beginning, continuing the character of the One who was Community before the beginning. The missionary God who sends herself as Love has sent us in like fashion...
We see it everyday in a thousand ways. Walking down the fluorescent lit halls of our high school, they’re there...whispering, judging, huddled together like the impenetrable phalanx of Spartan warriors. Enter any public space: a bar, the mall, a dark alley...even most church buildings and there they are again. Notice your friends, yourself even, and perhaps you will recognize with astonishment that they are still present...even in the mirror.
Sometimes they give themselves a name and go to battle against other theys - sometimes with tanks, sometimes with machetes and assault rifles, sometimes with stolen firearms and knives, sometimes with words.
They are us. Humanity. Struggling to find meaning and belonging in the midst of a deeply scarred and broken world. Whether we’re talking about nations, religions, factions, gangs, fraternities or cliques the dynamic is the same. We long for connection and as I once heard someone say, “when we’re dying of thirst we’ll gladly drink water we know is poisonous.”
The story of Scripture - our story - reveals that this longing is natural, it was placed within us in the very act of creation by a God who exists in community.
We miss the power of the Story when we make it about rules and retribution, about medieval honor codes and penal substitution. We miss the story altogether when we make it about justifying our desperate groupings’ existence at the expense of another’s.
The Story is about the God who created out of love and is compelled by that same love to heal, reconcile and restore...The Story not only explains the origins of our longing, but also describes the landscape of those longings fulfilled. The story gives us a hope-full picture not only of an alternative vision of existence than that in which we currently dwell, but also of the lengths to which God is going to make that existence a tangible reality...on earth as it is in heaven.
This is a story worth telling. It is the story we long is the story that yearns to be told. It is the story that sheds light on and deserves to replace every tale of mangled attempt at connection. It is the story that explains why we will kill to belong to a group...and calls us instead to die in order to find true belonging.
And because the story so deeply important, it is not a story that can be controlled and retold merely by a select few. It is your story, it is my story. We each have a unique translation and we are each called to share this story, through our presence and through our proclamation, with those we meet as we go along.
The Missionary God who sends Godself as Love has sent us in like fashion.

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