I grew up on a farm in central North Dakota, and my earliest memories are of planting and harvesting our crops with horse-drawn implements before we or our neighbors had tractors. In the springtime I would hurry home from school, do my assigned chores, and hurry out to where my father was plowing with a two bottom plow pulled by five horses or seeding wheat, oats, barley, or some other crop with a ten-foot wide drill pulled by four horses.
No matter how cold, windy, or wet it was, I would walk behind the plow or stand on one of the little platforms of the drill until darkness came and my father decided to go home. Time and time again he would encourage me to go home and get warm. But no matter how tired, cold, or wet and miserable I was, I would not go home until darkness fell, my father unhitched the horses, and we went home together.
Why did I stay when the weather was beautiful and when it was absolutely miserable for a little boy? Because I would do almost anything and put up with almost any discomfort to be with the one who loved me.
The Way of Love
Living in community is not easy. Sometimes we are able to live together faithfully only when we remember that God is there with us, and that it is God’s love that binds us together into the body of Christ.
As Christians, we worship and seek to follow the God of Abraham and Isaac; the God of Mary and Elizabeth; the God of Matthew, James, and John; the God of prophets and saints of every age; and the God made known most clearly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Jesus we have the best picture of who God is, how God acts in the world, and how God relates to us. In Jesus we discover the truth that you and I are God’s beloved children, just like every other person on this good earth. We not only are “authored” by God; we are sustained by God every moment of our existence. Our destiny is to live in confidence and trust in loving relationship with this mighty God and with our neighbors—with all God’s children—who are just like you and me. When we begin to live this way, we begin to love as God loves; we begin to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This is the way of love. This is what it means to live in community.
When we reflect thoughtfully on community, we quickly recognize that there are significant barriers preventing community in this noisy, violent, divided, and dysfunctional world. As Tilden Edwards said, Community is “what everybody wants but, almost no one is able to sustain well for long” (Living in the Presence
(HarperOne, 1995); page 61). Asking ourselves the question Who are we together? can help us to overcome these barriers and discover the essential elements to creating and sustaining a life together.
So, who are we together?
We Are a Human Family
First of all, we are members of the human race.
Recent DNA studies confirm what biblical writers long understood: we are indeed one people. The scientific evidence is clear that we have shared DNA and points out that our ancestors came from the same part of the world. All people on the earth are one family.
Each of us is a member of this extended human family of God. God loves us as though each one of us was the only child of God in the world, just as God loves every other human being on the face of the earth.
From Genesis to the Psalms and Prophets to the Gospels and Letters, the Bible reinforces this truth that Jesus taught and lived. To turn away from any of God’s children is to turn away from God, who resides within, sustains, and loves each one beyond our comprehension, just as God loves us. Jesus said,
“The most important [commandment] is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)
We Are a Faith Family
As Christians, we also are a faith family. In our contemporary world, however, it seems there is little agreement among Christians—as there is little agreement among all people—about who we are as God’s children. We divide ourselves by race, social standing, wealth or income level, level of education, or what we consider right theology or pure living. There seems to have been an eclipse of what we Christians hold in common with all people as we use markers to distinguish ourselves or separate ourselves from the larger human family. Each division only makes it more difficult to remember who we are as God’s beloved children.
It is a situation that makes us sad; and sometimes in the quiet moments of reflection and prayer, we hear ourselves asking the question the Twelve asked while they were at the table with Jesus on the night he was betrayed: “During the meal, Jesus said, ‘I assure you that one of you will betray me—someone eating with me.’ Deeply saddened, they asked him, one by one, ‘It’s not me, is it?’” (Mark 14:18-19).
Honesty requires us to invite God’s Spirit to examine us and see where, how, and when we contribute to our brokenness as the body of Christ. What is it in us that makes it so difficult to see others as children of God who are loved by God and accepted by God as we believe we are loved and accepted by God? This was an issue for the Twelve and for the early followers of
Jesus, just as it is an issue for us. There was the question of rank, privilege, position, and power in this new kingdom that Jesus described and lived.
But as the church listened to the Holy Spirit, they learned that the circle of the community that was being invited to follow Jesus was larger and more inclusive than anyone had imagined, and they were able to change and become an open and inviting community.
As they did, they also became a thriving, compassionate mission movement that changed the world.
This article is excerpted from the author's Three Simple Questions: Knowing the God of Hope, Love, and Purpose. Used by permission.