Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Christian Community

This post was originally an article in our parish newsletter. To read the rest of The View, click here.

A remarkable thing happened on Sunday night: a group of youth sat around a table and decided how they would live together for the coming year—a process which reminded me of the value of Christian community.

Although I participated in the discussion, I did so mostly as an observer. Kristin Hanson, our youth director, guided the conversation, but the real substance of the debate came from the youth themselves. “What words or phrases do you think of when you hear the word ‘community,’” Kristin asked. After everyone had an opportunity to contribute, we were then asked what makes a Christian community different from other types of community. “Prayer,” someone said. “Serving others,” another suggested. Then, once the foundation was laid, we turned to the real issues.

As if on cue, one of the boys at the table pulled out his cell phone to check a text message he had just received. “What about cell phone use?” someone asked. “What are the rules about that?” Seizing the opportunity for community building, Kristin responded with another question, asking, “What do you think the rules should be?” At first, the conversation went much as you might expect: teenagers voiced their reluctance at having to keep their phones in their pockets, next whined about having to turn them off, and then balked at the notion that they should surrender them upon walking through the door. As I feared, the ubiquity of handheld technology—a covetousness I share—threatened to unravel this burgeoning community before it even got off the ground.

Then, guided by a different spirit, the attitude in the room shifted. Our posture changed from one of defensiveness to one of mutual concern. We listed all of the possible options for handling cell phone use during EYC, and Kristin asked us to name our reservations about each. When it seemed as if the whole group had reached consensus about one option, she articulated a proposal that more or less comprised everyone’s perspective. We then went around the table, and each of us responded to the proposal with “yes” (showing our agreement), “no” (indicating that the proposal was something we could not live with), or “pass” (suggesting that the proposal was not what we wanted but something we were willing to accept for the sake of the group). The process was repeated, and, before long, we had adopted a policy that everyone could accept. When we had finished, despite all the odds, we passed around a bag, into which all of us voluntarily placed our phones.

Last Sunday’s gospel lesson (Matthew 18:15-20) is a text about how to deal with conflict in a church. This coming Sunday’s gospel lesson (Matthew 18:21-35) includes a conversation and a parable about the importance of forgiveness. For two weeks in a row, we will hear sermons about the value of Christian community and how we are called to sacrifice our individual wants and needs for the sake of the community to which we belong. Our shared identity is built upon the principle of mutuality above self. What will hold us together? What must we let go of in order to strengthen our ties to one another? As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are supposed to act as he did—not by standing up for what matters to us but by yielding all that we have for the sake of the other.

Jesus said, “Whoever would be first among you must be servant of all.” That is how a church is built. That is what it means to be the body of Christ. On Sunday night, the youth group demonstrated that they understand what Christian community is all about. Will the rest of us take notice?

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