Deitrich Bonnhoeffer, in his wee book, ‘Life Together,’ talks of how we should never let our ideas or ideals of community ruin the possibility of it. In other words….any ideas we have of church, however lofty, theoretical, right or wrong, must always be subject to one reality: people are people, and people are messy. If our idea of church and community doesn’t take human frailty in account, its a dead duck vision. Communities function by loving ‘in spite of’ and must have abundant grace being poured in to help us move towards each other instead of rubbing each other up the wrong way.
I’ve never met a human who doesn’t need community in a very real way. Sure, some of us need our lone time to recharge; some of us feel awkward in social settings; some have things in the way that prevent us moving towards the risk that community represents. All the more reason to have a safe community where people shouldn’t need to fear being made to feel inferior, not up to scratch, errant, devious or any such thing.
The church can be quick to point out the moral failures of others, and as a consequence, can be judgmental and sometimes hostile. Again, sometimes even our concept of holiness can lead us away from people rather than towards them.
You know what? Its possible to hold on to the highest hope for holiness and Christian living WITHOUT marginalising people who are at a different place on the road. Just take a look at Jesus. They called him a ‘friend of sinners.’ He never let someone’s apparent sinfulness, disobedience or uncleanness stop him from reaching out with a radical embrace. Former prostitutes washing his feet. Former loan sharks preaching the gospel. Head-strong fisherman building the church…no theology bachelors here! Put it this way, there was enough evidence to call him a glutton and a drunkard.
And yet, Jesus wasn’t any of those things. He was the spotless Son of God engaging openly and warmly in the sea of humanity. I can imagine the one who existed cosmically, before all time, watching every human being with utter amazement, marvelling in their uniqueness, longing for their full restoration.
I don’t want to ruin your illusion, but none of us are much like the facade we present. I know that for myself…there are so many broken bits in me. And yet, Jesus doesn’t discard me on account of my brokenness. Rather, he says ‘in this jar of clay I will store my glory’.
Churches are collections of clay-like bricks coming together as a mosaic of shapes, colours, perspectives and outlooks to be the host of all the riches of Christ. Jesus said ‘Father, as I am in you, so I am in them and they in me.’ Any community of Jesus followers needs to take one view: I need to extend grace to all, because that’s exactly how God deals with me.
Have a listen to Stuart Townend’s song, Vagabonds.