Troubled Community? Try These Four Things

several pairs of shoes
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/2001899627/">D Sharon Pruitt</a>

1 John 1:1-4

We announce the origin of things to you. What we heard. What we witnessed with our own eyes. What we examined and touched with our own hands. It’s about life. Life that was revealed, that we’ve seen. We swear to it, and we tell you that life forever with the father was made known to us. And we’re telling you what we’ve seen and heard so you, too, can be together with us. Surely, we’re together with the father and with his son, Jesus. We’re writing this so our joy may be complete.

Here is yet another Christmas story. Another account of how it all started.

Like all the Christmas stories, it was written quite a while later, and the people writing it down weren’t actually there. The eyewitness is metaphorical. But the story provides the basis upon which the community that tells it is built. And in that sense, it’s not about the community’s past, but about its present. What is essential to the community’s value system. What is essential to pass on to the next generation for the community to continue to exist.

With that in mind, here are four observations we can glean from these lines about this early community of Christians.

  1. Their central value is life.
  2. Their core principle is togetherness.
  3. Their posture is invitation.
  4. And their prime movement is toward joy.

Whether you agree with their specific theology or not, a community affirmation of life, togetherness, invitation, and joy sounds like a pretty awesome thing. Just about any community would do well to emulate that.

Take Them to Dinner

People at dinner
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonnygoldstein/5527073572/">Jonny Goldstein</a>

Mark 2:13-17

Jesus went back out to the seaside, where the masses reassembled around him. He started again to teach them. And as he went along he found Levi Alphaeus in the levy collection kiosk. Jesus said, “Follow me.” So Levi did. Then Jesus came to Levi’s house for dinner, where many other government agents and cheaters came to eat with Jesus and his students. (There were a lot of people following him.)

When the legalists’ brown-nosers saw that Jesus was dining with cheaters and agents, they asked his students, “Why is he dining with cheaters and agents?”

Hearing this, Jesus responded, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, just sick people. Likewise, my business isn’t with the goody-two-shoes people, but the cheaters.

Keep in mind that this was before doctors practiced preventative care. It’s pre-HMO, pre annual checkup. It’s still how most of the world goes to doctors: when they’re sick.

If you’re life is fine, you’ve got no complaints, you’re fat and happy and everything’s going your way, you’ve probably got no need for Jesus. You may have plenty of religion. But you’ve still got no need for Jesus. And, frankly, he’s got no need for you.

But if you’re like most people (in this passage, it’s mostly white-collar people at dinner) whose life is messy, Jesus is happy to have dinner with you. If you’ve got skeletons in your closet you’re ready to deal with, that’s when you need Jesus.

It’s tempting to see people who are part of the system we despise (state employees, teachers, librarians, the rank-and-file people behind the counter at the Motor Vehicles Office) as worthy of our anger. “Fill out this form.” “Pay this fee.” “That’s not in my job description.” “I don’t care that you’ve been on hold for 45 minutes. It’s 4:30 pm in my time zone and I’m leaving. Call back tomorrow.” Jesus sees them (if that’s you, Jesus sees you) as people caught in the same dehumanizing system as the rest of us.

When Jesus gets to the tax booth and Levi says, “Sorry, closing time. Come back tomorrow,” instead of getting bent, Jesus invites him to dinner. “Bring a few of your friends along,” he says. “We can talk better when you’re off the clock, out of the system.”

The upshot: People are pretty much people. It’s the context – whether they’re caught in the system or enjoying the company – that makes all the difference.