1 Corinthians 3:1-11, 16, 21-23 & John 13:34-35
Reflection by Mart the Rev
A few weeks back I was talking about the origins of the phrase ‘cutting a deal’ and how God announced to Abram that a covenant was going to be made and that a bunch of animals should be collected, and Abram, with no further prompting proceeded to cut them in half, lengthways, and lie them on the ground with a gap in between the two halves. Abram did what he did because that’s how big promises were signed and sealed. The beasts killed and cut up and the two parties to the deal walking down between them and saying, ‘may the same happen to me if I do not keep my side of the promise.’
And later that night, God appeared as flaming torch and smoking pot and travelled down between the beasts. But Abram never did. The deal was made but the promise was only made by one of the parties. The covenant with us is God’s choice. God’s unconditional yes to us before we deserve it, commit to it, honour it or even ignore it.
Everything is gift!
If Abram had walked down the line and made the covenant with the promise of ‘may the same happen to me’ I wonder how long it would have lasted?
For Abraham, as he became, the answer is not long at all!
I had a quick look through the rest of Genesis and the litany of rivalry and bitterness is long. It is like every generation has basically ignored the idea of God’s generous love translating into how they in turn might live. Rivalry is one of the most obvious signs of a denial of God’s covenantal love. There is hardly any ‘love God and love neighbour as yourself’ when people are used for your own advantage, discarded, manipulated, hoodwinked, lied to, favoured, and left for dead. But that’s what God gets, story after story, in return for this unconditional goodness – and we are still in the book of Genesis! The rest of the scriptures in the first testament bear witness to God’s goodness but in exceptionally trying circumstances…the people of God can be extraordinarily unfaithful in response to God’s love. Their response to God’s generosity so often manifests in appalling self-centredness and bitter rivalries.
But Jesus came – we declare. With his sharpening of the golden rule to ‘love one another as I have loved you,’ all self-centredness and rivalry ends once and for all. Well…um…no, not for very long at all.
The early church soon developed factions and frictions. The apostle Paul tries to attend to this when writing to the Corinthian church who had developed rivalries around which leader had authority – was it Paul or was it Apollos?
In his letter Paul names the stuff for what it is…
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Peter or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” Everything belongs to you, and everything has been brought together in Christ, so don’t behave as if this hasn’t happened.
Last week Anne was talking about community. At the close of her reflection she asked, “so how do we do community together?”
I heard it and got thinking. I kind of heard two questions – ‘how do we do community together’ and ‘how do we do Christian community together.’ Maybe there should not be a divide, but there is… isn’t part of the calling on the church to be such a witness in its life together that the community around us will be influenced by it, and even attracted to it?
How do we do community together?
Our societal structures are quite dualistic – quite ‘us and them’ oriented. Adversarial ways of being are how many of our societies are structured. Right/ wrong, black/ white, friend/foe ally/enemy, left/right, my way/your way, east/west, my religion/ your religion, first world/third world – you know how it goes!
The basics of this stuff is learned in the playground and carefully structured and reinforced by the time it gets to the courtroom, the parliament, and the nation state. We are seasoned operators in these systems. So how do we do community together? Rather awkwardly actually. There are many rules and opinions and traditions and rivalries, and aren’t we in the thick of it now as we prepare to vote on the contest of ideas and the jockeying of personalities and principles. I’m not sure if there are better systems out there – but the way we seem to do community together is often structured around the limitations of how nice and tolerant and generous we are prepared to be with one another… and we contest whatever ground exists in the middle. Survival of the fittest is met with kindness towards those who struggle. ‘Me first’ is met by ‘us together’. Justice is met by compassion. And somehow we make our way.
How do we do church community together? Is it the same? Is it meant to be the same?
Wouldn’t we want to say that we would want to be a community of friends, a community where anyone is welcome, a community where you can rely on each other, care for one another, refrain from judging one another, kind, gracious, generous, compassionate, just as God in Christ is towards us? Wouldn’t we want to say that and more? Wouldn’t it be amazing to be part of a community like that? Where people aren’t judged by appearances, job, abilities or disabilities, ethnic origin, their struggles and shortcomings, their quirky ways and circumstances, and so on? Wouldn’t we want to say that the church community can be and should be a witness to the world of God’s generous love that has no bounds, turns the other check, attends to the log in its eye rather than pointing out the speck in other’s eyes, provides sanctuary and compassionate care for those who society discards, looks for the best in people, seeks the best for people, and so on? Wouldn’t we want to say that and more?
How are we doing?
Everything has been given to you, writes Paul to the divided church, where the lives of those who claim to live in the way of Jesus doesn’t seem to have led to the kind of unity one would expect. Everything has been given to you, why then do you behave as if it hasn’t?
Sometimes I think we are incredibly careless with what God has given us and called us into. Is the community of the church about something more than the community at large? Is the church able to practice ways of being together that don’t degenerate back to the rivalries and divides that seem to beset most if not all human communities?
The deal God cut with us – the promise, is not conditional on us getting everything right. Everything has been given to us, but we are not about to be beaten up or abandoned because we fall short of living in kind in our interactions with others. But is it unreasonable to ask that those who choose to believe and follow kind of behave a little differently than everybody else? I ask myself this when I hear myself saying judgemental and unkind things about people and when I observe people dismissing others, or promoting themselves, or gossiping about someone, or murmuring dissent around the traps rather than talking about their feelings in the right way in the right place. Isn’t it a beautiful thing when people really work at getting along together and looking out for each other? Isn’t it a beautiful thing when people love one another without judgement, without condition and without rivalries? You do see it in places in the community. Sometimes you even see it in the church. Maybe I am a dreamer and too idealistic, but I have high hopes that this kind of way of being is exactly what the church of Jesus Christ does have in its spiritual DNA, it should be the most obvious thing about its life for anyone who cares to look into what it is all about. There’s a song to be played – God’s song of love, and we all have a part to play!