Firm in community

November 8, 2010

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week's readings, see the Reflections on the Lectionary page, which
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Second Thessalonians
is concerned with encouraging a struggling congregation to stand firm, endure
and persevere. Wendell Berry refers to the "art
of the commonplace
," a phrase that for pastors brings to mind the art,
craft and skills by which we cultivate the common everyday life our people are
called to live and share--and which will enable them to stand firm. It is about
the mundane and about community.

Growing community,
the body of Christ, is an everyday task that takes constant teaching,
reinforcement, paying attention and making connections, and plain old
persistence in helping our people learn to share a common life. Since we all
live in a hyper-individualized society, with its constant barrage of messages
that everything revolves around me,
growing Christians takes a lot of time over the long haul.

Every Sunday for
more than 20 years we have ended worship with a benediction I first learned
from an African-American pastor. It begins, "Let's take each other's hands. . .
. Now look who you're holding hands with, and hold on tight! Because we're
going to need each other this week."

Several times over
the years I've had church members in unexpected crisis tell me later, "When I
first heard the news, I didn't know what to do or who to call. Then it hit me--who
was I holding hands with Sunday? And that's who I called."

I want our people to
think in terms of God and each other, each other and God--that we can't have
one without the other--so much so that it is habitual, their automatic way of
thinking. I tell them that if someone walks into our church on Sunday morning
and steps on someone's toe, I want the whole congregation to yell.

There are deep
theological and biblical reasons for the church to learn to live a shared life,
but it is also very practical. If we're going to stand firm then we'd better do
it as a body, or else we'll never make it. Lone individuals trying to stand are
easy pickings for the powers and the ways of the world. Monday through Saturday
we are separated, isolated, dis-membered and picked off one at a time, then
ground down into the dust.

Standing firm takes
a community of friends in Christ, together worshiping, working and living in
the same direction, seeking to cultivate the same habits. And every Sunday,
like our Lord's Supper table says, when we do this--share this meal (as well as
pray, hear the word, sing hymns, forgive and be forgiven, serve, etc.)--we are
re-membered into the body.