I often hear churches talk about their spiritual communities and friend groups as if they are islands we’re meant to build our lives on.
I’d like to challenge that notion (and offer a hopeful addition to it).
Let me be clear before I start: I think we stand for similar things. This includes a solid community of faith folks; people to pray with, who sometimes share our particular faith (or do not), and who stand for similar goals of communal justice and redemption.
But too often, this is where the message ends.
It is left within the context of bible studies and Sunday church meetings, or Saturday service projects; but is this form of moving through the world still a closed one?
Does it move through the world with [church] walls blocking a full view of the state of the people around us, and their needs, hurts, and hopes? Are those outside of the “community” merely apart of a dutiful mission, and not instead a mutual, equally beneficial, and intentional community too?
We don’t always see a protest or a community forum meeting as a form of prayer or faithful action. We don’t always see Black activists or DACA protests as their own sermons; we don't always see these things as necessary in our human embodiment and existence as faithful people; as something to listen to and commune with and take part in. We don’t always see these things as their own space of bible-study, of prayer, of a kind of living faith, and not a compartmentalized form of belief.
Moving through the world with church walls and stained glass windows stacked around our bodies misses the experience of Jesus in the everyday, in the very depths of who we are as human beings - created for love and service and justice; something found in every person—Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Atheist, Agnostic. There is, absolutely, an image-bearing beauty in all people, which reflects truth and hope embodied (the kind we find in our own holy scriptures).
If we are not aware of those around us—the people outside of our bible studies and service days and Sunday mornings—we are missing the continuation of the Gospel as it breathes today; which I deeply believe, is an interfaith experience and movement toward service, justice and inclusion.
Insulated existence misses the point. And I think it misses Jesus.
Is your neighbor, your brother, sister, sibling, only those who profess Jesus’ name? Is your neighbor the activist fighting for families that aren’t heard? Is your neighbor the homeless man, more than a Saturday project? Is your neighbor the atheist person who—like the rest of us—wants a friend to commune and talk deeply with (not in a church)? Is your neighbor someone who wants to be heard, and not spoken at? Is your communion limited to the blood and bodies that you understand?
Whose blood and body are you willing to stand with?
These are questions and challenges as much to me, as they are to you.
While Jesus had a stable group of people, his stable group was not the point, or the goal. They didn’t define his ministry, or the people he was drawn to. Jesus sought out and spent time with those who were not the religious or outwardly faithful.
Jesus’ life was built around and a commentary based on those who were outside these traditional religious and social groups. And yes; the disciples followed him. But where did Jesus, himself, actually *go*? Who did he seek to surround *himself* with, as he moved from place to place, need to need, group to group?
His life and words are a testament to the dangers of insulation, and the joys of inclusion. The dangers of an insulated group, and the joys of love and fellowship without stipulation.
Take that however you will.
Jesus continually challenged the borders of the social and spiritual church, and stepped over lines. He spent most of his time with people who were not considered worthy by any religious or social institutions.
Where would Jesus be today? How would he spend his weeks? Though I think he may stop by a bible study every so often, (and certainly spend time in prayer and silence), I also believe he’d be marching; engaging with community social groups and forums; eating dinner with the supposed “faithless”.
I end with this scripture.
“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.
Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.”
One of the experts in the law answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also."
Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs.