We are community
February 22, 2023 / By Pastor Daniel J. Bradley, Faith Journey United Methodist Church
Community is at the heart of everything we do as the Church of Jesus Christ. Faith does not happen in a vacuum. Faith happens when we walk the road of life with the people God has placed on the path with us. We don’t get to pick and choose who is on road. What we do with those individuals is integral to their faith and ours.
Scripture tells us stories of individuals experiencing God sometimes on their own and at other times together as a community. When I have been in the community, I think of the times in my life that have had the most profound impact on my faith.
In 1995, while attending Ashland University, there was a faith—awakening on campus. I won’t call it a revival, but it was a faith—awakening. It started with a small group of committed Christians who came together to pray, confess, and join in mission and ministry. That faith—awakening changed my life. I began to understand who I was and whom I belonged to clearly; God. I met some of my closest friends that I would have in college and grew leaps and bounds spiritually. Time passed, and so did that faith—awakening event, and one thing and another happened, and before we knew it, we were graduating and going our ways. Some individuals I have stayed in touch with have taken different paths. We can’t stop people from stepping off that path or going in a different direction.
One of my favorite scripture stories about the strength of community is the story of the women who came to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. They arrived early in the morning with expensive spices and prepared to find the body of their Lord.
“When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”
They found the stone rolled away and the grave clothes neatly folded. That was not what they expected. They thought, “Who would roll away the stone?” They focused on the problem, not the solution God had already promised, as they had been told repeatedly.
Community is where we confront the darkness of this world. Community is the place we bring our hope, joy, sorrow, and grief. Community is the key to unlocking the sacraments of baptism and holy communion. These sacraments do not exist in a vacuum. They happen in a community of faith. A community that collectively comes together and confesses one’s sins in the shadow of a merciful, loving God that gives us the power to resist evil in whatever forms they present. Sometimes we can see evil and call it for what it is; evil. Other times it is deceptive, like a little white lie that gets bigger as time goes on.
Thinking back over the past couple of years, I have buried more people than I care to recall. It is hard to remove yourself from the reality of the shadow of death when it is staring you in the face. Yet, every time I kneel at the casket before a funeral, I thank God for the community that has come together to mourn and celebrate an individual’s homecoming to the kingdom of God.
In high school, I was a loner. I had two good friends. I have since lost one of those friends due to distance and our different paths. The other has become a leader of a movement that I detest in every way, shape, and form. I hear from this friend now and then, and in that time, I let him know that I am still praying for him—that he would find God. We took different paths, and for that, I am grateful, but it no less releases me from the burden of praying for him.
The power of community is in the individual to embrace God and one another. That’s what the Church of Jesus Christ is all about. That is why when we come together in baptism and holy communion sacraments, we confess to God and our faith and let God do the rest.
This is a season of faith’s perfection in Jesus Christ. It is a season of longing and hope. It is a season of loss and grief. Yet, this is the time not to focus on the stone in front of us but on God’s hope for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
I am a United Methodist. I was baptized at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Niagara Falls, NY (Closed). I was confirmed at St. James United Methodist Church in Niagara Falls, NY. I would rediscover my faith through a United Methodist Pastor and return to God at Trinity United Methodist Church in Olean, NY. The United Methodist Church is part of my salvation story, and I am forever thankful for the community I share with my brothers and sisters in Jesus that walk this road with me.
Christian community is the culmination of faith, friendship, love, and hope that God has not left us to our own devices. I celebrate that community each day I rise and take air into my lungs because we all breathe the spirit of God, which binds all of us together under the lordship of Jesus Christ.