Common Ground and Purpose
Sunday, May 31, 2020
It’s sad to say, but for centuries the Christian vision was narrowed to what we have today—a preoccupation with private salvation. Our “personal relationship with Jesus” seems to be based on a very small notion of Christ. We’ve modeled church after a service station where members attend weekly services to “fill up” on their faith. We’ve commodified the very notion of salvation.
People want something more from church than membership. They long for a spiritual home that connects with their whole life, not just somewhere to go on Sunday morning. Church is meant to be a place that nurtures and supports individuals along their full journey toward the ultimate goal: a lived experience of the communion of saints, a shared life together as one family, the Reign of God “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Too often, the formal church has been unable to create any authentic practical community, especially over the last half-century. In response, we see the emergence of new faith communities seeking to return to this foundational definition of church. These may not look like our versions of traditional “church,” but they often exemplify the kinds of actual community that Jesus, Paul, and early Christians envisioned. People are gathering digitally and in person today through neighborhood associations, study groups, community gardens, social services, and volunteer groups. They’re seeking creative ways of coming together, nurturing connection, of healing and whole-making. The “invisible” church might be doing this just as much, if not more, than the visible one. The Holy Spirit is humble and seems to work best anonymously. I suspect that is why the Holy Spirit is often pictured as a simple bird or blowing wind that is here one minute and seemingly gone and then nowhere (John 3:8).
It’s all too easy to project unrealistic expectations on any community. No group can meet all our needs as individuals for emotional, mental, and physical well-being. The human psyche needs space and healthy boundaries and not co-dependent groupings. I certainly learned this lesson myself through my participation in the New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati in the 1970s and 80s, and even earlier as a Franciscan brother. Almost any community can serve as an excellent school for growth, character, and conversion, even though it may not be a permanent “home” for many reasons.
So what makes a good community? The remainder of this week we’ll look at a few of the factors that contribute to healthy, whole communities. Our very survival as a faith tradition, not to mention a species, might just depend upon this. Remember, the isolated individual is fragile and largely helpless to evoke long-term change or renewal. By ourselves, we can accomplish very little. We must find common ground and common purpose to move forward. It was Jesus’ first and foundational definition of church and even divine presence—“two or three gathered together” in the right spirit (Matthew 18:20), and “I am there”—just as much as in bread or Bible!
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Essential Teachings on Love, (Orbis: 2018), 101-105; and
Near Occasions of Grace, (Orbis Books: 1993), 14; 50–51.