May 10, 2020
I remember the longest road trip I had been on. It was the summer of 2002, and I was driving to Indiana from BC to see Shannon. The drive was close to 8000km round trip. It was in the Summer, in a small car with no air conditioning (when that was considered a bonus / luxury feature). I love to drive and explore, so I loved every minute of it. I got to encounter tons of new things, see lots of new states and scenery. I even drove through Chicago for the very 1st time and lived to tell about it (those of you who have driven there know exactly what I mean). The most exciting thing for me was that I knew that at the end of the journey, my girlfriend who I only got to see a few times a year would be waiting.
The longest part was the drive home. In one long day, I drove from a location in Indiana, 2 hours south of Chicago, to Lethbridge AB, just south of Calgary. It was 25 hours straight of driving. I Would never do that now. But I was 20 and invincible. I would have stopped if I could but had no money – even the $39 Motel 6 was too much. I tried stopping to rest in my car at rest areas and truck stops, but I learned something about driving through Minnesota and North Dakota at night. Not only is it humid, but it has big bugs. I had no A/C so I was dripping from sweat inside the car if I tried to sleep. And if I opened the window, who knows what ‘friends’ would crawl in. I was uncomfortable to say the least.
I got an hour here, 30 minutes there for a nap. But kept drinking coffee and driving as much as I could (maybe that is why I like Tim Hortons so much now!). I was eager to get to my relatives in Alberta – to a comfortable bed, to a home cooked meal, to air conditioning. I could see the destination in the distance, but for now was stuck in my car. In my mind, I was asking several times “Are We There Yet?”
A couple weeks ago, looked at how we as the church feel the same right now. The current COVID situation has taken us on a different, inconvenient, and uncomfortable journey. We feel stuck, much like I did in my car with no AC, and big bugs outside. We have been on a long trip (because of quarantine, social distancing, closures), and we just want to get out. We hear the governments talking of a gradual opening, and we can’t wait. But unlike me where I knew where I was going, we don’t.
We know life will be different for everyone after all this, and what the church looks like is no exception. The problem is that we don’t know what this ‘different’ will look like. And that is unsettling to us pastors, to MC, to you as the congregation. Yet, there are some core values that are the same no matter where we find ourselves as a church and what is going on around us. We have a vision and we have a mission that God has called us on, even for such a time as this.
As HMC, we believe we are called to be “Generations Following Jesus Together”. We do this as we “Gather, Grow, Give, and Go”. Over the next several weeks, I want to unpack this more in light of our changing world around us. A couple weeks ago, I started talking about the Gather part, the importance of community. I said that “Practical faith happens in community”. Today, want to spend a bit more time talking about the importance of “Gather” – the need for community. And how:
Authentic community requires intentional participation
The church was designed, not to be a building where people meet, but an authentic community who can meet in a building, or today is meeting online; a community who can meet at any time and any place. But in order for the church to be an authentic community, as God designed it, there needs to be buy in, or investment in it. The church family without participation is not authentic community – just a disconnected, dysfunctional gathering of people.
Why should we intentionally become an authentic community?
- God created the church with community in mind
-> There are three different potential applications here to “On this rock”. Not going to unpack them today. But later in this series I want to.
-> Notice one word… on this rock I will build _ church….
-> The church belongs to God, and He builds it. Takes the pressure off of us. Not about our methods, philosophies, wisdom, assumptions, ideas. It has to be about what God wants!
-> First time this term “church” is used in the Bible. And it is Jesus who is speaking of an entity, something He is about to create. A very specific Greek word is used here that goes beyond a light suggestion or casual implication of what the church was to be.
Ekklesia: A gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public space, an assembly. In a Christian sense, an assembly of Christ followers gathered for worship. Root words imply being specifically called out to a different purpose. Implication is that God calls us out specifically to be His community, His church, His family.
-> When we look through the pages of the NT, whenever the word “Ekklesia”/Church is used, it is referring to the group of believers as they come together as a community. It is not referring to individual, fragmented, isolated life apart from the rest of the church community. The church has always been a gathering.
-> The church isn’t what we do, it is who we are when we gather…..
-> Authentic community requires intentional participation. This appears to be what God had in mind when the church was created and named. He created the church with community in mind.
Rom 12:3-8, 1 Cor 12:12-28
- We find our purpose within the church community.
-> Both these passages describe something called “the body” that those who follow Christ were a part of. The word used in the original Greek manuscripts was:
Soma: Describes a grouping (small or large) of people who are closely united into one society or family, and in the NT, the church.
-> All who follow Christ are part of a body that is both global – meaning that we are united with all those who follow Jesus around the world – and a local expression.
-> The church is the place on a local level where that family / body identity finds
realization and purpose.
-> It is within this community that each one of us is given gifts, abilities, skills that this community body needs to function to the fullest. Meant to be used and find fulfillment in this community / family.
-> When we do not plug in, we deprive ourselves and the church community of the full potential available. When we do intentionally participate, we and the church are able to become a life giving, life changing, vibrant authentic community where we find purpose and connection.
-> Like the passage says, we need each other, just like the body needs all its’ parts.
-> Authentic community requires intentional participation. We find our purpose within the church community.
- The church community was intended to be at the centre of daily life
-> Often times, the church community has adopted a tendency to be separate from life in general. We are pretty good at compartmentalizing.
-> The church community becomes just something we have to do. Not influential, not important, not a priority.
-> What happens when the church community becomes compartmentalized is that it becomes irrelevant. When it isn’t a part of our general daily life, it loses its impact in any of our life.
-> Yet this is not what Jesus intended when He designed His church – the community of His followers who were a united body, who needed each other to function, to find fulfillment in the setting of gathering together. He intended His church to be at the center of daily life.
-> We see this as we go through the New Testament and look at all the ways in which the church was intended to be a part of daily life.
-> By no means an exhaustive list. Go home today and google “one another verses in New Testament”. I also likely have a list that I will post this week online. And not going to unpack these today. But gives you an idea.
Where needs were met: Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-35
Where disputes were settled: 1 Cor 6:1-6
Where support was given: 1 Cor 12:26, Gal 6:2
Where encouragement was received: 1 Thess 5:11, Heb 10:24-25
Where accountability was offered: James 5:16
Where prayer together happened: James 5:13-15
-> This is just a snapshot of all the daily things of life in which Jesus intends for His church (us) to rise up, live, and function together as a community, as a family. The church community was intended to be at the centre of daily life. But in order for this to happen, authentic community requires intentional participation. You need to want to plug in, to be involved, to identify here.
COVID 19 has completely changed the landscape of the church, and how we function. Community life has now, for the most part, gone online. The physical gathering we used to enjoy doesn’t happen. We aren’t getting together in each others’ homes. We aren’t getting together here at the church building. Our interactions with each other are a lot more limited as today, I really don’t have much of an idea who is watching unless you post in here (and even so, I am not able to pay attention to those things). For me it has been difficult as I don’t get to see you all at the door when you are leaving. I don’t get to see your faces, hear your voices. It is a different world.
In some ways, this has been a change that has been long overdue. For a long time, our culture and society has been online, and the church has been resisting the push to get online. Now, because of COVID, we have been forced to go online. And it has given us cause to re-evaluate a lot of what we do and how we do it. What things actually matter and make a difference? What things don’t? What we do know is that we will continue, even as things shift to allow us to be open, to provide an online presence for HMC in addition to the physical gatherings that we will be running.
With COVID, a lot of us have gotten used to not having to leave the comforts of our house to join into any of the church life. Sundays are super casual now. Being able to watch church from the living room, not have to be dressed to leave the house. And if you sleep in, you can watch it later. Everything else is online. And potentially, you could take in a whole week full of stuff here at the church and never have to physically see anyone (minus on a screen). And take it in when it is convenient. There is a lot of convenience now to how we do our church community gatherings – out of necessity.
As we look ahead though, I want to encourage us, when the regulations lift, to fight the urge to stay isolated and disconnected in our homes. Yes, it is convenient, but we are also missing out on the authentic and life changing community that we were designed to be a part of. We need to invest intentionally in our family. Authentic community requires participation.
Being online can not replace physical connection, no matter how hard we try. A family needs to be more than just a virtual family in order to grow deeper. And as we become more isolated in our homes, not participating in the community, the harder it is for us as a community to live intentionally, as a community on mission together in our communities. As cool as being online is, it leads to us being even more disconnected to each other in this community, and to the larger community in which we live.
Gathering can be anywhere, at any time. It doesn’t have to be Sunday at 10am. It can be in your own home with a dozen others. It can be any time of day, over a meal even. And who knows… maybe this will be the catalyst for us launching a whole bunch of home based churches tied into HMC. I dream…. But however we do it, gathering needs to happen. And it needs our intentional participation. We need to pursue authentic community together.
And of course, if you have never met Jesus personally, never started a personal relationship with Him, He invites you to know Him, love Him, and follow Him. He invites you to become a part of His family, His community, and experience belonging on a spiritual level. A deeper purpose, a deeper connection. If that is you and you want to know more, any of us here on staff would love to be able to help you more with that so that you can experience being a part of the life changing community and family that He has designed us for.