Jun6WedJune 6, 2018
This month, you’ll be hearing about the re-formation of a variety of small groups within the life of First Mennonite Church. These groups will be a 6-session, short-term study through the Gospel of Mark which will span from July into September. The material will complement, not replace, what we are studying through on Sunday mornings. However, perhaps you are one who wonders, “Why does a church need smaller group studies?” Then, subsequently think, “I don’t need that. I’m busy enough!” Isn’t meeting together on Sunday morning sufficient?” To be honest, sometimes I’m tempted to even think that way.
Consider this: Jesus didn’t live or lead in isolation, nor did he invite his disciples to live independently. Instead, “He appointed twelve so that might be with him” (Mark 3:14a, emphasis added). This meant that they ate, drank, traveled, worked, rested together with Jesus as their central point of community. In other words, they all knew when Peter was cranky. They were aware, and slightly annoyed, that John liked to in the best seat, near the Rabbi. They knew, all too well, what Simon the Zealot thought about Roman politics. It was real life together. Now, remember that although some of the disciples were either brothers or business partners, there were likely some who really didn’t know one another before Jesus’ invited them in. Some of them started as strangers. Fast forward a few years and they were making huge sacrifices for one another to multiply the gracious gift of spiritually community – a.k.a. ‘The Church.’
Yet, church was never intended to be merely a one-hour gathering of acquaintances sitting under the authority of God’s Word. It’s much more! Church was designed by God to be a gathering of disciples who live, learn and love Jesus together - a community which eats, laughs, sings, cries and prays together as the Holy Spirit leads. Church History, Peter Brown, wrote that “The appeal of Christianity lies in its radical sense of community. [The Early Church] absorbed people because the individual could drop in from a wide impersonal world into a miniature community, whose demands and relations were explicit.” Authentic community life actually defined the church.
Unfortunately, we live in a world which boasts about being connected socially and globally, and yet is increasingly full of people who feel absolutely alone in their situation. Church offers the solution. Yet, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in his excellent book entitled Life Together, “Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.” In other words,we have a choice of whether we’d like to share if the gift of church life or merely glance in from the periphery. And, should we choose Christian community, we’ll soon realize that it’s not a dream world. It is messy. It is emotional. It looks like humans hanging out together. But that’s the gift, the blessing and joy! “It so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together – the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. When the mourning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of Christian fellowship” (Bonehoffer).
So I invite you to live real life with one another this summer – centered around Jesus and the Gospel of Mark. The re-launch of small groups is a great way to experience that. Jesus never invites disciples to live in isolation but rather with one another.
Where will your authentic, spiritual community be?