The Benefit We Gain Through Community
I heard about a church that had all of the members write down their New Year’s Resolutions and they collected them and on the first Sunday of the new year then posted them on a wall in the foyer. The members were reading each others resolutions when a little commotion started. One of the ladies started to complain and said that she always thought that she wasn’t wanted in this church. She knew it was true now because they had purposely not put her resolutions on the wall with the others.
She was throwing such a fit that a member of the office staff hurried back to the office to see if they had misplaced any resolutions. Sure enough there on the credenza, under some other papers, they found a few resolutions, including this woman's. As the minister picked them up and read them he was a bit astounded, the woman’s first resolution was to not let the little things upset her in the new year.
We are still in our honeymoon period with one another. We stand here, in this time and place filled with new possibilities and new promise. It’s an exciting time for us as a congregation. We have the opportunity to look back with fondness over the past and remember that we have seen God do some pretty amazing things. I have always been in awe of what God will do when I just get out of His way. And we have the opportunity to think and dream about what God is going to do next. I am so thankful that God is not done with the Greenbrier Church, or our community.
One of the struggles we are going to face as God causes this family to grow is that if we are not careful we can lose the close feeling of community. As the church grows and God blesses us with more and more faces it can be difficult to know everyone and more importantly know when there is a need or a burden that we can help bear. One of the ways that we are going to try to combat that, is by re-inventing our Small Group Ministry. Our Elders are very concerned that we stay connected with one another. This week, Ruth Burleson will be joining us, and one of her main focuses will be helping us facilitate our small group ministry as we strive to do a better job of being accountable to one another. The majority of our groups will meet on Wednesday evenings here at the building, but there will also be other groups that will be meeting at different times during the week all around our city.
I have been in prayer that every member of the Greenbrier family will take advantage of this opportunity and help us as we continue to build community among the believers here. This morning we are going to begin a new study about community, and not just the community among your small group, even though that’s important. And not just the community of the believers here at Greenbrier, but the community we should have with all believers.
I would like to start that discussion with you this morning by looking at a small group in Luke 5, it’s the text that was read for us this morning. You might not have ever though of these five friends as a small group, to be honest neither had I until a friend of mine forwarded a series of e-mail devotionals by Rick Warren. It was through those e-mails that I began to understand how important this small group was to our discussion of community.
I hope today you will see from this short snippet out of the life of these five men exactly what God wants for our community of believers here today.
The first thing we see about community is that it is built on a foundation of Love
If you were to break the bible down to it’s essentials you will see that it is a love story. A story that tells about the love that God has for His creation. Probably the first verse you ever memorized talks about God’s love: John 3:16; For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that who ever believes on him should not perish, but have eternal life.
The Bible is not just a story of God’s love, but it’s also a story of how His love causes us to react. In 1 John 4:19; We love because he first loved us.
And more importantly it’s a story that tells us when we react to His love it becomes the very thing that defines us. In John 13:35; “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The reason God chose to remember the story of the four friends mentioned in Luke 5 is because they loved their friend, and love is important. Think about this small group and their act of love. Think about how radical their love was and how that love moved them to action. It’s another example of how love shows people that they are important.
The paraplegic in the text probably felt pretty worthless and insignificant. I mean he couldn’t work, he couldn’t help with the bills, or the cleaning, or the chores around the house. According to Jewish law he couldn’t even go inside the temple to worship God. I’m sure that there were times that he felt like he was a burden to his family and to his friends. While everyone else had something to offer, he had nothing.
Thankfully he was in a community of believers that knew the power of love. It was through his community that he heard that God knew his name and loved him. It was through that community that he learned that he was valuable. It was through that community that he learned that his friends would do so much more than just talk about how much they loved him, but they were willing to do some pretty radical things to demonstrate that love.
I believe that we need to hear that as well, don’t we? We need our Community of Believers to remind us on a daily basis that God loves us and we are needed in this family.
Not only us, but Children who are raising themselves because their parents are too busy, or just don’t care about them need to hear that. Single mothers need to hear that. Lost souls who drink away their fears every day need to hear that. People who are lonely need to hear that. Husbands who have lost their wives in death need to hear that. Men and women who jump from one relationship to another trying to find love need to hear that. Your neighbor, the checkout girl, your waitress, and the folks you work with need to hear that. And church people who show up every Sunday need to hear that.
We all need to hear that. All of us have known feelings of rejection. All of us have known feelings of being left out. All of us have known feelings of uselessness. But a community of believers is where love can be found, we all will find a place of welcome, a place at His table, a place of belonging.
Next, we see that a community is a place of support and encouragement.
Our small group shows us that love requires radical action. Their love compelled them to take their friend to see Jesus. It was a great idea, one based on love and compassion. But when they got to the house can you imagine their frustration when they saw that access to Jesus was blocked. I wonder what feelings of hopelessness, and exasperation they were feeling.
It took an effort to carry their friend to the house where Jesus was. We don’t know how far they had traveled to see the Messiah, but I doubt it was just across the street. It is quite possible that they had traveled from one of the outlying villages in Judea with their friend on a cot. Now they get to the house and they see that the path to Jesus is blocked. And not just blocked, but Jesus is surrounded by Pharisee’s and teachers of the law. There is no way the Pharisees are going to take a back seat to these four men and their crippled friend. But even though this small group had every reason to feel discouraged; they didn’t give up. They merely looked for another way to bring the man to Jesus: they went through the roof.
Sometimes we have to do something different to encourage one another to keep going. We often talk about cards and phone calls, and while I believe those are exceptional ways to encourage one another maybe we can do something else.
We can encourage people by investing in their lives, By not only saying that we are going to pray for someone, but stopping what you are doing and praying for them right there. By giving your time to visit, or help them with a project. By not only speaking words of kindness to them, but by speaking words of kindness behind their back.
We can encourage people by being honest. I’m not talking about telling the truth when someone who lives in your house asks you, “Does this dress make me look fat”? There are some questions that lead to trouble no matter what you say.
What I mean is maybe we should learn to be honest with one another. In Paul’s letter to the churches in Galata, he wraps the letter up in Chapter 6 by talking about community. He talks about how we are to treat one another, and how we are to support one another, and how we are to share with one another.
But I want to draw your attention to what he says in verse 2 of chapter 6. Paul writes; Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Usually when we read this text we think, alright fine; I’ll help someone. Now who in here isn’t strong enough to deal with their own stuff? Raise your hand and I’ll be the bigger Christian and come help you with your pain, or disappointment, or failures, or whatever. Sound’s pretty inviting doesn’t it???
I wonder sometimes if we forget the other side of this command. You see before you can bear my burden, I have to trust you enough to admit that everything is not right. And for some of us in the church the unpardonable sin is not that we struggle; the unpardonable sin is that we would dare admit that we struggle. I mean if I admit that everything is not right in my life, then I am opening myself up to the criticism and the critiquing of everyone else.
We have forgotten that when I am admit that everything is not right I am giving others the courage to admit the same thing.
When I worked in youth ministry, we would take our teen’s to Winterfest. In 1997 we had taken approximately 130 teenagers from our church in Franklin to meet with 10,000 other teen’s gathered for the weekend. On Saturday night we were gathered in a banquet room at our hotel having a devotional about Jesus being the King of Our Hearts. We had talked about how Jesus deserved to be the only desire of our hearts and when we offered the invitation an young man came forward. I met him, and hugged him and he asked if he could address our group. No one was ready for what happened next.
This young man pulled a pipe out of his pocket and with tears streaming down his face he told the group that for far to long he had allowed drugs to be first in his life, and now he wanted to give his life back to God. I was a little stunned, to be honest I had never seen anyone make that kind of confession before. But what happened next could only happen in a community.
For the next three hours, one by one, teenagers and adults began to confess their sinfulness and their need to make Christ the King of their life. It was beautiful expression of our need for wholeness that only our Savior can provide. It was not because of the sermon, or the 10,000 other folks there, or the singing, or the beautiful mountains that surrounded us. Revival happened in that community because a single young man had the courage to say that everything was not Ok. His honesty encouraged us to be honest with God and each other.
Finally a community is filled with people who are willing to Pay The Cost.
What do you think it cost these four friend to being their friend to see Jesus? A day off of work? food? inconvenience? All four of them were willing to do whatever it took, pay whatever price to make sure that their friend had the chance to meet Jesus.
Everyone of them was committed to paying the price. We can see that because all four of them carried the cot. Have you ever tried to carry someone on a stretcher with only three people? It doesn’t work very well. If all four of the friends hadn’t helped, the paralytic would have fallen off the stretcher.
All four of them was willing to pay the price of the weird looks and stares of the crowd. All four of them were willing to go the extra mile for their friend. All four of them were willing carry their friend up to the roof, and then to dig through the roof, and then lower their friend to Jesus. These four men wouldn’t have made a hole in the roof unless they were willing to fix it. They had to pay the cost of bringing their friend to Jesus.
Being in a community of believers always requires sacrifice. Sometimes it means sacrificing your comfort, sometimes it means sacrificing your time, sometimes it means sacrificing your talents, or sometimes it means sacrificing your treasures. Nothing worth doing was ever free, someone has to pay the price.
But we need to understand that being a part of this community is truly worth the price. Go back to our text one last time. Did you notice what happened in verse 26? Luke says that amazement and awe filled everyone, and they worshiped and glorified God. That happens in true community. We live in a world that is longing for a place to belong. God met that need when He established His church.
We can enter into this community of believers because God has already paid the price through an amazing act of love. His death and resurrection encourages us to carry on when life becomes difficult, and shows us how to pay the cost of following where ever He leads. This morning let me invite you to come and live life with this community of believers.