I spent the better part of 8 years fighting my call to ministry. It wasn’t necessarily an outward fight that people would have seen, and most people may not have even known it was going on. However, in all that I went through, in my ups and downs of high school and college, there was one group of people who were always there for me and always checking-in on me. And that was my home church and my home community.
There is so much that I learned about the essence of the community from my home church, not just from the good times but from the bad as well. The community is the basic understanding of what it means to be the church together, and the manner in which we embody community and live in the community is the nature in which we are the church.
We are moving right along in our series about the Apostles Creed and while we have jumped ourselves forward in the creed for this week we still find ourselves staring at the way in which we often fall short of the Kingdom God wishes us to embody. But that’s alright, because we have the opportunity to learn, and grace is always sufficient.
Like I said we will return to the section on the creed about the Holy Spirit next week, but this week being All Saints Sunday in the church I wanted to move to this part of the creed this week and talk about the church and the saints.
“I believe…in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints…” (http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/apostles-creed-traditional-ecumenical)
So today we will explore this meaning of community and what it means to be the church and be in communion with the saints. The creed says that the church is holy and catholic. That means, as one of my commentaries wrote, the church is holy in that, “The Church is where those who are inspired by the Holy Spirit and are faithful to God come together in sacred community.” (http://beamsandstruts.com/articles/item/786-understanding-the-apostles-creed#13) The holiness of the church streams from the reception of the manner in which the Holy Spirit is truly present in the life of the church. Every time we gather we invite the Spirit into our presence, we have an opening prayer, a call to worship, or some sort of spiritual bringing together to acknowledge who it is that brings us together.
The church is catholic, little c catholic not big C. The church as catholic means that we are universal. “The Church is ‘catholic’ because it is all-embracing;…” (http://beamsandstruts.com/articles/item/786-understanding-the-apostles-creed#13) All-embracing in recognizing that the church reaches out not just to one or two people specifically, but Christ calls us to reach out to all the nations. This is a community that lives within the ever-glorifying presence of the Spirit and seeks to bring others into that life as well.
So let’s look at a biblical example of what our communities are called to look like. In the book of Ephesians, we have an example of what it means to be the church. Now Ephesians is an interesting book because while the book is addressed to the church in Ephesus (Eph. 1:1) the work is believed to have also been meant for the larger body of Christians in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). This is important because of the issues that plagued early Christians, especially around how does one embody the church that Christ calls us to be. You had this new formation of faith and disciples were trying to figure out what it meant to be a Christian as an individual and a community.
Therefore, the author of Ephesians writes, “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” (Eph. 4:15-16)
As the writer wraps us this thought this is where he leaves his readers. We are one in Christ who is our head, and we as the body do the work that Christ calls us to do. This is a common metaphor, that is the body of Christ, used in Pauline and Deutero-Pauline texts.The body of Christ represents for us the way we function as the church. The fact that the church is one, connected to Christ, and is two working towards the goal set forth by Christ. We act in this manner of being knit together as a form of unity. To be part of the greater body of the church means that we are attached to one another through the Spirit and we must live that way.
The best part about this unity is that the scripture writer knows that there is no way that within this community we are the same. Writing, “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, and teachers,…” (Eph. 4:11). When we acknowledge that we are called differently, that we think differently, that we are different people we can come into community recognizing the role we each play. I am not the same as any of you, my beliefs are probably different from most of you, and I am sure within this community we probably have a bit of diversity in thought and even gifts. However, the writer notes that the nature of the church remains the same. “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,…” (Eph. 4:12)
This is because unity is more than trying to force people to be exactly like you. It is more than impressing your beliefs on someone, but that unity, in the eyes of Christ, is about building up the body of Christ. When we bicker, argue, and tear others down, whether part of the body or not we are not doing justice to the body of Christ. What is supposed to be the best part of the church is we are supposed to be a harbor for all people, that people can come and be a part of the body and feel the love that God has for them.
This is where we pick up that second piece we look at today as the “communion of saints.” When the writer of Ephesians writes, “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry,…” (Eph. 4:12a) he does use that term saints intentionally. The greek word here being hagion, coming from the root hagios meaning holy or sacred (https://thebible.org/gt/index). That means that these people are special people, and isn’t that what we are when we are people of God, holy and sacred? In the early church, and for the most part in our church today, saints are often viewed as people who have died, but also anyone who lays claim to the faith. Therefore, this communion of saints takes place in the manner in which we know that we are part of this greater body. To believe, not only in the holy catholic church, but also the communion of saints is a confession that you are not on this journey alone, nor are you the first person to travel this road. We receive strength from those who have gone before and those who journey alongside of us.
We are reminded constantly of our necessity for the community. We are called to come together and worship, serve, study, pray, and numerous other things. We do this, because Christ tells us to, but deeper than that because Christ knows that we are stronger as a community.
I know that we are different. I know we may all have vastly different beliefs, but we can’t let that get in the way of being the body of Christ and sharing Christ with the world. Because when we do that is the greater disappointment.
So how do we do this?
And here is your homework:
We must put aside our pettiness, and we work together for the greater good of the Kingdom of God. It means laying aside those trivial pieces of our humanities and spreading a message of love that is incarnate and lived out in Christ. That is given to us in the work of the Spirit. This is how we equip the saints, this is how we are the body of Christ, this is how we show the world that Christians are not some hypocrite religion that chastises and demonizes those who are not with them. When we truly embody community we recognize that everyone is not only welcome but has life within the body of the community no who they are or even what they believe.