There is an awful lot of talk about community in churches today. So much so that it has become a sort of buzzword. Everyone likes the idea of community. It’d probably be hard to find someone who’d say it’s a bad thing. And I think most of us desire it. But it is elusive in our day. I really mean that. Even the way that we think about community has changed. It has become less personal and tangible, less existential. What may be called community today is often just its shadow. (I doubt Facebook and Twitter will really fulfill our need or longing for real community.)
Our society has completely changed in the last 100 years. I’ve seen it in a unique way. Growing up in a small village in the Amazon rainforest and then moving here was much like taking a time machine from 1920 to the year 2000. Technology specifically has not only changed our world; it has changed us. And with it we have gained so much. So much that we don’t often ask what we have lost. Let me give you some examples of how technology has affected the way we relate to each other in our world.
We have a worldwide computer network called the Internet that sends information at lightning speed to millions. News travels the world in a matter of seconds. Yet most of this information is impersonal and does not call for any action on our daily lives. Sometimes we know more about people who live 2 thousand miles away than we know about our next-door neighbor.
We have entertainment everywhere. Music flows as if we each have our own personal band playing to the tune of our lives. The sound does not come from people we know or their instruments, but almost magically out of the air as we command it. We have entertainment boxes that cover half our living room wall, bringing all the experiences of life and relationships right into the safety and comfort of our home. Consequently we have less need or time for community. (The front porch has been replaced.)
We have cars to carry us in bubbles where we want to go. We have a button that automatically opens a car-sized door in our house so that we don’t even have to leave the first bubble without first being inside the second.
We have an endless supply of food that takes very little effort to acquire. We usually don’t know the people that sell it and we certainly don’t have to. And they usually don’t know the people they got the food from.
We have the ability to communicate with people all over the world in a matter of seconds. We can have thousands of people “following” us without ever knowing them. We call people “friends” whom we really only know superficial things about…often only the things they choose to type. Yet we spend less and less time talking to people face-to-face.
Now listen, I am not saying that technology is evil, or that our society is completely devoid of community. What I am saying is that if you look at the world we live in, if you take a hard look at how we interact, it is no wonder that real tangible community has become scarce. But we long for it. And we should.
It is interesting to think that when God broke into our world, He did not just send a text, or e-mail. He didn’t make a rockin’ YouTube video and upload it to the web. He came himself, to our world as a person, and lived among us. Jesus ate and drank with friends and skeptics alike. He walked and talked with people. He stayed in their houses and shared life with them. He worked with them. With healing power He touched untouchables and spoke to the deaf so that they might hear for the first time. He lived in authentic community with people.
Speaking of Jesus, John said this, “We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him.” Listen to the language that he uses. It is personal and real. Jesus shared life with people. They had tangible experiences with him.
But John does not leave it there. He goes on to say, “we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life.” You see Christianity is not just about having better community. Jesus did not simply come to share in human life. He came to share with humans, divine life. That is, He offers to us entrance into a whole new community: life of everlasting community with God. Real, life-giving community begins with Jesus. He gave His life as a ransom that those who trust in him might commune with God. On the cross he experienced separation from the Father so that we might never be separated from Him again.
And here lies the basis for all Christian community. But we must not ignore the call that Jesus gave to his disciples to go out on mission just as he himself came. Our lives are to be a testimony of life in fellowship and communion with each other and God. We are to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and demonstrate its power in tangible ways so that others might join in communion with God.
We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.
1 John 1:1-4