I don’t mean to question the Word of God, but there are times when I need to be alone! I love coming back from class, or work, or any long day and simply be by myself. I change into comfy clothes, put on some relaxing music, make a cup of tea (or pour a glass a wine, on the really long days), light some candles, and cozy up with a comforter in my chair. I don’t need the television on or a book to read. There are times, I just like to sit in silence. While not always a spiritual moment, on occasion, I like to reflect back on my day and pray. I am reminded of God revealing God’s self to Elijah in “the sound of sheer silence.” In the silence of being alone, God often will reveal God’s peace, comfort, and renewal. Alone time, quiet reflection time, meditation time is so important for physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. However, these moments of solitude are simply that...moments. God came to Elijah in order to send him back down the mountain to be in community with God’s people. As nice as it might feel, as needed as it may be to have alone time, it is not where we are called to stay.
We are created to be in relationship with God and with one another. In his book, Story and Promise, Robert Jensen states, “We are persons in that I am something for you and you are something for me” (pg. 71). We become who we are created to be in our words and deeds. We become a community called to reveal our Creator. God reveals God’s self to us through the love shown in the gospel promise of the Risen Jesus. It is the living promise fulfilled every day in our death to sin and resurrection in Christ. It is this Good News that we share each Sunday in church. We are called to reveal God’s love to others. Love is an outward expression. The Word of God is not only the past words written in the Bible, but the living words of promise expressed in our loving interactions with others. The gospel is a social relationship.
It is in our call to be in relationship with one another that we form communities of faith, gathering as God’s people in worship and fellowship. We come together with other believers in song, prayer, and tradition. We speak the same words, we pray the same prayers, believe the same doctrine, and glorify the same God. The unity found in worship can strengthen a community, offering its members spiritual nourishment and communal support. It can empower God’s people, offering solidarity and a common voice.
However, we are not only called to be in community with those like us, with those with whom we agree and accept. Jensen insists that “an authentic community is one outward enough to include those who are an offense to each other, and confront them with each other in actual acts of community and set joint commitments” (pg. 185). That’s right, in order to be “an authentic community,” we need to communicate with, be in fellowship with, build relationships with those with whom we take offense, those who think, act, and perhaps even believe differently than we do.
At times, the very place we encounter “those with whom we take offense” is right in our own congregations. “Even so, believers may not flee to a supposed ‘non-institutional’ Christianity, for there is no such thing” (pg.189), Jensen warns. The issues that arise in congregations can cause people to leave the church, and seek community elsewhere. Yet, it is in an organized community that the gospel is revealed. “The gospel is a communal reality, and communities must organize” (pg 189). However, as we have organized our communities, we have built walls, created obstacles, and divided the Church. Catholics and Lutherans, Baptists and Methodist need to come together in Christ. Jensen acknowledges that “there's always tension between the living communities of the gospel and the organization they create” (pg.189). We need not flee from the tensions within our churches, nor should we retreat into the safety and comfort of our own homogenous communities. We need to embrace the tension, we need to confront the inevitable conflict, and we need to see denominational differences as artificial barriers that can be broken down, so that we can build up the Church of God as one.
We must be a united community of faith, so that we can find strength in each other, but also so that we can reveal hope to a world full of people whose faith has yet to be formed. Jensen reminds us that “since the gospel is a promise directed to, and true of, precisely those who do not yet believe it, the reality of the church is its mission” (pg. 177). Our mission is simple...reveal the gospel promise. In big and small ways, in worship on Sunday mornings and during the week as we work together as a community and move to extend our community beyond the walls of the sanctuary.
It’s a loud, chaotic world. It is filled with disappointment, suffering, and failure. There will be times that we need to escape into solitude, in order to reflect and renew. There is nothing wrong with connecting with God in the sound of sheer silence. However, we cannot stay for too long. Yet, as we step out into the fray, we need not do it alone, for God has created us to be in relationship with one another. I am here for you, as you are here for me. Together, we are called, we are invited, we are freed to joyously reveal God’s love, grace, and hope today, to a world in desperate need God’s power, presence, and promise!