(This simple, powerful Word of God comes from a dear friend, Father Les Jackson, an Episcopal priest in Kansas. It is relevant not only to our day but to our blog series on friendship as well. For friendship turned in on itself is narcissistic, selfish; friendship founded and nurtured in Jesus extends God's love outward to the community of God's people, the Kingdom of God).
Love, mission and Discipleship- Still a More Excellent Way
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all are members of the body, so it is with Christ (I Corinthians 12: 12).
In a sermon delivered by John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, he urges his fellow colonists saying, “We must delight in each other, make other’s conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor together and suffer together, always having before our eyes our community as members of the same body.” Governor Winthrop and St. Paul give us an image of shared, connected and other - centered community that acknowledges vulnerabilities, and, equally, the joy and hope that emerges from being engaged and connected to others who share a common vision of “human flourishing”. So, what does human flourishing look like for the “Body of Christ” in a culture of fear, anxiety and dismemberment? How do we get there from here? What navigational tools do we need?
Perhaps the most important tool is to retrieve an ancient memory of what it means to be disciples, followers of Jesus, to be students of scripture who seek the profound truths of God’s word and mission, and then, practice their faith envisioning a new creation – a new and beloved community that the Gospels call the “kingdom of God come near”. This kingdom invites us to participate in radical hospitality and embraces all of humanity, remembers what has been dismembered and marginalized by fear and abusive power.
Following Jesus as God’s beloved community has always been the intended alternative to an anxious fearful culture needing to be rescued from its self-interest, unbridled pursuit of power, competition for bigger, better, higher, faster, stronger and the tendency to create winners and losers. Ultimately, we and our neighbors end up isolated, lonely, dismembered and lacking any authentic meaning or purpose in life. To put it another way, we seem convinced that the best life is one of competition, comparing, conspiring, condemning and crucifies others with impunity all in the name of perceived self-preservation and safety, but in the end, leaves us empty and without a place to belong. Journalist David Brooks captures the impact and suggests the simplicity of its solution. He writes “We live in a society in which loneliness, depression and suicide are on the rise. We seem to be treating each other worse. The guiding moral principle here is not complicated: Try to treat other people as if they possessed precious hearts and infinite souls. Everything else will follow.”
Faithful discipleship reminds us that the Spirit, the very breath that God first breathed at creation, is upon us as it was on Jesus. God’s mission Isaiah foretold and fulfilled Jesus is the work of the church - here and now. Those of us gathered as the body of Christ in community are still charged to “bring good news to those who need it most, to bind up broken hearts, to let prisoners know they are free, release people from whatever holds them back and let people know that this is God’s time”. Our intentional faithful relational discipleship creates and sustains a safe, loving community that encourages and engages “human flourishing” and embodies what Paul refers to as “still a more excellent way” – a more excellent way he calls love and we see revealed in Jesus’ sacrificial love for humanity.
Embodying the life, death and resurrection of Jesus makes possible courage, hope and patience for a more excellent way where the common good is valued over our own self-interest. Paul reminds us that as the body of Christ we should always let love shape our perception of the common good, the stewardship of resources, power and codes of conduct. We should be every mindful that “Love is patient, kind, is not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Paul reminds us that as the body of Christ we cannot say that we have no need of any member but must remember that all members are part of a shared humanity. Because everything belongs. Every human being is of sacred value; the stronger members must be mindful to clothe the most vulnerable members with respect and dignity. Paul reminds us that this more excellent way is found in sacrificial love “always having before our eyes our community as members of the same body.”