Rev. Sharon Prentis
11th May 2014
What is Your Community?

When I was younger I “belonged” to a group of houses in Yorkshire. They were very traditional back-to-back terraced houses where people lived in each others pockets. What amazes me now, is that most of our doors were open, and so the children would run through each others houses. There was Mr Brown who always had a sweet for each of us and Mrs Thompson who gave us cake. There was the corner shop at the end of the street where we would spend our pocket money on blackjacks, fruit salads and sherbet fizzes. Across the road was Potternewton park where I would spend many happy hours with my brothers jumping over the wall and climbing trees. Mr and Mrs Wolinski introduced me to my first taste of Polish sausage and sauerkraut with dumplings. As children that was the most exotic food we had ever tasted. My parents in turn, introduced them to rice, peas and chicken. We had a type of fellowship. Not that we shared everything, but if you needed a cup of sugar or some potatoes and something to eat you knew who to go to. Today, the word community means many things to many people. We have commuter communities and virtual communities we are in many ways fragmented in that we belong to several communities all at once: those at work, school at college within our geographical localities on the Internet.

When the church was born the entire community took part in representing the word of God, I like the translation in “The Message” that talks about “their life together”. The writer, Henri Nouwen suggests that, “Christian community is the place where we keep hope alive among us … . That is how we dare to say that God is a God of love when we see death and destruction and agony all around us.” We say “Our Father” together. We affirm that we are loved and we say that for each other.

That first Christian community was a model for the Church. There was something real, authentic, genuine in their shared life, revolving around prayer, breaking of bread, fellowship and study of the word. These disciplines were not a choice. These activities were the things that gave health to the life of the Church. And so today we are led to ask ourselves these questions: is my community in peace and harmony or is it divided? Does my community give testimony of Jesus Christ or that Christ is Risen, does it know it intellectually while it does nothing, or does it proclaim it? Does my community care for the poor?

In the next few months we are going to start looking at ourselves as a the church and ask questions about our talents and gifts. More importantly, how we can sustain the good stuff that’s going on here and how we going to reach out to a community and how are we going to grow with God. This process is called Mission Action Planning, but basically it’s about what vision we have for ourselves as a church community. Like those early Christians we are going to DEVOTE OURSELVES to those that are around where we are situated. Part of this process is concerns producing a map of the parish to identify how we can sustain the good stuff that’s going on here, how we going to reach out to a community, and how are you going to grow with God. We are about what vision we have for ourselves as a church community. So we will ask ourselves the question about the shape of our communities….what is the character of the St Matthew’s community and how do I play my part in making it one that is Christ-centred. We are going to follow that great commission given by Christ in Matthew. The book of Mathew only goes up to 28 and effectively we are going to write chapter 29 about the next stage of our community story of faith. We need to listen to be aware of what is going on round us and to be available. We need to give one another the gift of time. That time doesn’t need to be filled with fascinating conversation, but the time must be there. It says in Acts that, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the community, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Those believers gave one another time. God was working in their devotion to each other. It takes a community to know an individual.

C.S Lewis relates how we, as the community of believers, come to know God. “We do so, not just through our own relationship with God, but also through how we observe others relating to God. This comes from hearing others speak of God, seeing them wrestle with God in faith, watching them worship and do the work of ministry, listening to the stories of their faith journey. All of these interactions get us closer to who God is and who he wants us to be as his church.

It takes a community to help us make the journey of faith – it takes human relationships to translate the truths of our faith into our lives. Faith is ‘too theoretical’ for modern society unless there are people willing to demonstrate it to the world.

It takes a community to hold on to the faith that God is working to bring grace, peace, mercy and love and life to every life in the middle of all the suffering, cruelty and hypocrisy that can be so evident.

Our experience of life in this world is such that we always have to keep learning what it means to have faith. That doesn’t happen when we try to go it alone. Faith is something that thrives and grows in the sharing. And that happens in the context of a community of faith. It’s our support system, encouraging, guiding and strengthening us as we take our journey of faith together. May God be at the heart of everything we do together and everything we do be from His heart.

Luke 2: 42-49