Dear Friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God…
-from 1 John 4
[Sermon given at the annual picnic at Quaker Knoll.]
Last week, we talked about integrity, about the Quaker call to live lives of wholeness and honesty. Rather than looking at our personal integrity, though, we looked instead at what it means to be a community of integrity. We looked at examples of communities discerning God’s call together and responding faithfully, without backtracking when the road got rough.
This week, I want to apply the same corporate lens to our testimony of community. It’s a little awkward to talk about being a community of community, though, so let’s talk instead about be a community of communion.
I know that not everyone is comfortable with the word communion, but I’m using it here on purpose because I worry that word community is used a little too broadly. We use the word to talk about community theaters and choirs, and community colleges, and broader associations of people who have never even met; I’m a member of the feminist community, but not a member of the black community, and so on.
All of those can be good and beautiful expressions of human love and affection, but when we say that Quakers believe in community, that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about something much deeper.
Christian community is founded, not on a human desire to work together, but on Christ. We are being built into a new and everlasting temple, of which Christ is the cornerstone. The love
that spoke worlds into being,
that came to dwell with us as a helpless child,
that chose the way of the cross,
that defeated death,
that remains with us to protect, guide, and console
is the same love that knits us together.
Friends see all sorts of practical implications for meetings in this story of love. This is the reason, for instance, that we won’t move on in business meeting if we aren’t all clear and in agreement. It’s not because we just like being inefficient. It’s because if we’re modeling our corporate life on the creative and vulnerable and generous love of Christ, we’ll have no need to leave anyone behind.
We do business the way that we do because loving one another is our most important task. Love should be written in big block letters at the top of every worship bulletin and every business meeting agenda. Love is our calling. Everything else is ancillary.
When we gather together as a community seeking the face of Christ, we come asking this love to bring us into unity with God and with each other.
Let me give you three images from the Bible of what this love looks like.
The first image is from the letter to the Ephesians, in which Paul tells them how he prays for them. I’ll read the passage to you; as I read, keep in mind that all the yous are plural, addressed to the church at Ephesus as a whole:
I pray that out of God’s glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
I love the earthiness of the image in the center of that passage: being rooted and grounded in love. Whatever kind of plant this community is, the soil it requires is love. We’ve got one set of roots to work with, together, and love is the only dirt we grow in.
Picture that. In a few minutes we’ll all be sitting quietly, but we’ll also be tending our corporate roots. We’ll be grounding ourselves in love. And what do we get out of that?
We root down, and we find together the power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. We grasp that love, not by pulling out a protractor or a measuring tape and doing some calculations, but by experiencing it in our own community. We do the dirty work of grounding ourselves in redemptive and resurrecting love, and grow to find that love is not just the soil beneath us.
Love, it turns out, is deeper and wider than we could ever have dreamed on our own. Rooting down together, as a faith community, gives us a vision of a God whose love encompasses all else that we know.
The second image of community comes from Romans, where Paul writes that just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
Back in Leviticus, there’s a regulation for the Hebrew community commanding them not to eat blood. The reason given is that it’s disrespectful: the life of the animal is in the blood, and that makes the blood sacred.
Friends, we come to corporate worship needing sustenance as surely as our fingers and ears and small intestines need pump after pump of blood to sustain them. A toe chopped off may desperately need new blood, but disconnected from a beating heart, it won’t get any.
Likewise, when we gather together at Christ’s table, we come as many members centered around one heart, God’s heart. The life of this corporate animal is found in the blood that we share, which means that becoming one with Christ means that we have to join in with our Friends. It’s only in communion with one another that any of us can find the life that we need.
A third biblical image of community comes from the gospel of Matthew: Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Christ, here, is giving himself away, but you can’t have this Christ on your own. The Lord’s Supper, however we celebrate it, is by definition a shared meal. We disciples have to come to the table together.
When we gather together at Christ’s table, when we sit together quietly and humbly with our hearts held open, we find a Source that sustains us. We find bread – the foundation of our best meals since we invented agriculture – broken and shared for our souls. We find wine – the symbol of any real good party – in barrels that never run dry.
We find an invitation into God’s presence that speaks louder than all our failures, all our guilt, all our shame.
Because Christ is broken for us, we can be broken with one another.
Because Christ is poured out for us, we can be poured out for one another.
Because we are forgiven, we can choose without judgment to invite one another in.
So. Christian community is like a single plant rooted in the soil of love. It’s like one body, fed by one heart. It’s like a table to which everyone is invited.
I like to keep my sermons out here short, so as to set aside plenty of time for the actual job of waiting worship and singing and eating and playing and all of the other ways that this body is nourished. There’s a lot of living and loving to be done. Let’s get to work.