Sunday Homily - October 25, 2020 - Community in Christ Jesus
The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
There is a little book that my class in seminary was assigned to read
for one of our beginning classes as first year seminary students.
And it was a book called "Life Together"
by one of the most important Christian theologians of the 20th century:
Now, Bonhoeffer is a German Christian
who lived and wrote and eventually died
under the Nazi regime of Germany
during the hell on earth that was World War II.
During this world-wide calamity of a war,
Bonhoeffer creates an underground community,
some might even call it an underground seminary,
in which Bonhoeffer and other young pastors in training
dedicate themselves to living in intentional Christian community.
The book my class read our first year in seminary,
is what Bonhoeffer writes about the experience of intentional Christian community.
But, just like Bonhoeffer usually does in his clear, strong, matter-of-fact writing style,
he brings up a stern warning to anyone who chooses to live in intentional Christian community:
be wary about wish-dreams.
What are wish-dreams?
Very simply: wish-dreams are an imagined ideal of a Christian community.
And the reason why these are so dangerous to actual Christian community
is summed up by Bonhoeffer quite well in the following paragraph
from his book:
"God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and even God accordingly...Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial."
[Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together]
It is easy to see why first-year seminarians might need to read this book.
Because first-year seminarians have a lot of wish-dreams that they carry in the door with them.
They have their own ideas as to what a perfect seminary experience would be.
They know what perfect worship looks like.
They know what real Christians should look like,
and also the strategies necessary to convert all of those heathens
INTO what real Christians should look like.
But, let's be honest with each other:
it isn't just seminarians who have wish-dreams
about what a perfect community should look like, right?
We all have wish-dreams that come to the surface,
either implicitly or explicitly.
Wish-dreams about the perfect family:
what that perfect family does together,
where that perfect family lives,
and so on.
Wish-dreams about our neighborhoods:
what do we want our neighborhoods to look like,
who lives there,
who doesn't live there,
and so on.
But, perhaps the most pernicious in our immediate context,
wish-dreams about our assemblies for Christian worship:
who worships here,
who is welcome here,
who isn't welcome here,
what counts for "proper worship"
and perhaps far more qualifiers than we may care to admit.
What happens when those dreams turn out to only be fantasies
rather than realities?
What happens when that "perfect family" isn't your family?
What happens when that "perfect neighborhood" isn't where you live?
Oh boy, what happens if that "perfect church" just isn't the one you find yourself within?
Maybe it is good for us to consider
the kind of context we exist within
as opposed to the small fledgling Christian communities
that St. Paul planted in his missionary journeys.
St. Paul enlivened by Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit
was sent out to be the Apostle to the Gentiles
and to carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ as far as he could.
One of those places that he visited
where his letters to the Thessalonians were written
like we read this morning.
And the thing that is good to remember
is that St. Paul didn't have the luxury of imagining a perfect community
where everything functions and works the way he wanted.
Rather, he could only care for and love the people
who the Good Lord gave to him
as converts to the Way of Christ Jesus.
And he had his share of hardships
even from the churches that he sincerely loved and worked so hard to help establish
by God's good will.
He even mentions Philippi,
a place where he also plants a church (check out his letter to the Philippians)
which is a place in which he and his companions encounter harsh resistance
to the Gospel of Christ.
But in Thessalonica,
he also encourages and exhorts the church assembly
of his care and love for each of them,
wishing for them to grow in Christ and in love for each other,
even as Paul himself was willing to suffer for the Gospel,
after the manner of Christ's suffering for the world.
Paul was not afforded the ability to wish-dream about what community he wanted.
Rather, he was simply a humble recipient
of the people whom God called as followers of Jesus Christ.
So also, friends,
we do well to remember Bonhoeffer and St. Paul's example
in remembering that we need to be careful not to fall in love
with our ideal of what we think community should look like.
Rather, perhaps it is good to remember
we are called to love and care for the community that God has given to you.
And guess what?
Jesus calls people together into His Body
and makes us brothers and sisters of people
that we would probably never have any inclination to be associated with
if not for the grace of Jesus who brings us together.
Through your Baptism into Christ Jesus,
you have been made of One Body in Christ
with all kinds of people who you would probably not imagine as ideal community.
And that's the point:
our human perspective on what is "ideal community"
is so bent and disfigured by our broken perspective
that the more we force our "ideal" upon others,
the less time we have to actually love the people God gives to us.
But God has called us to far more than our limited ideas of what "ideal community" looks like.
Rather, we have been called to love all of those whom God has called together.
it is Jesus who makes the Church,
And thank God for that.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.