The subject of the sermon was community. The need for community is inherent in our humanity, but perhaps not in the way you think. Our society upholds an image of strength in being alone. For example, Clint Eastwood doesn’t need anyone. He works alone. If we feel we need other people, then it must be due to weakness, so long as we believe the goal is a murderous gun slinger. But of course, this is not our model. We are created in the image of the Triune God, and as such, we are created in the image of someone who, is in and of himself, a community. We need community because that is how we were built. This is different from weakness. Quite the opposite, actually. People are weaker when they are alone, for the fellowship has potential to bolster the individuals to be stronger than they could have ever been on their own. I have witnessed this personally many times.
To drive this point home, Pastor Peter had us turn to Genesis. When Adam and Eve realized they were naked, they sewed together fig leaves as coverings. The sin in this act, according to Peter, was that the fig leaves put up a barrier to what he called Authentic Community. In such a community, strength and trust is fostered through mutual vulnerability and faith. By seeing fault in their nakedness, Adam and Eve sought to cover it up instead of reconcile with each other over their imperfection. They refused to be vulnerable and honest with each other. It was the first of an infinite series of actions that placed barriers between people. Today, people can do all sorts of things to decrease their ability to engage in true fellowship. We came up with a bunch of examples at small group:
- When people ask you ‘How are ya?’ they do not expect you to answer truthfully
- When someone responds to ‘How are ya?’ he never tells the truth
- We use humor as a defense mechanism
- We see vulnerability as a sign of weakness
- We are more engaged with our material objects than we are with our emotions
- We go to a therapist instead of to our friends
- Friendship somehow no longer means to hold each other accountable
- We see Independence as a strength
- We confuse Individuality with Individualism; saying it is all about the individual has obvious negative consequences in decreasing the collective power of a fellowship
- We strive to be normal, whatever that means
- We use our talents, money and status to prove our worth to the world
The list goes on.
In preparation for this discussion, our small group leader cut out pieces of paper in the shape of fig leaves and stapled them together. There was a hat and everything. I tried on a suit. Let’s just say I looked, um, awesome. There were photos taken, and I will put them up if I get a hold of them.
Yes, the idea may have been ever so slightly on the cheesy side, but wearing this paper made me think of how extremely flimsy such clothing really is. It was a pathetic attempt at protecting oneself from feeling vulnerable. The pathetic quality was only emphasized as we discussed how God wants us to clothe ourselves. Colossians 3 tells us:
“as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Love should be our garment, our outward appearance. This is the complete opposite of a barrier; it is a bridge, drawing people closer to each other. I particularly like how love is something you ‘put on,’ as if it were a T-shirt. But what a T-shirt. This garment can bind people together in ‘perfect unity.’ How marvelous that must be! Not just unity, but PERFECT unity! If we wore love, we’d have the potential to achieve something PERFECT.
But we are also told to guard our hearts and minds. Perfect unity might be a nice ideal, but it is a rare person who has not experienced hurt in their relationships, and our past pain is most assuredly a block to future unity. But it is important to remember that it is not from each other that we need guarding, but from the evil that infects the world. Bind people together in love while putting on the armor of God to protect ourselves from the flaming arrows of the evil one, as it says in Ephesians 6:
“11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”
I love this passage. Though man was originally created dignified, nakedness and all, God overcomes our shame and reminds us of our inherent dignity today through equipping and clothing us with precisely the right defensive and offensive tools to stand firm against evil. Note here too that one of the weapons we are given against evil is to keep on praying for all of the saints. I take this to mean that we must remember we are not alone, and as we recognize we are part of a body with all of the saints, we can generate power through our unity. Thus, the need for community and the necessity to combat evil come hand in hand. Community is the attribute of the strong, not the retreat of the weak.
Toss the Fig Leaf armor. Love is much more flattering.