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May 4 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 3, 2015 – Ephesians 6:21-24

Common + Unity = Community

But that you also may know about my circumstances, how I am doing, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make everything known to you. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know about us, and that he may comfort your hearts. Ephesians 6:21-22

Intro: Most of you know that I enjoyed a brief friendship with a Benedictine monk

Because our conversations were recorded, many of you have experienced them for yourselves
– the first time I shared the DVDs of Fr. Romuald it was with twelve people in our home
• these were men and women who wanted to know where God was leading me
• when we came to the eighth DVD, they began asking, “What are we going to do next?”
◦ I had not planned on any “next,” but the question haunted me
– what I then realized, was that we had become a community 
• how had that happened?

In 2002, I was invited to a pastor’s conference in St. Louis
– the topic I was asked to address was “Community”
• it seemed to me that there was a trade-off: the choice was between having a large church or being a community
◦ large churches are more like cities than communities — food courts in no way resemble Agape Feasts
◦ of course, mega-churches frequently attempt to create communities, but usually fail because:

  1. They seem contrived because people are grouped by artificial criteria (such as zip code).
  2. The design of curriculum for home groups is not to free their thinking, but indoctrinate them.

– anyway, I researched the subject, gave it lots of thought and came up with a few “theories”
• but with the group in our home, community occurred spontaneously
◦ no one had tried to create it and we had no intention or design for it
• so how did it just happen?
◦ we were asking questions from a deep place in our souls that had been unlocked
◦ we had become open to new ways of thinking
◦ our interactions had been intimately personal and real
◦ we were free to bring up and discuss anything without fear of being silenced
◦ we had grown together spiritually
◦ we cared about each other

It was more than a year later that we began meeting on Sunday nights
– in St. Louis I had argued, “The apparent design of the church in the New Testament is a spiritual community”
• but that is not how many “churches” look from the outside
• they look like organizations, corporations, institutions
◦ that is why we refer to Reflexion as a spiritual community
– we have gone through Ephesians, exploring Christian spirituality
• our last lesson from this sublime letter is that Christian spirituality thrives in community
• this is not to say we cannot deepen in God in solitude and without a community
◦ but a great deal more enters and enhances our lives in Christ through community

Throughout the letter, community has been a behind-the-scenes reality
– occasionally breaking through the surface (as in 4:2-13, etc.)
• so even if in these verses Paul is merely signing off, they still have something important to teach us

Vv. 21-22, Spiritual community involves us in personal knowing

“But that you also may know . . .”
– awhile back I read Women’s Ways of Knowing
• the authors identified two different ways to come at a subject: separate knowing and connected knowing
◦ separate (or objective) knowing is characterized by impersonal reason, distance, impassive
◦ connected (or subjective) knowing involves personal experience, personal concern, getting close up
– Paul’s references to himself here is more connected than in chapter 3
• there he gave a report on his mission, message and ministry
◦ the emphasis here at the end of the letter has to do with Paul, the human person
◦ his readers would have a personal interest in the things going on with him and his response

However, Paul did not choose to spell out these details in a letter
– instead, this sort of information is better to relate in person or by a personal messenger
• Tychicus was not given a script
• it was up to him to give his own account of Paul’s circumstances and answer personal questions
◦ in doing so, his job was to comfort their hearts
◦ that’s where they held Paul — close to their hearts

Paul’s endorsement of Tychicus was important
– “the loved brother,” this has been a problem for me
• in the tradition of my childhood, everyone was “Brother So and So” and “Sister So and So”
◦ the sibling words have the ring of affection, but carry no more meaning than Mr and Ms
◦ but the worst of it was when someone used “Brother” to lead into sales pitch or a judgmental scolding
• the intention in the New Testament for this familial language was to signify a spiritual bond
◦ in v. 23 for “brethren” (“brothers”) the NRSV has “the whole community”
◦ this is the new family that Jesus creates (Mt. 12:46-50)

A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows,
Is God in His holy habitation.
God makes a home for the lonely . . . . (Ps. 68:5-6)

– “faithful minister” – assure Paul’s audience of Tychicus’ credibility
• in community, a relationship of trust is essential
◦ Paul knew of false ministers who were not faithful (to God, the truth, or God’s people)
◦ God’s work in a human soul is a precious thing — it cannot be handed over to abusers

Vv. 23-24, Spiritual Community depends on actualizing basic gifts of God

Paul at the end of the letter returns to where he began
– God supplies us with spirit-building potentials
• we learn to accept, surrender to, and live in them — they include:

  1. Peace – we do not find this in our circumstances but in the deepest place of our souls
    • it’s not that we first have peace within ourselves and then with the community
    • but we learn it for ourselves and most often with the help of the communit
  2. Love – there is no spiritual community without love and community promotes it
    • when I began ministry, I loved to teach
    ◦ later, I found myself loving my students
    ◦ that’s when I began to listen to them and address their real needs
  3. With faith – trust in God accompanies everything
    – Paul takes a breath to remind us that these things are, “from God the Father . . .”
    • the Father and the Lord Jesus are the heart of the community
    • we get caught up in our programs and forget this
    – we cannot create community but we can destroy it or prevent it from developing
  4. Grace – I like to think of grace as energy for the soul
    • something wonderful comes from our lives that we are incapable of producing
    • Paul’s qualifier: “all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love”
    ◦ in 1 Corinthians 15, incorruptible is “imperishable” (NIV translates this, “undying love”)
    ◦ this love has no half-life, as in “radio active decay” — and it won’t mutate into lust

I want to make three more observations 

These may be so obvious that we overlook them assuming they are in place

Spiritual community requires a safe group of people
– we cannot just feel safe, we must be safe
• this means I can speak freely without fear that I will be criticized, belittled, or ignored
– the relation within community is give and take
• others make the community safe for me and I make it safe for them
• our best communication tool is listening
◦ and in community we must learn to listen without judgment
– the safety of our community must be such that people are willing to bare their souls
• Parker Palmer compares the soul to a wild animal – it will fight fiercely to defend itself
◦ but it will also hide from humans
◦ if we want to catch a glimpse of it, we must be quiet, still and very patient

In A Hidden Wholeness, Palmer talks about the environments we make to serve various purposes.

  • We know how to create spaces that invite the intellect to show up, analyzing reality, parsing logic and arguing its case: such spaces can be found, for example, in universities.
  • We know how to create spaces that invite the emotions into play, reacting to injury, expressing anger and celebrating joy: they can be found in therapy groups.
  • We know how to create spaces that invite the will to emerge, consolidating energy and effort on behalf of a shared goal: they can be found in task forces and committees.
  • We certainly know how to create spaces that invite the ego to put in an appearance, polishing its image, protecting its turf and demanding its rights: they can be found wherever we go!
  • But we know very little about creating paces that invite the soul to make itself known. Apart from the natural world, such spaces are hard to find–and we seem to place little value on preserving the soul spaces in nature.

• in our Lectio on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, the soul doesn’t show up right away
◦ its bodyguards do–the ego, deflection, a defensive sense of humor, etc.
◦ the exposure of our inner life can be scary, which may be why many prefer to just “go to church”

Spiritual community requires a shared brokenness
– back in my high school days, a phrase frequently heard was “What’s your story?”
• that is to say, “What’s your problem? Why are you acting so weird?”
◦ community is where we tell our stories; where we have opportunity to explain ourselves
• we are not all the same, we have different socioeconomic and educational backgrounds
◦ but every one of us is made in God’s image
◦ and that’s what we look for when listening to the stories of others
– the more in touch I am with my own brokenness, the more easily I can accept the brokenness of others
• and be with them, in empathy, understanding and compassion

Spiritual community requires us to allow God to work in others
– and to work at his pace (remember Jesus with Peter when he asked about John? Jn. 21:21-22)
• we refrain from being intrusive or controlling
• do any of us really have answer for someone else?

Conc: One day this last week I was meditating on Acts 12

Peter was locked in prison, chained to four guards, when an angel walked him out
– when he came to the last barrier, and “iron” gate, it opened by itself
• then the angel left him and he came to his senses
– going to a home where believers we gathered to pray for him, he knocked on the wooden gate
• in fact, he had to knock more than once
• it occurred to me that God doesn’t do everything for us
◦ he opened the iron prison gate for Peter, but the apostle had knock on the gate of the community
◦ please remember that — if you’ve knocked because you want into the community, knock again
• those of us on the inside are sometimes sort of clueless

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