A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. Luke 10:33-34
Like many people I have known throughout my life, my early experience of church left me spiritually depleted. As a child, what I learned about God and Jesus, seemed to be nothing more than ideology since it did not dovetail very well with what was being lived out around me. For most of my life I believed the church was filled with hypocrisy and that I would never return. But one day I did go back to church, and incredibly, I found myself in the company of a small community of people who knew how to walk the talk of Christ. It turned my world upside down, and my life inside out; I had to reevaluate an entire lifetime of assumptions. There were many Sundays that I would have to leave immediately after the last amen because everything that had been said, done and sang in the service had touched me so deeply that I was choking on my own tears. The love that I was shown was more than I could take in; parts of me were healed that I didn’t even know were wounded. And it wasn’t a manipulative type of love – no one but me had any idea what was going on inside of me. If anything, I think they were probably confused as to why I would bolt out of there so quickly. But as time went on, my church community became the most relevant and meaningful thing in my life – it became my entire life – as through them, I learned what it meant to be the church and to be a member of the body of Christ.
It didn’t take long before I knew that I had to share what I had discovered with others. I wanted to shout from the rooftops how much God loves us to the point where our most horrendous mistakes are forgiven if we just turn toward God. Every Sunday I learned something new about being in community that I wanted other people to know, and before I knew what happened, I found myself being called into ministry. This was great on the one hand, although it meant that I had to step out of the safety of my small community into a larger community, and that was scary. I had learned how to do community on a small-scale; but now I had to learn how to do it bigger? Yikes!
All around me I hear murmuring about the demise of the church, and it’s pretty obvious that membership has dropped substantially over the last couple of years. Congregations are closing the doors of massive buildings that are no longer sustainable. As members grow old and die, new generations do not take their places. The world we live in is no longer static – it is dynamic; people don’t stay put for very long. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the church. What if we are actually being called to step out of the safety of our small pockets of communities into a larger one? What if we are being presented with new opportunities to share our discoveries with others, and to benefit from their discoveries? We practiced doing it small; now we have the chance to do it bigger. Isn’t that a good thing?
A young lawyer once asked Jesus who is my neighbor, and through the story of the Samaritan Jesus opened his eyes far wider than they had ever been opened before. Up to that point the lawyer thought his neighbors just included the people who had always surrounded him, Jews, just like himself, who shared the same customs and mannerisms, but Jesus showed him that those whom he had always believed were his neighbors might be the same ones ignoring him in his hour of need. When familiar faces are replaced by unfamiliar ones, that does not imply we can no longer be in community together. This is the body of Christ, God’s community and God’s church. I believe in the still-speaking God who is doing new things in the world, and I believe that we are being invited to step out into the vast community that belongs to God. Now that I have gotten the hang of this community thing, I am excited!