Christ in Community

Finding Jesus Where is this Christ to be found? So far, we have discussed the very basics of some radical concepts. Can Christianity survive outside the bounds of a religious mindset? We would give the initial answer of ‘yes’. Does the work, the message, and most importantly the person of Jesus have influence in a culture like ours, which has largely grown up with no religious compass? We would give an emphatic ‘yes’ to this question. But up till now we have not found Jesus in any palpable sense. We have only agreed he is to be seen as over and above our puny little imaginations of what the world is and who we are. This may be helpful, and indeed, we have used it for a starting place, but this has only brought us to the brink of the real conversation.

Once the stage has been set, how are we to find Jesus? Where has he been the whole time we have so desperately needed him?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the patron saint (if a protestant can claim such a title of a fellow protestant) of this blog, gave three answers to where we may find Jesus: the word of God, the sacraments, and the church. Do any of those seem as out of place to you as it once seemed out of place for me? What is the church doing there? It may be helpful to give a little background here on what our friend Dietrich meant.

First of all, Christ is found in the word of God, in the bible. This is simple enough and would bring to mind the very beginning of John’s Gospel. In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God…and the word became flesh. Every time we open the bible we can see the handprints of Jesus, whether we read about a group of Philiistines with hemmoroids, a floating axehead, or a risen Lord. Jesus himself said as much to the two travelers at the end of Luke’s Gospel, when he opened up all the Psalms, the Prophets, and Moses, showing them all that was said about him. Every single word of the bible is Jesus’ self-revelation to us.

Secondly, Jesus meets us in the sacraments, which are a fancy word for baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Whether you baptize babies or adults, he meets you in baptism and the remembrance of those promises. Whether you believe that the Lord is present spiritually, physically, or a bit of both in the bread (or cracker) and wine (or Welch’s), Christ meets you there.

These first two meeting places of God and man are straight-forward enough and even if we tend to neglect one or both, we know that Jesus promises to meet us there. We can usually trace our feelings of the nearness or far-off-ness of God by how much attention we are giving to his word and remembering his promises. Even if we are imperfect at attending to the word and the sacraments (let’s be honest, we all are to one degree or another), hopefully we know this is where Jesus himself promises to meet us as our Elder Brother, ushering us into the presence of our Father.

The third place Jesus can be found, according to Bonhoeffer, is in the midst of the people of God, the church. In his words:

His presence as Word and sacrament is related to his presence in the Church as reality is related to form. Christ is the Church by virtue of his “pro me” being (his stance of being for us). Between his ascension and his coming again the Church is his form and indeed his only form. That he is in heaven at the right hand of God does not contradict this; on the contrary, this is what makes possible his presence in and as the church.

Did you catch that? The real and basic place to find the second person of the Trinity is among his people. This is a staggering thought. Our every inclination as Adam’s sons and daughter tell us to get things done on our own. Even our relationship with God has become such a personal and individualistic ideal that we can do things just find with “me and God”. There are a thousand voices we hear every day that confirm this.

But Mitch Hedberg was right. That’s right, the comedian Mitch Hedberg. He would tell his audience that he taught himself to play the guitar- no lessons. He would pause before counseling “I think it is a bad idea to take lessons from somebody who doesn’t know how to play the guitar.” We laugh because it is so close to the truth.

We need to be in community because this is where we find Jesus. Our best efforts to have a relationship with God apart from the people of God is not only futile but against reason and common sense.

But Bonhoeffer has upped the ante, right? He is saying that you and I will never know Jesus outside of being a part of his body here on earth. He wrote as clearly as anyone can hope to see: The Church is the body of Christ, it does not signify the body of Christ.

When we talk about knowing Jesus in community then, we should see it as so much more than a clever or catchy buzzword. Jesus is known primarily in his people, though we are so, so very flawed. Even though the church might have abandoned you in your time of need. Even though the church may have betrayed your confidence in ways that have made you question the goodness of God, Jesus lives in his church.

Relationship is so much more difficult than we would like it to be, but we will only really live when we find ourselves in the community of the One who lives in us. When we are looking for Jesus we need look no further than the people around us: flawed, broken, difficult, whiney but being made into his image as he walks with us Sunday after Sunday, hour after hour.

What if we really believed that? I think we would start to know what it means to be free.

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