Not a private experience

vineAs Sunday came to a close, I looked back across a day with my heart full of thankfulness. Since Bev’s death, Christ’s Body, the church, has been a source of invaluable strength.  I could not complete this journey without the love and sustaining prayers of my ‘brothers and sisters.’  I appreciate dinner invitations and the practical kindnesses, but the greater gift is the sense of ‘connection’ with people who let me lean on them. Some comment on my strength, wondering ‘how do you do it?’ as if I were some kind of superman because I continue to work and move forward.  The ‘how’ is not in my character or personality. It is the fellowship of the company of Christians into which I am called.

In John 15 we read this familiar invitation – “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:5-6, NIV)  That passage is usually read with a focus on our mystical connection to The Vine; on the spiritual life that we receive from Him through faith. But, there is a sub-text that we cannot ignore.  “You are the branches!”  The ‘you’ is plural, a reminder that Christians are not only alive in Christ, but connected to one another in a way that makes them alive and fruitful.

When Jesus’ followers received the Spirit and began to be formed into ‘the Church,’ they did not gather around organizations or buildings. Those things can help us in our mission, but we need to learn from them about what is of first priority.  Look at this amazing passage that describes their experience.  “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2, NIV) “The fellowship” is a translation of the text ‘koinonia.’  (coin-non-ee-ah), a Greek word about connection, relationship, participation, and shared experience.

Those first Christians would find our 21st century ideas about knowing Jesus as our ‘personal’ Savior strange. They knew Jesus through His Body, through the connections with one another. In truth, so do we. There is no real private experience. We are, by the Spirit, called into the Body, and in knowing one another, sharing our gifts, our joy, our sorrow, our hopes, our fears, and our prayers – we know Him!

Are you connected to the Church?  If you think the best way to answer that is to point to your stellar record of attendance at Sunday worship, please re-consider.  Our worship together is surely a part of being in the Vine and in fellowship, but it is only part.  We also share daily life.  At least, we should, but many have no contact with the Body from Sunday to Sunday.  Let’s be intentional about making life together, about getting involved in the work of the Kingdom in a way that demands a second set of hands, that makes us love the prayers of the saints.

Our word from the Word is a call to connection.  Do you hear it? Will you listen and obey?  “You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12, The Message) “What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Head telling Foot, “You’re fired; your job has been phased out”? As a matter of fact, in practice it works the other way—the “lower” the part, the more basic, and therefore necessary. You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach. When it’s a part of your own body you are concerned with, it makes no difference whether the part is visible or clothed, higher or lower. You give it dignity and honor just as it is, without comparisons.” (1 Corinthians 12:20-23, The Message)

___________

Heavenly Father, we come before you to magnify and glorify your name.
We, as the body of Christ, give you all the praise and honor you deserve.
Help us all to unite and pray together as a congregation,
for we know where two or more are gathered in your name, you are with us, Oh Lord.

Bless us, Oh Divine Father, to find unity with each other,
to work together to deliver your word, Oh Lord,
for we know man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.

May we be a blessing to others, as we strive to be more like Jesus,
Oh Loving Father; kind, caring, compassionate, loving, giving, forgiving and humble.
 

Oh Lord, as we work together let us be the light that leads the world to you.
God, teach us to be good role models to the people around us,
so that when they see you and your love within us,
they would want to know you more and more.
God grant us the patience to work together, bring us all together as a family.
Let us work together with understanding and compassion in our hearts.
Let us not be rude or arrogant towards one another, as we light the way to your heavenly kingdom.

In Jesus’ most Holy and Precious name, AMEN!! (prayer copied)

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