Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Jesus Creed - A Jesus Creed Community

So far we have focused on how the Jesus Creed shapes and forms our own personal lives. We have talked about how the creed leads us to a new calling and purpose and how it opens the door for us to be more compassionate and giving, but this creed does more than change our own personal lives, it also forms a community.  It is clear by reading the gospels that Jesus’ mission wasn’t just to change individual hearts and lives.  He did that, but when Jesus invited people to love God and love others in their own personal lives he often did that with these two words, follow me.  Jesus invited people to walk with him and as they literally followed him a family was formed, a team was established and a community was created.  The Jesus Creed formed a new community and this community had a purpose.  This community was to be what God always wants his people to be, a witness to God’s goodness and will for all the world.  God’s people have always been called to be a light to the nations. 

When God first called Abraham he said, I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you.  I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse, and all people on earth will be blessed through you. Genesis 12:2-3.  So God’s purpose in calling Abraham and working through his family was to form a nation or a community that God could use to bless the world.  Later through the prophet Isaiah, God said, I will also make you a light for the Gentiles; that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.  Isaiah 49:6b 

God always wanted his people to not only be blessed personally but to be a community that would be a blessing.  God wanted his people to be a light that would transform the world and bring people to an understanding of who God is and what God’s plan for people truly was.  God asked Israel to be this light by doing two things, love God and love others.  This love was the foundation of all the law God gave them and if people followed the law, the world would see the light and love of God and people’s lives would change and our world would be transformed.   
This was also the plan of Jesus.  Jesus didn’t just come to forgive us of sin and restore us into a relationship with God, it wasn’t just for our own personal well-being that Jesus came, it was also for the larger society.  Jesus came to help create a community that would begin to show the world who God was and the way Jesus called us to do this was to follow him in living out this creed.  Would you say it with me? 

Love the Lord your God with all your hear, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength… love your neighbor as yourself.  

Following this creed creates a community because it unites us in our values, in our commitments and priorities, and in our actions.  Jesus showed us the values of this community every time he gathered people together.  Look at Luke 5:27-31.

One of the values of the community Jesus created was that everyone was welcomed.  The community was really for everyone.  While tax collectors would not have been welcomed in most good religious circles because they were seen as enemies of God’s people, Jesus not only welcomed them but he went out of his way and specifically invited a tax collector to be one of his disciples.  It was often the least likely people that Jesus called to be part of his community, if for no other reason than to make that point that everyone was welcomed to know and love God.  The kingdom of God isn’t restricted in any way, it is open to anyone who wants to love God and love others.  It was open to tax collectors and fishermen.  It was open to prostitutes and children and lepers and all those that the larger community considered to be outcast. 

There is a reason God opens the community to all people, it’s because God loves all people.  Jesus said, for God so love the world, everyone.  God wants everyone to know they are loved and welcomed into his family, so Jesus made sure he invited and welcomed all people.  So a value of the community Jesus formed was that all were welcome because all were loved, and one of the priorities Jesus established was that all were to be forgiven.  If the Jesus creed was going to shape a community then forgiveness had to be at the foundation.  We see this in Luke 7:36-50.

What’s interesting to see here is that Jesus didn’t just eat with tax collectors and those on the outside of the religious community, he also ate and drank with Pharisees and religious leaders.  We often make a lot out of Jesus welcoming the outcast and then forget he also welcomed insiders and leaders but every time Jesus got together he stressed the important role of love. 

Here Jesus is in this religious leader’s home when a woman, well-known in the community for being a sinner, comes in and anoints Jesus feet with her tears and perfume.  The custom in the day was that when guests came to your home you would wash their feet.  This was an act of hospitality that showed your love and care for others, but the Pharisee had not lowered himself to do this job and he didn’t ask anyone else to tend to Jesus, but this woman did.  She showed her love for Jesus and served him with gratitude. 

Jesus used this opportunity to talk about the priority of forgiveness and he teaches us that forgiveness of sin, of all sin, is part of the new community that he is forming.  Not only do we find God’s forgiveness in the company of Jesus but we are to forgive others as well.  This is all part of what it means to love God and love others in community.  If we are going to love God with all that we have and all that we are then we have to embrace God’s values of love and love others enough to welcome and forgive them when needed. 

Whether it is in the community of the church, or at work, or at school, or with our neighbors, forgiveness is difficult.  In a society that pushes us to be perpetually offended, it is hard to be constantly forgiving, but that is what we are called to do.  Jesus showed us that to follow him means to forgive.  If we struggle to forgive others then we need to remember just how much God has forgiven us. 

Two things happen when we welcome and forgive others; first, a community is formed – we are brought together in relationship and begin to commit ourselves to one another.  The second thing that happens is that we make a statement to the world.  When our love forms a community of true grace and peace that is open to everyone, and when we freely forgive, people notice and it draws them in and points everyone to God. 

Perhaps the best biblical image of the Jesus Creed community is found in the book of Acts.  Acts 2:42-47. 

Here is a group of people who love God and love others.  We know they love God because it says they devoted themselves to a life of worship and prayer and learning, but they also loved one another.  The early church was committed to making sure that there was no needy person among them and they shared all that they had with those in need.  They welcomed everyone, forgave people and committed themselves to one another in love.  This is the Jesus Creed community in action and they were a light to the nations; they drew people to God.  It says that because of their clear love for God and others – the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  The love seen in this community of people who followed Jesus was so strong that it drew people in.  Their light was shining bright in the darkness and like a moth to flame, it attracted people. 

So what is it that makes us part of this community?  It is simply this, making the commitment to love God and others.  When we accept this principle we are accepting Jesus invitation to follow him in this way of life and as we follow Jesus we become part of a larger community of people who are also committed to this way of life.  What created the early church was people turning toward God.  Peter preached about Jesus and at the end of his message it says that 3,000 people accepted the invitation to turn to Jesus and they were baptized and starting follow Jesus’ way of life and love. 

Turning to Jesus and choosing to love God and others is what brings us into this new community and what sustains us in this life of faith is living in community.  Fellowship and our relationship with other followers of Jesus is what helps encourage us and keep us going in living out this creed.  I am not sure we can live the Jesus Creed alone, I do know that we were not meant to.  Jesus never gave us this creed and said good luck – go out do this on your own.  God’s plan was never to have us live out our relationship with him in isolation.  We were created for one another and for us to succeed in truly living out the Jesus Creed – we need to be in community with one another.  Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength in a world that tells us to love ourselves first isn’t easy and on our own we will fail, we need the encouragement of others telling us to keep going.  We need the accountability and assistance that friends can bring to us when things get difficult. 

The Bible tells us to spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.  Hebrews 10:24-25.  So it is meeting together, it is being in fellowship and in community with one another that helps us move on in love and good deeds – loving God and loving others.  We cannot neglect this community. 

Living in community with other followers of Jesus can take on many different expressions.  I hope and pray that the local church can be a powerful expression of this and I hope that our worship, learning and serving together spurs us on in our faith and shows our community the power and love of God.  I pray that we are a place where all feel welcomed, where all experience grace and forgiveness and where all are encouraged to love God completely and love others fully. 

There are other ways we can be this Jesus Creed community.  I experienced this kind of community when I was in college through Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship.  There are groups and organizations that walk alongside the local church that are communities of love and they can be this Jesus Creed community that changes our lives.  It was through a group of students meeting on the campus of MSU that taught me a lot about loving God and others and it was through them that I really accepted for myself the invitation to follow Jesus and be part of this new community.   

This new community can also be formed in a family and among a group of friends.  Anytime people come together to love God and others – a community is formed and this community can transform lives and the world.  A Sunday School at my church in Altoona went out for a Christmas Dinner to a local restaurant and their love and laughter was so profound that the wait staff asked where we were from because they wanted to join whatever group we were part of.  That was a Jesus Creed community – a group of people committed to loving God and each other and reaching out in love to those around them. 

Serving with a group of people can also be a Jesus Creed community.  When we go with a group of friends to serve a meal at the soup kitchen or to assist at the food bank or volunteer in the community we are creating a Jesus Creed community that can change our own hearts and be light to the world.  The first time I served at a soup kitchen I was with a group of friends who just volunteered to help.  We weren’t a church, or I should say we weren’t all from a church, we were just a group of people who wanted to put our love for God into action by loving others. 

The new community Jesus formed should be the local church – but we are just one expression of it.  This Jesus Creed community is found wherever people come together to love God and others and it is important for us to be part of it because it is in community that our faith is nurtured and it is in community that we are given the strength and courage to follow this creed and it is through the Jesus Creed community that the light of God shines into the darkness and changes our world. 

Next Steps
The Jesus Creed – A Jesus Creed Community

1.  Those who followed Jesus and lived by this creed began to create a new community.  See an example of this community in action in the early church – Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-35.

2.  Jesus set the tone for this kind of community when he gathered with people during his life.  Identify the values of a Jesus Creed community in Luke 5:27-31 and Luke 7:36-50.

3.  How do these values differ from what we see in the world?  What other values should be part of a new community centered on the Jesus Creed? 

4.  In what ways are you part of a community committed to loving God and loving others?  Are you part of a
Worshipping community?
Learning community? (a small group or class for spiritual growth and faith development)
Ministry team in the life of the church helping others love God?
Serving team in the larger community loving others?
Group of family and friends walking in the Jesus Creed together?

5.  How can you can you become a more active and vital member of a Jesus Creed community so that you can love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself?