...let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. - Hebrews 10:24-25
We are profoundly affected by the communities we are a part of. If we spend most of our time with groups that are satisfied with the ways of the world, we too are likely to become inured to the deadening comforts of darkness. This numbing may even progress to the point that we resist the light when it shines on us. We can become so accustomed to sickness that the approach of the Physician threatens our whole worldview.
Things look dramatically different, however, for those who spend most of their time in community with other children of light. When we are gathered together in communities that have a clarity and unity of purpose, we are prepared to receive the Word of God(1) with joy. A community that is conscious of itself as being a living member of Christ's body, and which waits on the Lord for guidance, is well-prepared to receive the light. Unfortunately, most communities - religious or secular - are a muddle of competing visions, human interests and willful individuals. Most groups spend the lion's share of their time negotiating vision, rather than carrying it out.
Discerning vision is an important step in the process towards unity. Without a careful, prayerful process of discernment of the will of God for the community, the group easily falls prey to human manipulation. Our communities often end up serving the interests of an elite, or of the "common good," rather than clinging to God's guidance. It is crucial that our Christian communities maintain an ongoing cycle of attention, discernment and action: observing the world around us; waiting on the Holy Spirit for fresh guidance for our circumstances; clarifying our sense of calling and mission; and acting according to that united sense of purpose.
It is easy to get caught in the first and second steps - perpetually observing and waiting, never reaching any firm conclusions. Conclusions can be threatening, because they often upset our comfortable lives. They demand an answer of us: Will I submit myself to the Truth, or do I insist on having my own way? Real spiritual unity in the group will often mean that I as an individual have to change my way of life in order to take part in the mission that God has given us. This can be painful.
But what a joy it is when the Holy Spirit gathers us into unity! How unimportant our petty desires and prerogatives seem when bathed in the light of Jesus' risen presence! When together we awaken to the deep peace and singleness of vision that the Lord offers us, there is a new creation and the old order of darkness is swept away. Reviewed in the light of Christ, so many of the demands that we previously laid on our community are revealed to be petty and selfish. Yet, other concerns are revealed to be more important than we ever suspected.
As we are gathered into unity of purpose in the purifying light of the Savior, we find the answer to our longing for a true home and our thirst for righteous living. We see that our deepest hopes, the ones which we scarcely dared to utter before, are in fact the foundation of this new community in Christ. We discover that God offers us that which we most deeply need: A true home. Overflowing, abundant life. Deep peace and contentedness. The knowledge that we are loved unconditionally. We see that all of our selfish demands and posturing, all of our shows of strength and self-sufficiency were merely attempts to paper over our fundamental need for the living water that Jesus gives us, the unbounded love and mercy of God.
This is not something we can produce ourselves. We cannot control or predict God, and the Spirit blows where it will. We can, however, make the choice to prepare ourselves to be receptive when God sends us the Holy Spirit. Sadly, we are often resistant to the indwelling Word. We get so caught up in our own opinions and visions that we push the Spirit aside on our way to a decision. When Jesus appears in our midst, many communities are not ready to receive him. We often prefer to throw our own party rather than accepting Christ's invitation to his wedding banquet.(2)
How do we as Christian communities prepare ourselves to be brought into unity by the Spirit? How do we provoke one another to love and good deeds, and to a receptiveness to Christ's guidance in every moment? How do we tell the difference between the false unity of human conformity and the spiritual unity that Christ gives us as we receive him together? How do we prepare ourselves to respond in faith when the Holy Spirit draws us together with others who are seeking to do his will?
1. Jesus, the Risen Lord.
2. See Matthew 22