We never go through this life alone. As believers in God, we have a constant companion. Whether we view that companion as God in the grand overall sense of what God may mean to us, whether we view that companion as the earthly incarnation of God in Jesus Christ or whether we view that companion as the Holy Spirit of God, the fact that we acknowledge God as our companion indicates to ourselves and those around us that we have a faith in God and a firm belief that we do not live this life alone - solitary, at times, but never alone.
But there is more to this business of faith and life. We are called not only to live this life in companionship with God but also with others who acknowledge and live that same faith. We are called to be in community with one another. When Paul first preached to communities in cities such as Ephesus, he didn’t just preach to one or two people at a time. He didn’t just visit with one or two households and he certainly didn’t tell each of them that they were to not share their faith. In fact he gathered all those who came to faith into communities and gave them instruction in gathering for worship, conducting worship, celebrating the sacraments and in praying for one another.
Paul knew that he could not be with all of them all of the time. He established their communities and taught some among them to be leaders and then he left and went to a new community. His hope and his prayer was that they would bond together and support one another in this new life to which they had been called. And just as they had been brought to faith in God through the work of the Spirit and a knowledge of what God had done in Christ, they were to bring others to faith and to be supportive and encouraging not only to the new converts but to all the people in the community.
In those days there only was one church community. No one could have imagined the variety of Christian communities that would spring up. And even though they didn’t always agree with one another on how the community should function – as evidenced by the many issues recorded for us in Paul’s letters – there was a strong belief that they needed to stay together in order to be sustained in their faith and to be able to faithfully live their lives to the very end.
Time and again throughout Paul’s letters, the image of the believers as a family, as many parts of one body, comes through.Even Paul – a great pillar of the early church and one who seemed to have superhuman strength of faith – depended on faithful companions to get him through. Even when he was in jail, he reached out to those who were his spiritual companions through letters and sometimes with visits. He may never have settled into one community that he established and stayed with them for long but he never went alone.
I have always been a firm believer that each one of us who are in this community of faith today is here for a reason. Each of us has been led to not only come here but to stay here. It may be that this is the place where we grew up, where our earthly family have attended. It may be that this is like home to us. For others we have come from somewhere else but something has led us to this place and time. I firmly believe that God leads us to the place where we need to be, the place where we will find people we can connect with and share our lives with. There should never come a time where we say: No more people welcome here. We have all we can handle. We know who we are and we don’t want to change. Reality is that life never stands still. Whether you watch a clock or mark a calendar – nothing stays the same. We are ever changing physically, mentally and spiritually. And so as Christian communities, we are ever evolving, ever growing, ever changing.
I remember in university taking a course on the Psalms in my undergraduate degree. When I was planning the courses for my masters, my advisor asked about taking a course on the Psalms. “Why should I”, I responded, “I already did that.” His response was, “take another, you might learn something.” When we try to make time stand still, we soon discover that time has just gone on without us.
Creating a family in Christ is the title of this message and it was the goal of Christ from the very beginning. The very first disciples who were called came from varied backgrounds. Some of them knew each other but most of them were strangers when they met. Some of them were labourers. Others had a profession of sorts. Yet each of them responded to the call of Jesus to follow Him. Where that call to follow would lead them and what would ultimately be expected of them was not revealed until later. After 3 years, they were faced with another life changing experience when their leader and ever-present companion was led to death. His resurrection brought more change and his ascension to heaven left them wondering what the next step would be. The next step we learn is the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. That gift would enable them to go out into the world and carry on the ministry of reconciliation begun by God through the Son Jesus Christ.
The disciples had become a family of sorts. It didn’t look like a traditional family but nonetheless it was. They had lived through experiences unlike anything ever before and it bonded them together. Once again, they didn’t always agree with one another but they knew that they needed to pray for one another, love one another and support one another. Their common bond in the beginning may have been their call to follow Jesus but now their common bond was their mission to spread the good news revealed by God in Christ and to support one another in that mission.
Here in this place we have also been called to follow Jesus. We don’t look like a traditional family but we have an experience of God that has brought us together. We share a common desire to gather for worship, for prayer, for support, for learning. We will not always agree with each other about everything but we will need to respect each other, support each other and encourage each other as we seek to understand and live the community life that God seeks us to live. Will your life together be different because I am here? Probably. Is that a good thing? I pray it is. But let us never forget that what will keep this community of faith strong is not what each of us accomplishes separately but what we accomplish together.
You have created a family in Christ. That is evident by your continued presence in this place but the future of this family depends on our willingness together to let God recreate that family and grow that family according to His vision allowing Him to draw people to this community that they may share their faith and life with us!