"We’re talking this month about how people change. In the first couple weeks we suggested that the principle dynamic for change in a person’s life is his or her union with Christ. Our union with Jesus does something that no program of personal change could ever do: it gives us a new identity and a new power to actually become someone we could never have become on our own.
Last week we explored the vital role that habits play in this process of personal change. Justin Earley showed us that, for the Christian, love is at the root of who we are becoming. So the habits that shape us most must bend our lives ever back to the love of God. Such habits are “counter formative” practices that God can use to transform our hearts, bodies and lives. These habits of love are the trellis that allow the love of God to flourish in our lives, and in the world.
This Sunday we are going to examine the role that community plays in this process of personal change. Kurt Vonnegut once said that, “What should people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” According to the CDC, Vonnegut was right. For the first time ever, American life expectancy has dropped for three years in a row. This disturbing trend is driven by what Anne Case and Angus Deaton call “Deaths of Despair”. Suicides are going up. Overdoses from prescription medicines are rising. Alcohol related deaths such as liver disease continue to increase. Social isolation is literally killing us.
For the American church, community is a matter of life and death.
What we will discover is that, according to Paul, Christian community is the context of change. Community is both the place and the means of spiritual transformation. It is the place where death dies, and life lives in fullness and flourishing. Personal change is not an individual thing. Union with Christ not only bestows on us new identities as individuals. We also corporately receive a new communal identity. We are an alternate society, the new humanity, where the presence of God is embodied, and people can experience God’s kingdom here and now.
This is good news! God is not making us into good people. He is not making us better people. In Christ, God is making us into a new people; His beloved community.
In preparation, I encourage you to re-read Colossians 3:1-14 through the lens of community in order to see how fundamental it is to Paul’s thinking. Try to take note of every instance where community, or an aspect of community, is mentioned in the text.
Our weekly worship guide can be found here.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.