Loving community begins with seeing the neighborhood through the eyes of Jesus.
By pastor Sam Butler.
After his resurrection, Jesus reached out to his followers with genuine love and concern. He met them in the midst of their brokenness, fear and longing. By looking at Jesus as our model we can learn a few things about how he wants us to engage in our community and church neighborhood.
Jesus’ first interaction was with Mary Magdalene (John 21:11-18). Mary was in a state of panic. Not only is she dealing with the loss of her friend Jesus in death, but when she gets to the tomb she discovers his body is missing. She is in a state of great despair and is weeping. Jesus greets her and reassures her by his presence.
Later that day two disciples are walking to Emmaus when Jesus started walking with them and asked what they were talking about (Luke 24:12-31). “They stood still, their faces downcast” as they shared their grief, saying they had been hoping Jesus was the one who would redeem Israel. Jesus went through the Torah and the prophets teaching them what the Scriptures really said. Then he revealed himself to them.
That evening Jesus’ disciples were gathered together in a building with the doors locked. Not only were they experiencing the death of Jesus and the loss that entailed, but they were also afraid of what the Jewish leaders might do to them. They felt alone and fearful. Jesus enters and stands among them saying, “Peace be with you,” reassuring them with his words and showing them his wounds. Scripture tells us that they were overjoyed when they saw him.
Thomas was not present and would not believe the report of his fellow disciples. He was suffering from doubt. In his mind Jesus was dead; it was not possible what they were telling him. A week later Jesus reveals himself to Thomas and removes all doubt.
Peter had his own set of problems. After seeing Jesus alive he surely was wondering to himself, what use can Jesus have with me? After all, I denied him openly three times. After a hot meal Jesus talks with Peter privately and reassures him that he has work for him to do. How reassuring and encouraging that must have been for Peter.
Notice the pattern: Jesus, who loved them all deeply, understood exactly how they were feeling and met them where they needed him most. In their lowest and most vulnerable moments, he entered into their brokenness with all the care, concern, and love that only he can provide.
Jesus does the same for us. Through the Spirit he has revealed himself to us and has drawn us in to experience his healing and love. In the midst of our brokenness we are told that we are loved and included—just as we are.
But it does not end here. Jesus has called us into a participation with him to finish what he has started. He has given everyone the opportunity to know him and experience in him the eternal love of God. He has invited us to participate with helping others know that in the midst of their brokenness, they are loved and included—just as they are. This is why community is important.
Where do we start? In the May edition of Equipper, we concluded that effective community engagement flows from the love of God expressed to us and for us by Jesus. For us to be effective, we need to love our communities as God loves them. (I refer back to the lead article in this issue: “Seeing Through God’s Eyes.”)
When we start to practice loving as God loves—meeting people where they are—that love is expressed in action. This is the example Jesus gave for us to follow. He comes along side, he stands in the middle of, and walks with us in the midst of our brokenness. He shares in our suffering, offering us encouragement and hope. This is what our participation looks like. Jesus has called us and leads us by the Spirit to enter into the brokenness of our communities, to come along side, to stand with, and to walk with his dearly loved children.
Peter of all people understood this; he experienced Jesus’ love and encouragement. He was lifted up by Jesus and given the privilege to participate with his Lord. That’s why he writes in his first epistle that we should above all else “love each other dearly,” that we should “offer hospitality to one another,” and to “use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (I Peter 4:8-10).
Let’s be praying as individuals and as congregations that our Lord will help us to love our communities as he loves them, and that we will take action and step into the middle of people’s lives as he did, with concern, care and encouragement. Look what he has done for you: experience it, live it, share it. Community.