How quickly time flies! By the end of today’s service, the pastoral team would have finished preaching through the book of 1 Kings. Before we embark on 1 John (from the New Testament), we will be preaching a series of messages that will serve to deepen our biblical convictions on how we can build community as we journey together in this faith pilgrimage. No man is an island. There are no lone Christians. The Bible contains analogies that highlight the inter-connectedness between fellow Christians. We are family. God is our Father; Christ is our elder brother; we are brothers and sisters, heirs of God, co-heirs with Christ. We are a body. Christ is the head and we are the different body parts. Every part must function properly if we want the body to grow healthily. We are God’s temple. Christ is the cornerstone upon whom the faith of the other living stones is built. We are community and how we relate with each other in Christ is important. We started the year by looking at the church as a worshipping, uniting and disciple-making community. In these two months, we want to look at other aspects of community.
We want to build a welcoming community. Jesus found himself in the company of all sorts of people – the well-respected in society like the Pharisees and also the outcast like the prostitutes and tax collectors. His heart was filled with compassion for them. When we look at people in our midst – strangers, foreigners, people whom we deem weird, do we allow our biasness to keep them at arm’s length or are we compassionate enough to give them a listening ear, get to know them, learn of their struggles, step into their shoes? Do we even smile when we meet each other at the bus stop, around the church, in the pews? After each service, do we speak with those seated beside us? If they are familiar people, go deep in your conversations with them. If they are unfamiliar people, this is a golden opportunity to get to know someone new in the congregation, exchange numbers, and perhaps even make an appointment to have a meal with the person at Community Lunch on the last Sunday of the month.
We want to build a serving community. Every one of us can contribute to the growth of the church as we use our time, talents and treasures to serve God and his people. We don’t want a culture where 20% of the congregation is serving while 80% watches and criticises. The 20% will suffer burnout sooner or later. We serve because Jesus first served us. Don’t see service as merely fulfilling a need. It is first and foremost our expression of gratitude for the ultimate service that Christ has rendered for our sake. We can never out serve him. Yes, some form of sacrifice is needed on our part when we step up to serve. We may have to make changes to our schedule, give up our favourite TV programme, miss out on some nights out with friends or maybe even say ‘no’ to our bosses when we are asked to work overtime. I hope that each time we start to feel that service is becoming a burden we will remember why we serve in the first place. It is my prayer that your faith will increase and your discipleship deepened as you use your spiritual gifts to build up the body of Christ.
We want to build a peace-making community. We are imperfect and broken people. The good news is that we have been reconciled with God through the finished work of Jesus on the cross. We now have peace with God which should result in us living at peace with one another yet there are conflicts everywhere – between people in the same ministry, between people in the same discipleship group, between husbands and wives, between parents and children. Are we able to humble ourselves and make peace with each other? For those who are not part of the conflict, do we take sides and add to the intensity of the conflict or do we step up to be peacemakers? Peace-making can be time consuming because we will have to first listen without any biasness to the respective stories of those in conflict. It can be mind boggling because they will always think that they are right and the other party is wrong. It can be emotionally draining because if we are not careful, we ourselves may be drag into the conflict. Nevertheless, the Prince of Peace says: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.’
We want to build a praying community. I would like to see people praying for one another and praying with one another without feeling inhibited, whether in church or elsewhere. Earlier, I mention that it will be good if we can remain in our pews and get to know people seated beside us. Before we part ways, instead of saying ‘I will pray for you’, why don’t we take some time to pray for each other there and then? If you don’t feel competent enough to pray in groups, aim to attend one of the Prayer Trainings that Pr George is conducting. There is no need to be too conscious of how you sound in front of others. Even if your prayers are not fluent, that is perfectly alright. Don’t ever think that the effectiveness of your prayers depends on how fluent you are. As long as you are sincere, even if it is badly expressed, the Spirit of God continues to intercede for us and God knows the mind of the Spirit. Surely your prayers will bring encouragement to the people whom you are praying with. In the whole process, your faith will also be strengthened.
We want to build a supporting community. We go through good times and bad times. We want to learn to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. We don’t want those who are suffering to suffer in silence. On one hand, some people prefer to suffer alone, but is it biblical? On the other hand, some keep a distance from those who are suffering. Maybe they don’t know what to say or do; they don’t want to say or do anything offensive. Eld Dr Lee Chung Horn recently gave a series of talks on ‘Meeting the Ill, the Dying and the Grieving’. It is for this purpose of equipping the church so that we can be there for each other when we traverse the dark valleys of our lives. We want to be able to lend our support – offering a listening ear, a shoulder for them to cry on, and hands to render practical help; showing compassion; being present.
We want to build a truth speaking community. We want to speak the truth in love. This is a very difficult thing to do. When we speak truths into peoples’ lives, we don’t know how they will respond. We may be accused of judging them. We are afraid that the relationship may sour. Isn’t it better to mind our own business and keep our mouths shut? If we are at the receiving end, know that it is never easy for someone to confront us; it takes a lot of courage and love. Can we listen humbly without being defensive or angry? Are we quick to ask for forgiveness or do we presume that we are always right and no one has the right to tell us otherwise? Jesus was compassionate but he also spoke the truth with honesty. Sadly, the brunt of his rebuke fell on the Pharisees who were too proud to be receptive!
These different aspects of community building are platforms where we can grow in our discipleship. Often we don’t feel like welcoming a stranger, using our gifts to serve God and his people, making peace, praying together, supporting one another and speaking truths into each other’s lives. It will take too much of an effort to do all these. Left to our sinful self, the easy path is for us not to do anything. But Jesus says: ‘Deny self. Carry cross. Follow me.’ Be assured that the grace of God is sufficient for the Holy Spirit will empower and enable us to follow Jesus. As we continue to build community within the local church, we will experience the grace of God over and over again. This is how we can grow as disciples of Jesus. This is how the church community can point people to him.
Rev Lee Kien Seng
May 8, 2016