We need Community

Philip Clayton in the book How I found God in Everyone and Everywhere writes, “Each of us has our own life to lead. Each one is powered by needs and longings, by love and hate, by acts of deep compassion and acts of self-assertion. Crippled by pain or dancing with joy, we walk this journey from birth to death. When our eyes are open, we feel wonder; when our souls are open, we feel awe; when are hearts are open, we feel reverence for all that is.” (How I found God in everyone and everywhere, 19). We have been studying the fruit of the spirit this fall, but not just looking at how to be more loving or how to embody peace, but really emphasizing how the fruit of the spirit tunes the amazing instrument of our bodies transforming us into a new creation. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

In Paul’s words, I don’t hear that what we were before is bad and is somehow magically gone. What I hear is that God is enhancing what is already there drawing out the image of God that each one of us bears so that we might reveal more of God’s likeness in the world.  Jesus said in Matthew 7:16, “You will know them by their fruits.” When we express the likeness of God in the world…the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness or centered, gentleness, and self-control or balance, we become recognizable to others as Christ followers.  This is the fruit that we bear!  This is not a judgement statement but a way for the eyes of our heart to recognize.  Much like when we say, “The Christ in me recognizes the Christ in you!”

This new creation talk is not just about our spirits disconnected from our bodies, but instead it includes our bodies as we have been talking about this entire series. Brian Spoon the author of Neuroscience and the Fruit of the Spirit writes, “Our experience of reality is filtered through electrochemical signals in our bodies. This is true for all of us. It is our prioritization and emotional connection to certain signals versus others that dictate what we value.” What this means for us is that there is a part of our faith tradition that calls us to be good stewards of our bodies because we experience life through our bodies.  Our bodies are this amazingly complex ecosystem that must be tended to with care and not for our own benefit, but so that we might go about the work of being the hands and feet of Christ in our world. 

Our mind and body interpret everything in our external world and our internal world. What we put into our bodies and minds can be stored in unhealthy ways that can cause dis-ease.  My friend Pema and I were talking about how I wanted to stop watching certain TV shows or movies. I felt like crime shows or shows where people are plotting revenge…these kinds of shows were affecting my sleep.  During the conversation, we started talking about how we recognize the effects of what we put in our bodies, and we might even notice what is beneficial to our mental state, but we don’t really think about is how things affect our spirits.  Pema pointed out that our spirits are like an innocent child that we should protect.  What you watch or read or put in your body or do to your body, you should consider that this innocent young child…the spirit of you…is also seeing, hearing and being affected by. 

Our National Disciples of Christ church wrote bill GA 1732 called Stewardship as a spiritual discipline.  In this document, there is a section on stewardship as loving attention to body and mind.  In this section, the author writes, “Jewish thought understands not that we have a body, but that in fact we are a body…To love God with body, mind, and soul in harmony would have been familiar to Jesus as well as Paul.”  In this section, the authors emphasize the importance of our bodies referencing 1 Corinthians 4:7 where it says that we have the treasure of the gospel in clay jars. Paul was referring to our bodies.  Add to this scripture the passage in 1 Corinthians 6:19 where Paul says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?”

All of this talk about growth and transforming and being made into the likeness of God is true and as Christians we cannot deny that we are called to growth, but this must be balanced with loving ourselves as the beautiful creation, the beloved of God that we already are.  If you are very growth minded like me, it is important to know that love for yourself in just the way you are provides the most optimal conditions for growth to happen.

So let’s take a moment to recognize the fruit of the spirit in our lives. God has created each of us to naturally experience one or more of the fruit of the spirit without changing, transforming at all.….we just enjoy the gift of this fruit. 

1- Experience:

a-     Consider what fruit of the spirit you see in your own life? Take a moment to give yourself a hug or dance a little jig in celebration of this fruit!

b-      Make a point this week to tell 1-2 people what fruit of the spirit you see in their life. Take a moment to celebrate with them!

c-         This next part has to do with community. Remember we learned last week that new habits do not form themselves.  We need each other to form a new habit.  According to the book, the Power of Habits, an essential ingredient to creating new habits in our lives is community.  The author writes, “When people join groups where change seems possible, the potential for that change to occur becomes more real.” All of us recognize that we do not embody every single one of the fruit of the spirit. Each of us can pick out one or more of the fruit of the spirit that we desire to embody.  It is encouraging to be a part of a community that desires this type of growth. So, now I invite you share with someone what fruit of the spirit you would like to see grow and flourish in your life? Ask them to consider praying for you this week.

Community is a wonderful element that we need to grow and flourish.  We need people around us who believe that we can do it and who also desire to see growth in their own lives.  Part of it is accountability because when we know that other people are invested in something, then we feel like we need to do our part as well.  The meditation group that my friend Pema and I created never met in person and only met on zoom 3 times over a 6 week period and yet many times people’s journals told us that they kept to their daily meditation practice because they believed in our research and because there was a felt sense of community support and accountability in that they did not want to let each other down.

Another ingredient to flourishing on Jesus’ path is that we need to practice self-care. We have the ability to either make the internal environment very harsh and judging or we can be loving and encouraging to ourselves.  Jesus in Matthew 22:37-39 writes, “Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” What does it mean to love ourselves? We are told in scripture that our body is a temple and if we believe this is true then we are to be in awe of how beautifully and wonderfully we are made and then be good stewards of this precious gift that God has given to us.

Jesus knew that how we treat ourselves usually comes out in how we treat others, so he said love yourself and then love your neighbor as you love yourself.  If we are harsh and judgmental to ourselves most likely that will come out in how we treat others.  If we are loving and gentle with ourselves, then we can be more loving and gentler with others.  When I was in junior high, my catholic school did not have a 3 strikes your out punishment type system.  Instead, we had what they called “Catch them being goods.” 

Teachers were looking for us to be the good little students and leaders that they knew we had the ability to be and if that part of us peaked out and they saw it, then they would give us a reward.  If we got so many catch them being goods then we received a personal reward, but if the whole class got a certain number of catch them being goods, then we would get a pizza party!  What they were doing is setting the stage for our best selves to flourish.  They created an environment where they were looking for the goodness in us! This type of environment that believes we can do it and encourages us to be  kind, loving and being gentle and if the community buys into the process and does it together then we are creating the most a fertile environment for positive transformation!

There are many ways that we can be good stewards of ourselves so that our fruit has the potential to grow! Turn over on the back of your bulletin and let’s read some ideas: Rest, worship, maintain our health through exercise, meditation and nutrition, use our gifts, accept ourselves, generosity

2-Experience:

a-        Consider how you care for yourself: body, mind and spirit? Have coffee with someone and talk about the importance of self-care. Tell them how you care for yourself and then listen to how they care for themselves.

b-        Now, answer this question. What is one way that you would like to care for yourself…something you want to do but is not a current part of your self-care practices? Tell your friend so that you feel the support and accountability of this small group. 

Lastly, Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 writes about how there are a variety of gifts of the spirit and for today I will say fruit of the spirit, but that they all come from the Spirit of God who resides in the temple of our bodies.  God gives each of us gifts not so we can compare and desire what the other person has but so that we individually might flourish and the body of Christ flourish.  Remembering is a practice that invites us to imagine the many ways that our care for our bodies affects those around us. We must remember that being good stewards of this incredible instrument God has given us in our body is also related to our ability to offer our best selves to our loved ones and those closest to us.  And it is bigger than that. We must remember that being good stewards of our bodies relates to our ability to offer our best self to Heights Christian Church.  And it is much bigger than that. We as a church must remember that we are just one part of the body of Christ and that we are called to be good stewards of the resources we have so that we offer our best selves to the Larger Body of Christ in the world.

The authors of Another Way: Living and Leading Change on Purpose offer us 4 statements to remind us of who we are and how we are all connected. Hear these affirmations spoken for you personally and spoken over Heights Christian Church.

You are the dream of a community. You sit under trees you did not plant and drink from wells you did not dig. Your life is not simply your own. You are leading your life on behalf of and connected to a larger community. 

Another Way: Living and leading change on purpose

Let’s add what Jesus said about who we are.  Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. Go and be who you are.”

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