When I was a Protestant church planter, there were a lot of buzz words we used. One of those was “community.” We were coached to “build the community.” To be honest with you, I look back at that now and I really have no idea what that means. This is a popular phrase among younger people as well. I suspect our older relatives don’t know what we mean by that either.
It sounds really awesome. The media loves to use this kind of language as well. I can’t tell you how many TV shows spend time talking about this sort of thing as well. We are told that we are to “give back” to our community and “serve” our community. These days, we’re told we need to wear masks and stay home so that we can take care of our community. We’re all in this together. Doesn’t that sound nice?
I submit to you that we are not all in this together.
Those of us who follow Jesus are not in “this” (whatever the world means by “this”) together. At least, we shouldn’t be. If you are a follower of Christ, your “this” will look very different from the rest of the world. Well, let me re-phrase that. If we are a follower of Christ, our “this” should look very different from the rest of the world.
The rest of the world is obsessed with self. We see this in our society with the preoccupation with safety and comfort at all costs, freedom from aging and dying, freedom from suffering, the forced acceptance of unholy things and many other things. Our society forces its own definition of tolerance on its members. And you will comply with their definitions or you will be ostracized, called names etc. You get the point.
So, why are Christians so worried about being part of the world? Do we really think we can “be in community” with the world? Now, by “the world,” I don’t mean other humans. I mean what the New Testament biblical writers called “principalities and powers.”
St. Paul says, in Ephesians 6:12,
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
So, it’s not, like, Coca-Cola and owning homes that we’re talking about here. There are forces at work that we cannot see with our naked eye that currently try to control this world. St. Paul calls them “the rulers of the darkness of this world.” There are forces at work that are against us, against human flourishing and, specifically, against those who claim the name of Christ.
St. John, in his Apocalypse, describes it this way (Revelation 12:17),
“And the dragon was angry against the woman: and went to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Go and read Revelation 12 and you’ll get the full picture. The world is not your friend. If you are a follower of Christ (the rest of the seed of the woman), you cannot “live in community” with the world. I’m not saying you can’t go the same grocery stores or be friendly or eat out or go to the movies. I’m not saying you can’t live in this world. I’m saying you can’t follow Christ and “be in community” with this world. The two are diametrically opposed to one another.
Jesus Himself gave us the meaning of Christian community. He told us how we are to live and those who are our “community” when he said,
“For whosoever shall do the will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matt. 12:50)
Read that again. There are some things that Jesus said (actually a lot of things He said) that are really hard. What He said (and says) demands something of us. When He said that it is only those who do the will of the Father that are His brothers, sisters, mother, His community, we are required to do some things.
If we want to be in the “community” of Jesus, we must do the will of the Father. That means that there are those who are not doing the will of the Father that we cannot be in community with. And that may include other people who claim to be Christian. I know that will sound really harsh and will probably make some reading this angry. But the hard fact is that there are those who claim the name of Jesus that are not part of the “community” of Jesus.
Our Lord tells us,
“Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and done many miracles in thy name? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.” (Matt. 7:21-23)
Now for some good news.
We can be part of a community; the community of saints. The great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us (Hebrews 12:1), those who are of the faith and keep the faith now and those who will faithfully follow after us, they are our community.
And that community is vast beyond number. St. John tells us that a “great multitude” stands around God’s throne worshipping Him even now (Rev. 7:9) and will for all eternity. That is community, my friends! And that community is all in this together because we know the One.
The One who has wrestled with and for us with the principalities and powers and has conquered them!
The One who has given us His testimony to keep and wage war against our great enemy Satan!
The One who has given us the Spirit, by whom we may learn to do the will of the Father!
The One who, if we are faithful, will keep us until the day of His glorious return!
Rejoice, brothers and sisters, in the community of the Lamb who was slain!
One of the things that getting rid of all social media has done for me is to open up some time in my schedule. I was looking forward to a bit more time because I had not been reading much in the recent past.
I’m a reader. I love to read. Mostly I read a lot of theological type stuff, but I also really enjoy classical type literature and almost anything historical. I love a good story.
So, when this time opened up in my schedule, I knew I wanted to do some reading that was non theological. One of the books I wanted to read again was JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I read these stories for the first time in early high school and was just absolutely captivated by Tolkien’s storytelling. His stories have layers to them. I mean, dude invented the languages spoken by his characters in the books.
So, I’ve begun reading Tolkien’s massive work again. I have the three books all in one edition so it’s monstrous. My 7-year-old was looking at it the other day and said, “Whoa. That’s a big book.”
Love me some Tolkien.
Anyways, I’ve been reflecting a bit on the art of storytelling recently. I’ve noticed something that I think we don’t really want to think about too much these days. I heard a priest say this the other day on a podcast and it’s so true.
Not all stories have a happy ending.
How did you react to that statement just now? Do you agree or disagree? Does that make you feel sad or do you have a visceral kind of negative reaction?
Our society is obsessed with happy endings. Here’s what I mean. Our kids play in some type of sports thing and everybody gets a trophy (at least in the early years). We so desperately go out of our way in all parts of our lives to make sure that everyone feels “included” and “happy,” whatever those two words mean anymore. We insist that everyone be “equal.” We are obsessed with happy endings.
But this is simply not reality. In sports, everyone can’t win. Not everyone feels included and happy and not everyone is treated equally. This is the reality of life. Whether we like it or not, it just is. People get sick. Old age comes. Cancer happens. Car crashes happen. People lose their jobs. The media tells us that, if we’ll all just wear masks and socially distance ourselves or take this vaccine, we can all have a happy ending to the Covid-19 story.
But it’s just not reality.
I mean, if masks worked so well, why did the CDC tell us (via their website which they promptly took down) that 70% of the people who contracted Covid-19 were wearing masks when they contracted it? Why is it that a virus that has over a 99% survivability rate (without underlying co-morbidities) requires a vaccine?
Happy endings. We must have them. Even if we have to sacrifice our souls (as in being told we can only go to Mass in certain numbers thus prohibiting people from receiving the sacraments) or our well-being (like our jobs because the government decides who is “essential”) or the mental and social stability of our children (by closing down their schools).
We are so afraid of suffering and death that we will do anything to avoid it.
How very un-Christian. How very unlike our forefathers and fore-mothers in the Faith. How very unlike Christ.
He was unafraid of suffering and death. In fact, He welcomed it. He welcomed it because He knew the only way to save us was suffering and death.
And now, we who follow the Christ get to follow in His footsteps. He has blazed the trail before us. He has shown us how to embrace suffering and even death, knowing that on the other side of it is a happy ending. Stop running from suffering and trying to avoid death. Embrace it, knowing that you and I can participate in the suffering and death of Christ!
The truth is that we are obsessed with happy endings because, if we are in Christ by faith, the end of our story is happy. In fact, if we believe the Bible, it is unbelievably happy. There will be no more tears, no more pain, no more sorrow, no more death. Only peace in the presence of the One who suffered and died so that we can have the happy ending our soul craves and cries out for!
Tolkien reminds us what awaits us,
““PIPPIN: I didn't think it would end this way.
GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?
GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
PIPPIN: Well, that isn't so bad.
GANDALF: No. No, it isn't.”"
White shores and a far green country under a swift sunrise of joy that never ends…
St. John’s Apocalypse tells us,
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth was gone, and the sea is now no more. And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them. And they shall be his people; and God himself with them shall be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away. And he that sat on the throne, said: Behold, I make all things new. And he said to me: Write, for these words are most faithful and true. And he said to me: It is done. I am Alpha and Omega; the beginning and the end. To him that thirsteth, I will give of the fountain of the water of life, freely.” (Rev. 21:1-6, DR)
A new heaven and a new earth. God will dwell with us and us with Him. He will wipe away every tear and death shall be no more.
He is making all things new.
Happy endings, brothers and sisters!