Thursday, October 13, 2011

Christian community: Fire keepers or hearth tenders?


Image found at blog: seeking spirit.
Prayer:
Lord, you have called us into life, now by your grace, reveal to us Your truth, show us Your way, and lead us in the life that is abundant. let your witness speak clearly and effectively words, that would indeed work in our lives for the benefit of Your Kingdom, and make us listen with discerning minds and hearts. AMEN.


Do you remember the opening song from the TV show Cheers? The main chorus of the song
"Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn't you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name."


source: http://www.lyricsondemand.com/tvthemes/cheerslyrics.html

Being a part of a caring, inclusive community is something that is important to most everyone. We all have a desire to connect with others, know that they know us and that our presence in that community makes a difference.

The community groups that we choose to be part of can impact our lives in amazing ways. I've been a part of music groups, reading groups, community action groups, and many shades and variations of community throughout my life; but I'd like to share with you specifically how Christian community has impacted me.

Early in my marriage, my husband and I moved into an apartment complex where his best friend lived upstairs and my best friend lived across the hall. We all attended the same church at the time, and had spent several years together as a small fellowship group that would meet every Friday night for pizza, chips, ice cream cake and sharing life. The amount of transition in the lives of the people in that small fellowship group the year we lived in the apartment was incredible.

Our friend upstairs was in the midst of a messy divorce full of legal and personal struggle, our friend across the hall was dealing with serious health and extended family trouble, and my husband and I - newly married and working hard to make ends meet - had gotten news that we were expecting our first child. I was working as a waitress and at a music store in the mall and my husband was working in local radio, commuting to an internship in local TV, and working a retail job to meet our needs. Eventually, after our daughter was born - I had to quit my job to care for her.

You would think that these stressful circumstances would have stopped us in our tracks, but the challenge of these shared circumstances brought our group closer together. While we all faced different challenges, but we shared a faith in God that brought and kept us united in a deep sense of community. When things went badly for anyone, we would support and pray for each other. When good news came to anyone's door, we would celebrate with rice crispy treats, Kool-aid, and prayers of thanks for God's provision for us.

In addition to our Friday get-together s', we would meet each Wednesday night for a time of fellowship and Bible study. At that time, I was home with the baby and our apartment became the hub for the weekly gatherings. Over time, out Wednesday night Bible study grew. Friends would invite friends, bring snacks to share, and we would care and pray for each person who happened to come in the door. Some nights, there would be 30 people sitting on our unmatched but comfortable furniture in our living room. There was not fire place in that apartment, but the warmth and love of the community burned brighter than the light of any fire I'd known.

When we first began the Bible study, my contribution was taking care of hospitality. As the weeks passed, and my husband was held over at his internship - I was asked to help teach the study. While I had grown up in church and been involved with worship teams and music ministry, I had never felt confident teaching or speaking to large groups of people. The need for a facilitator was obvious, and I had the most time and resources to take that role - but coming to a place where I could say yes to this call was difficult for me at first. Would I be able to juggle the responsibility of being a new mom, hostess and teacher all in one evening?

Somehow, I agreed to help teach and in this supportive and caring community - I found a great deal of joy in the opportunity. In the end, this Christian community shared in the needs of this ministry so that one person did not have to juggle - someone held my daughter, made the coffee and wrote down the prayer requests. All the bases were covered and we all became a team working together to accomplish the ministry God was calling us to.

Having this Bible study in my home became a spring board for me in serving God in my initial community as well as the outside world. Co-workers and friends were invited to come, some came to become a part of the group, and some folks heard about and accepted God's love for the first time within those four walls we called home.

The work of those Wednesday nights, and the daily connection we had as a Christian community started to make a difference in our apartment building and neighborhood. When we heard of a need in the building, we tried to find a way to meet it. We visited nursing homes and befriended teenagers that others were afraid of talking too. If someone was moving and did not have the resources to pay a mover, we'd rally together with our caravan of hatchbacks and strong, young backs - and become the moving team.

When I think back to this Christian community and how we responded to the needs within and outside of our immediate community; I am amazed and filled with a sense of gratefulness to God. We did not ever plan to become a ministry team in the neighborhood, but step by step and person by person that responded to God's love and the need to share that with others - God was faithful to grow us into a loving, out-reaching community of faith.

John 13:34-35 reads, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." In being faithful to loving God, each other and our surrounding neighbors our small community of church friends was extended to the outside world in ways we probably never will know about.

Seventeen years have passed since we moved out of that apartment building. We have remained friends with everyone who was involved in that small group ministry; but as distance and time do - we all have moved into different spaces and groups of close community. Although the groups of Christian community that I've become part of have shifted and changed over the years; my connection to a faith community that cares for itself and others outside of that community is something I've never let go of.

The effort and work of ministry is a challenging call. Sometimes, I've become discouraged when the reality of loving God and others is not as organic and natural as what I experienced all those years ago in that apartment building. But somehow, every time I've been in a place of disillusionment or discouragement, God has lifted up a space, a group, and environment of healthy Christian community for me to belong to and serve in. This platform of caring for a faith community, teaching in a faith community, and working to invite others into a closer relationship with God is the life-giving stream that encourages me to keep on keeping on in my own faith journey.

In the Celtic christian tradition, women were seen as the hearth-tenders. They made sure the fire in the home was kept burning all day and all night. They also would take that hearth fire out to the fields when tending sheep or field. There was an emphasis that life, light and goodness were a gift from God and the fire tending in and outside the home was a practical and faith reflective action in response to that belief. The Celtic christian community was built on the light and life that comes from living, working and growing in faithful cooperation with God - the original hearth tender.

Matthew 5:14-16 reads,
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

At a particularly difficult time, a friend spoke about the importance of understanding that God is the original hearth-tender. God does not store up his light and love away from the reality of the world, but is always at work in the world lighting things up.

There are two choices in life when we encounter darkness and difficulty:
1. Throw in the towel and turn inward.
2. Prayerfully look at the imperfect circumstances within and outside of our communities as opportunities to join in on the work that God is already doing.

God is the source of light, and his light can be fostered in christian community - but it should not stop there. Being a hearth-tender does not call us to stay huddled around the fire. We need to be faithful in the work of hearth tending in our communities and the world. The desire to be in a community where you are known and loved is a universal one. Christian communities are called to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]” (Luke 10:27).

This is what hearth tending is all about; helping to foster the light, goodness and love of God to fill the spiritual and practical needs of the community and the world. The light of God is already shining in the world and each one of us has a responsibility taking turns to stoke the ashes.

Going into the whole world and preaching the gospel can look different for each of us. The kind of hearth tending that each of us are called to is an individual and vast as each of the gifts and abilities that God has given to us . All those years ago, I had not idea that making rice crispy treats and juice would be a part of being a hearth-tender for God. God is patient with each one of us and is faithful to help us on our faith journey. It is so important to remember that God's light, goodness and love are not intended to stay inside the walls of Christian community, but they are to be shared with whole world.

Christian community is a place where God's light, life and love are given freely and I am thankful to have been invited and been a part of many variation of them. If you are searching for a place to be known and loved, please remember that Koininia - your home church - or bible study are places that you can go to stoke up the fires of your own heart; but please don't stop there. The fire blazing in this space is intended to be shared with others. There are multitudes looking for love out there and many places that claim to, but can't fulfill that need. In my experience, there is no place I feel better known and loved - even in the challenges - than in authentic Christian community.

What we receive in ministering to each other is only magnified when we share and extend it to others. Fire keepers hold on to the light for themselves, but hearth-tenders give light, love and hope to others. Knowing the need to be known and loved is only part of the role of being a hearth-tender. We must remember the need of being known, so that we keep stoking the fire, and going out into the world to help God where he's already at work.

God is the source of light and we can become vessels to stoke, carry and tend to the light; so that others can see and know Him and his great love. Fredrick Buechner once wrote, "“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

What is you're great joy? Where do the great needs of the world touch your life? Seventeen years from now, what stories will you have to share of how, where, and why God has impacted the world through the fire He's lit in you? The world can be hard and cold, but the light and warmth conducted by hearth-tending-out-reaching communities - can warm the dark night of many souls that are searching for a place to be known and loved by God, by me and by you.

(Play song for group)

You turned on the light

"The love you give brings so much light,
like a beacon in the night.
removing the fear and the fright.

Confronting shadows, blacked strife,
defeating death, reviving life,
fanning the ash, defending my heart.

Hearts are breaking, souls are aching,
but you turned on the light.

You turned on the light, and made things right
when they were broken and you removed the dark
and lit a spark that was smoldering.

How can it be I have a life?
How can some good come from such strife?
Something in me can turn out right.
Giving value to the slight.
Fueling dreams, inspiring sight - burning a path to realties might.

Lives are changing, hope is gaining -
because You turned on the light

You turned on the light, and made things right
when they were broken and you removed the dark
and lit a spark that was smoldering.

Hearts are breaking, souls are aching,
but you turned on the light.
Lives are changing, hope is gaining -
because You turned on the light."

Words and music T.L. Eastman 2003

Find more Tara Lamont Music songs at Myspace Music

No comments: