Community Commandment


“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. (John 14:15-29

I listen to Sufjan Steven’s album Carrie and Lowell every day. At least once. I will not be grandiose and say that I have been consistent since the moment I got the album. I know that I have missed days. But I am positive that I have never gone longer than one week. Most often, I listen to the album 2-3 times a day, especially if I am putting in long hours researching and writing. Normally I cannot read and write with English lyrics being sung; I have all manner of music with Celtic, Spanish, German, Latin, and Greek lyrics. Those don’t distract me. English always has, until this album. I am obsessed.

I wrote a review of the album that was posted on the outstanding site, after.chuch, and I argued that Sufjan Stevens was redefining Christian music. I wrote that after only listening to the album about 2-3 times. You might have noticed that I am almost desperate for people to read what I write, so I often go through spurts in which I write a good deal of content for multiple sites. It is clearly part of my psychopathy as a bipolar person. But I’m also a writer. Writers need to write. And we like to be read. There’s a bit of that going on in today’s post as well 🙂 Anyway, I recently reread the review and realized that I haven’t finished writing about it.

I have felt a discernible shift within myself, which really seems to have come to a head with the process of being locked. I am spiritually on fire. I am preparing to head to Baltimore, where I will stay with two dear friends. (You’ll be reading more about them, either while I am there or when I get back. My days will be pretty packed with studying and cohort work, but I hope to at least hop onto Facebook or maybe post some short blogs.) I will have the opportunity to visit the churches that my cohort colleagues pastor in and around Baltimore, and I will be able to see Rev. Dr. Hunt’s church, too. He has a new book out, which I am excited to read, and I’m preparing myself for a very significant, emotional, and powerful experience. I believe God has some things in store for me.

I took a risk this week and discussed different scriptures in bible study than I used in worship. I allowed ministry work, conversations, prayer, and readings of the text to inform me for my sermon. I only read one commentary, and that was in my office an hour before delivering it. This is highly unusual for me. I prepare. A lot. Especially if I am not using a text; I feel like I can rely on the Holy Spirit only if I have done due diligence. The Spirit will show up, but the brain better be ready to go, at least that was my thinking until today. I won’t say that I preached the best sermon I’ve ever delivered, but I think it was one of my more passionate. I won’t rehash it here, but it boils down to this: Love is the greatest gateway drug there is; it’ll lead you to harder stuff like justice, mercy, and grace. But we have to root ourselves in love to know God and to be following God. How does this happen? Through the Advocate.

And that’s what this whole blog is about; via a long, perhaps meandering route, we have arrived at the point. Jesus’s last words to the disciples and others gathered were about love. For love, Jesus leaves an Advocate. In Greek the word is paracletos, or Paraclete.  John contains five different passages about the Paraclete, and we should be careful not to conflate the Paraclete with the Holy Spirit. At least, not the Holy Spirit the way we understand it through the lens of Trinitarian theology that was decided through Councils. The Paraclete in love’s advocate. (And Jesus describes the Father as being greater than he; this is not a homousious situation.) And how do we experience it? In community. Not isolated from others. Not via a personal relationship with Jesus 

I am not trying to make any judgments about why people do or do not come to church. But I am saying that a central aspect of Christianity is and has always been community. We experience the fullness of relationship when we commit to relationships, service, solidarity, support, and love. I understand that people have had bad experiences with church and organized religion; I get that people work hard and Sundays are the only days that they have off. I certainly believe that one can access God outside of church, and I don’t doubt that you can have a powerful connection. But–and I rarely, rarely say something like this–what you are practicing is not Christianity in its most basic sense. We have to come together. Community is what God does. The most important thing is not following all of the rules; the most important thing is trying to follow Jesus’ words, and they are very clear about this matter. You need to be in a community that has God at the center.

Sufjan sings, in “John My Beloved,” Jesus I need you to be near me, come shield me from fossils that fall on my head. It is a witty, biting, vulnerable way to express the desire for a religion that is not dead, that is not calcified and used as a weapon. That requires love. That also requires an invitational community that is willing to see following Jesus as beginning with relationships, not dogmas; that believes in putting Jesus more in our hearts than on our lips; that is confident enough in its own relationship with Christ to lovingly enter into relationships with people who may never identify as Christians, but are interested in the community. I firmly believe that Jesus would rather be followed than worshiped. And while I have a zeal in my heart that leads me to know that I would willingly die for my religious principles, I am not a zealot who believes that gives me the right to give dictates to others or to attempt conversions rather than conversations.

My doctoral work is beloved community. I do firmly believe that God is showing me what that might look like here in Yellow Springs. Please pray for me as I prepare for the coming trip. Please lift me up and pray for my mental health. To you, I give my love and my commitment to community.

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