The Growth of Community

I just finished up my second of two intensive weeks of class for my degree at Luther Seminary by saying goodbye to some of the most wonderful friends I know. At their best, intensives are self-descriptive: intense. At their worst, intensives are some of the most challenging weeks you could choose to put yourself through in the midst of everyday life.

There is beauty and laughter in these long days of class. Our distance learning students join the residential community and we learn, grow, laugh, and cry together, both in class from 8am to 5pm, and in our free times. We partner with our faculty to solve problems and speak about faith. We partner with each other to commiserate over assignments and reflect on who we are called to be. We eat delicious food, we play ridiculous games, we have jam sessions in Bockman, we pray, we hug, we exist in community. As someone who has studied at Luther both DL and residential, intensives allow me to celebrate the chance to connect with old friends and to make new.

And today I give thanks for these people who God has given me as a community during these days and the communities that I have been able to live in before.

“So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
Acts 2:41-47 (NRSV)

We were not created to do this life alone. Take a moment to think of the person you feel you can be most yourself with. Who are they? Maybe it’s a best friend, a partner, a family member, a teacher, or someone else. What words come to mind when you think of that relationship?

Honesty. Love. Unconditional. Goofy. Carefree. Trusting. Safe.

This is your true self. Whatever words you found, whatever images came to mind, this is the person God created and called you to be. You, though, can only be that person in community. Surrounded by the love of others, reminded of the truth of who you are with the chance to share some of that with one another, growing and changing in the midst of God’s love made true through the gift of others.

You see, we are all chosen, beloved children of God. We are named and claimed in the waters of baptism, just like the people mentioned in Acts. And through that naming and claiming, we are created new and drawn into a community of believers – the Body of Christ – where we belong forever. There are no conditions, no strings, and no expectations beyond being who you are.

Who you have been called to be.
Shaped as.
Loved into.
Grown from and to.
And believed you could be.

This week, my community at Luther created a sacred space of openness and vulnerability that could only be held here. In this time. In this week. In this space. By these people. And as I walk away from a hard, but so fruitful week and into my next challenges and joys, I grieve. I grieve that the space will never again be the same. The bread broken together will never have the same lingering taste, the tears cried will never hold the same breadth of emotion, the laughter bellowed will never hold the same revelry.

And yet, that community will live forward into the next ones. The ones we return home to, we step into, remembering the moments of hope that sprung forth from our life together and sharing it with those who we are called fortunate enough to build space with next. One community must be changed for the next to begin, but the shaping carries forward. As we break bread together tomorrow, with new faces and old, we give a piece of the love of Christ that exploded this week into the next.

And the next.

And the next.

The Church lives through the community fostered by being beloved children of the Triune God. The good, bad, and ugly that shape us, shape the Body as it continues to grow.

The beauty, though? The beauty is that through our baptism connecting us to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we get to be made new and clean each day. Our pasts do not change, but they instead inform our futures.

And our communities.

It informs our church.

And for that, I give thanks. I give thanks for after this week, the church is just a little bit bigger, a little bit wider, and a little bit stronger because of the love and growth of the community I have been called into. And because of that community, I – and all of us – are forever changed.

May the love of God shape your days, your weeks, and your months as you live into the community of the Body of Christ. Wherever you are, whoever you are with, may you create sacred spaces and allow the Spirit to work in and with you and your community to shape the church. May our love abound with the hope of being created, being redeemed, and being known by one another, by the Triune God, and by ourselves.

Amen.

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