Devoted to the Fellowship
This morning we’re starting a 3 week series on building life together at Cornerstone. How do we live in community?
Before we jump into that topic, let’s start with a preface. Can you have a preface to a sermon? We do this morning. Why live in community? After all, most of us spend time finding ways to get away from others. We dream of vacations in isolated places: a secluded cabin in the mountains or on a lake. We dream of finding some acreage away from town where we can have some space from the crowds in town. There is a part of us that downplays community.
Why live in community? We need it. Isolation is not good. This is the first thing we discover in the Bible that is not good.
Ge2:18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone…
The isolation experienced during the pandemic highlighted it. Extended periods of isolation lead to anxiety and depression and we’ve seen cases of that sweep across the nation. According to the CDC,
Nationwide, average anxiety severity scores increased 13% from August to December 2020 and then decreased 26.8% from December 2020 to June 2021. Similar increases and decreases occurred in depression severity scores.
And these rates have continued to climb.
In 1945 CS Lewis wrote a novel where he depicted hell and the principal characteristic is isolation.
So, if isolation is so bad, why do we often find ourselves seeking it? Lewis explains in the Great Divorce that this isolation is a result of their own choosing. When a new soul arrives he finds empty houses, any of which he can live in. But as new people arrive, arguments and disagreements lead one or both to look for another house further away. And so the pattern continues forever.
It is a fascinating description and has much overlap in the real world. We often want to move away because of the painful memories we often have from disagreements and conflicts. And its a pattern not limited to the society outside the church. We find it just as pervasive in the church as a whole. It’s why we often see people hop from one church to another. If you stay too long in one place, you will inevitably get your feelings hurt. You will inevitably have disagreements.
So, why community? In the beginning it was good! In the first community (Adam and Eve) there was nakedness and no shame. They had nothing to hide and no shame. As soon they took of the forbidden fruit they hid and covered themselves. Their pain pushed them away. But in the beginning it was good and there is a measure of joy to be experienced in community that you simply cannot experience anywhere else. How much better does a good cup of coffee taste when you enjoy it with good company? It’s why we don’t go out to eat alone at a fancy restaurant. It’s why you want to share that good book you just read or that favorite TV show or movie. There is something about the shared experience that is far better than the experience in isolation. Good company helps to fill that otherwise sense of emptiness in the soul.
While community is something we were designed to be part of, we know the pain of it too well. But rather than use that pain as an excuse to seek to get away (and isolate), it actually reveals another need for community, but not just any community. We need a community inside which our pain works toward our sanctification rather than our bitterness.
Lewis goes on to describe the reason for the isolation in hell. The souls there are self-absorbed and full of pride and that is the source of their voluntary isolation. In the right community, that pain can work on you in a sanctifying way.
We need community because it brings greater joy than isolation, and we need community because it is God’s instrument for our sanctification.
So what does this community look like and how do we get into it?