None of us can come to God on our own; all by ourselves. Jesus repeatedly stresses the deep significance of community and the importance of effective conflict resolution for all those who wish to follow him and understand what he so passionately wishes to share with us about God and the nature of God’s kingdom. Of course God is with us when we pray as an individual, but something essential to our growth as believers happens in community that is a non-negotiable component of our faith. But why?
First, as Michael Himes so brilliantly points out in his fabulous 90-page, power-packed, itty-bitty book entitled The Mystery of Faith: An Introduction to Catholicism “Christianity is not a series of conclusions that any one of us could have reached by simply sitting down and thinking about them very seriously and carefully for a long time. Christianity is a report, a Gospel, ‘good news’ that requires that someone bring the news to us.” The first reason that community is intrinsic to Christianity is that we need to hear the news from someone else.
Secondly, have you ever heard the quote from Merton that says something like “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree…in being what God means it to be?” Well, so too us. We give praise to our creator when we grow into the very best “Lisa, John, Karen, Joe, Tom, etc. ” that we can possibly be. ALL of us are made in God’s image: this is one of our most ancient and foundational beliefs. AND, also very ancient and foundational, is our belief that GOD is a community of persons in equal and loving relationship. This is the essence and significance of our doctrine of the Trinity. God, in and of God’s self, is a community, not an individual, and we are made in God’s image. So what does this mean?
Well, heck if I know. Personally I think you can get a professor with a PhD in Trinitarian Theology to commit total heresy in about 15 minutes of deep conversation. BUT, Jesus tells us that community means SOMETHING to our walk with him. Our “togetherness” reveals important things about God’s nature and our calling that cannot be revealed anywhere else. Maybe that is why Jesus prayed that we all “may be one” – because we couldn’t truly come to know God in any other way. Though it is hard sometimes to find God in the messiness of our shared life as family, church, etc. with all our conflicts and awkwardness, nonetheless Jesus tells us that is precisely where we need to look. Being church is like throwing a bunch of jagged rocks in a burlap bag and shaking them for 20, 30, 40 years: all our edges get smoother if we resist the urge to “take our toys and go home.” Jesus tells us we discover and draw nearer to God in and through our relationships with one another. Jesus tells us that where 2 or 3 of us gather… and argue…and then hug it out, there, He will be among us.