,"Visible fellowship is a blessing...the physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer." ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This past weekend I had the opportunity to begin again Bonhoeffer's work, Life Together. Writing just one year before the dawn of the second great war, he began to look at the church of the persecuted where those who were scattered in their proclamation of the Gospel taught him invaluable lessons of what it meant to belong to one another, and more so, what it meant to belong to Christ. In these reflections he wrote the quoted words above that remind us that fellowship, our ability to share in proximity with one another what he have received in Christ, is always a grace. The tangible fellowship of presence, sitting face to face with those whom we now belong eternally to, is for us a fountainhead of joy whose waters find their source in the person and heart of Jesus.
2016 for A2J marks a year of continued transition as we journey down the path of belonging, both in the visible communion of community within our neighborhoods, but also in our growing understanding of how that is expressed in fellowship with one another through new and unique seasons. Brentwood has seen two marriages and will soon only be the Malakowsky's again, something we celebrate in that God is at work to answer prayers and birth families, but also something we lament as we, for the moment, let go of this visible grace. Woodland continues to be a community in transition with the Jesse's relocating and the Thurman's about to set off on a grand adventure that is surely the fruit of this growth we have all experienced in sharing our lives and love with another. The Alianza's have been blessed with work and the Lord's provision once more flows through their home, although under the cross of travel, fatigue, and a transitioning family.
Yet, despite the tugs that pull us physically from one another, it is in these moments where our grace in community is found. Bonhoeffer warned about the danger of a community so spiritual that the daily obligations of ordinary association, of family and everyday life with its 'claims upon people' are not able to project into the fellowship. This community only accepted the ideal and could not know the fullness of God's graces towards it, its own vision of how life should be becoming an idol that distracted it from knowing what life really is.
Still, the spiritual union which binds the community should be guarded and pursued. We come to one another only through Christ, meaning through the redemption of his love in salvation, and we know one another only in Christ, who overcomes our strife and ego and becomes our peace. We are not to avoid our burdens in this new season, just as Christ did not step away from or flinch at the cross, but in it saw our union with God and one another.
This year is unique for us, this season is as well. It appears that life is pulling in many directions and we are all being thrust into new challenges and seasons. I hope that in it you are as encouraged as I am by these words, that 'the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of the cloistered life, but in the thick of foes.' While visible fellowship is a blessing and grace, it is also an anchor, one that guards our hearts as the Lord propels us into his unfolding purposes and plans for our lives.
We will have new crosses to bear in this new year, but I am encouraged by words Ryan shared with me recently. We have no reason to fear because we have already been through so much together. We only need to lean into Christ and his faithful work in us. In these next weeks we will share ways in which we can continue to engage this transition and experience the faithful work of God's love in one another's lives. As we look ahead in seeing the 'projections' of this new season and its obligations, I pray we also see the hand of God maturing us as he raises us together to the 'full stature of Christ.'
"'Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity' - this is the Scripture's praise of life together under the Word. But now we can rightly interpret the words 'in unity' and say, 'for brethren to dwell together through Christ.' For Jesus Christ alone is our unity. 'He is our peace.' Through him alone do we have access to one another, joy in one another, and fellowship with one another." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer