SERMON: Living in the Community (2 Kings 4:1-7 & 1 Corinthians 12:14-26)
Different people have different ideas of what it means to live as a community. Some work together well, and are good at helping each other. Others . . . well, the fact is that some people may live close by, but apart from that, they have very little to do with each other at all.
Nevertheless, whatever we think of the communities in which we live, like it or not, we are dependent upon each other for many of the essentials in life.
For example, from the perspective of the bigger community, while we can grow certain foods for ourselves, these days we generally don’t provide everything for our total food requirements. Indeed, we depend upon others to provide those for us. It is unusual to provide all our own clothing—and there are things that other people make that we need. And when it comes to the modern day needs of electricity, mail services, and fuel then we are very dependent upon others to meet our needs.
And from the perspective of the smaller community, there are things like companionship and friendship; support when things get tough; and even a crying shoulder to cry on. All of which should be part and parcel of our daily lives.
From the perspective of borrowing cups of sugar to providing meals, transport, and comfort when things get rough, then, the community that we live in is very important. But do we always appreciate just what it means to be part of a community? Are we always grateful for the things that other people provide? And, importantly, are we prepared to play our part within the community in which we live?
Well, those are just some of the issues that all of us face today. And they raise the personal issues of ‘What does our community really mean to me?’ and ‘To what extent am I prepared to contribute?’
1. Opening Remarks
Now living in a community has always been a very important part of life. Consequently I’d like to speak, briefly, on two passages of scripture that make that point.
2. The Widow & Her Neighbours (2 Kings 4:1-7)
And the first is a story of a widow—but a widow who was in dire financial straits.
Now, the widow’s story begins, happily enough, with a husband, and two sons. The husband wasn’t a bad person, but he (and his family) were stuck in a poverty cycle. The husband provided shelter, he provided enough food for the table, and he provided all the basic minimum requirements of life for his family. But it was at a cost which was far more than he could possibly afford. In other words, he had to borrow just to get the basics of life, and he got in debt in order to support his family.
The problem was that he then died, leaving a huge debt that still needed to be paid. And, understandably, the person he had borrowed from wanted the debt repaid.
However, because of the poverty trap, the widow didn’t have enough money or income to pay it. It was an impossible situation. And her only solution—and one in which the widow would ultimately have had no say —was to allow the man who was owed the money to take her two boys and make them his slaves as a means to pay off the debt.
Now, you can imagine how distraught the widow would have been. And in the circumstances, we can, perhaps, all understand her desperation.
But the question we should ask today is ‘Where were her neighbours? Where was the support from the community around her that should have prevented this situation from occurring?’ For sure some may have been in a similar predicament to that which the widow found herself in, but in any community, there are people of mixed fortunes. So where were the rest?
Of course the answer was: nowhere to be seen. They were conspicuous by their absence. So, instead, the desperate widow, all alone, had to grasp any opportunity that came her way. And when a man of God came passed, she cried out to him for help. And unlike her neighbours, Elisha stopped and came to her aid.
Now Elisha didn’t have any material wealth himself. So the solution that God provided (through Elisha) was interesting. It involved a miracle, yes. But it also involved the community as well. Indeed, Elijah told the woman to go to her neighbours and collect as many jars as possible from the people. And then she was to use the only thing left in her larder—a small amount of oil—to fill the jars. In other words, part of the solution that Elisha offered involved restoring something of what it meant to be a community to the widow’s neighbours.
And, you know, her neighbours provided quite a few jars. And, as the story ends, God blessed the woman by multiplying the little oil that she had to fill every single container she had obtained. So that, in the end, she had enough jars to provide her with an income—not only to pay off all the debts from her husband’s estate, but to look after herself and her two sons for well into the future as well.
Now, of course the problem of the story of the widow—from a community’s point of view—is the fact that there never needed to be a miracle to solve the widow’s plight. If the community in which she lived had worked properly, the situation she found herself in would never have occurred. People would have come to her rescue long before.
As a consequence, the story has much to say about the need for people to be part of a community. Indeed, it says much about the responsibility to care for one another. And it says much about the need to look out for one another—and particularly for those who are not so well off.
4. Working Together (1 Corinthians 12:14-26)
And the fact that we need each other—and that we need to look out for one another and live as a community—comes out in the second passage of scripture too. Because the Apostle Paul, concerned about the state of the community of believers in Corinth, decided that he too needed to spell out the importance of living as a community—particularly to a church that was becoming increasingly divided and uncaring.
Because people in the church at Corinth were going off and doing their own thing. They weren’t considering the welfare of others at all. And as a consequence, Paul tried to combat that with his slightly humorous description of a human body—where the different parts just didn’t want anything to do with each another.
As a consequence, in Paul’s terms, if we consider ourselves to be a foot—and we’re tempted to think that a foot is superior and doesn’t need the rest of the body—then Paul’s example shows us that we would be quite wrong. The foot just cannot function without the rest of the body. And the rest of the body can’t function without the foot either. And that principle relates to all other body parts too.
So, Paul’s point is that, yes, we may need to acknowledge our differences, but we also need to acknowledge our dependence on one another too. Indeed, we need to appreciate, and encourage each other, in the life of a community. Not for selfish reasons—for what we can get out of it—but for the good of all (including ourselves).
5. The Spiritual Dimension
And Paul’s argument about the need to live as a community, goes well beyond the need to just care for one another in a physical (or even mental) manner. His argument is that we need to care for spiritual reasons too. That we need to work together as a body of believers—in the faith—for the good of all.
Because if that doesn’t happen, if we don’t do that, then the body of Christ, the church, will be just a body where there are limbs missing, and where there are limbs which are numb and do nothing. And that is not what a community, or even a church community, is supposed to be about at all.
And yet the reality is that while we can look around at some communities and see that they don’t really work, we can also see churches that are empty and don’t really work either.
Communities—and living in a community—then, is a very important part of everyday life. They are important from a physical perspective, they are important from a mental perspective, and they are important from a spiritual perspective too.
Because none of us, today, is able to look after all our own needs. And none of us can be totally independent when it comes to either our physical, mental, or spiritual needs.
Having said that, the attitude of wanting to be independent, and not rely on anyone else is so prevalent in our society.
But what independence and isolation brings, is a society like the widow lived in—where everyone was so busy looking after themselves, they had no time to care for people in trouble. What independence and isolation brings, is a body that is only partially functional, where limbs are missing and others just don’t work. What independence and isolation brings is a society that doesn’t care. And, as a consequence, when the tables are turned, there is no-one to help them either.
That’s why living in a community—and being part of that community—is so very important. But it is important not only from the perspective of maintaining physical and mental well-being. It’s also important in regard to people’s spiritual well-being too.
Some communities work and some communities don’t. Some people want them to work and some people just don’t care. Despite that, the importance of living and taking part in community life cannot be overstated.
And yet we live in a culture where the emphasis is increasingly on not living as a member of a community. Indeed, the preference, today, is to be independent and isolated, and to only do what is needed or wanted for your own personal best interests. And that kind of attitude is a recipe for disaster.
It is the same situation that the poor widow found herself in. For she was in trouble because the community just didn’t work. And because of their lack of care, God stepped to step in and come to her rescue. And paradoxically he involved the community in solving her problem.
It is also the problem that Paul used in his light hearted illustration of a very serious problem, to try to combat the problems in the church at Corinth, where different members of the church wanted to opt out of their responsibilities to each other.
Both examples illustrate well the importance of community life, and the need to participate in it.
But in community life, physical involvement is only just one aspect. There also needs to be a mental component, and there needs to be a spiritual involvement too.
Loaning cups of sugar, helping out with transport, or just lending a listening ear are all very important. But faith and participating in the life of the church community is vital for the health of the community.
As we try to grapple with the idea of community life, then, we need a comprehensive approach. And only then can we start to answer those questions: ‘What does my community really mean to me?’ and ‘To what extent do I contribute physically, mentally, and spiritually to the community in which I live, and to the church to which I belong?’
Posted: 6th August 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis