|A street in Saint John, NB|
Why do we as followers of Jesus go to such effort and expense to gather together for conferences, regional gatherings, and even weekly meetings? There are a few answers to that question.
1. Because we can. It sounds simple, but not everyone has the freedom to gather together to worship loud and long, and to pray openly to Jesus Christ, and to speak at length about the implications of a life spent loving Jesus. We are rich in freedom and resources in this part of the world and that is not something to take for granted.
2. Because we like each other. The Vineyard in Canada has some of the most generous, funny, talented, likeable people I know! I genuinely enjoy the people I have met through these gatherings and I look forward to seeing them again each time there is an opportunity. And making new friends!
3. Because we need each other. Following Jesus is not something we do alone, solo, in private. Everywhere that Jesus went, groups of people were present. Not only because we are naturally social beings, but because community and relationship are at the heart of God, implicated in the nature of love. We receive encouragement from others and many times we have encouragement to offer. Together we learn and understand things better, together we see things from a more informed perspective, and together we are more whole than we are separately.
4. Because Jesus did it. He gathered people together not only to teach them how to embrace him as the way to God, the truth incarnate, and the very essence of life, but to embrace each other. Much of what Jesus taught had to do with how we treat each other, how we live in our world. Jesus came to be among us because this is what God does: he moves toward others, he closes the gap, he comes to the places we live, he promises to be present where 2 or 3 are gathered.
The verse that was the starting point for the Atlantic Family Gathering this past weekend was John 1:14 from The Message: The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.
In his talks, David Ruis echoed these thoughts (and told some good stories, too). We come together because we can't do it alone. We come together to be present for each other. We cultivate a culture of friendship out of which we serve and teach and love; no one is more important or more valued than the other. One of the anecdotes he told was of a famous actor who was a part of their church family in Hollywood. One Sunday morning, the actor left his seat during the meeting and when he came back a few minutes later, found that it was occupied by another person. The actor remarked to a friend, "This is the only church I know where an A-list celebrity can get up to go to the bathroom and come back to find his seat has been taken by a homeless person!" And he said it in a positive way!
David also offered some helpful principles based on his own experience of trying to live out Jesus' example of "moving into the neighbourhood." The provision of God is enough; let us not be held hostage by our weaknesses, our limitations, our lack of resources. Let us make proximity a priority, being present, really present with one another. This is very different from using the poor for a photo op or taking advantage of the famous or exploiting the rich. Jesus came to be present with us, and this act of humility, this life lived as a human being, was more compelling than any sermon or talk or directive he gave. Let us keep a godly perspective on our impact, having eyes to see where God is at work in small and unique ways instead of evaluating success by numbers. Let us not grow weary or give up easily, but cultivate perseverance and faithfulness with the people God has put in our lives.
If you weren't there to see, hear, touch, feel, and taste the experience of those few days together, exploring how to live out what it means to love Jesus in our neighbourhoods, no problem. Simply look around you, gather a few people together, maybe feed them some food, listen to their stories, pray for them, offer to be their friend, and let love move into your neighbourhood.
Matte from Montreal