This year, with our theme centering on “Gospel Community,” I have been reflecting on what friendship looks like when it is centered in the Gospel; what accountability and support and encouragement look like when it finds its purpose in Christ. I was reminded of some writing of Henri Nouwen that captures the heart of Gospel centered community. In his book Can You Drink This Cup he writes,
“Nothing is sweet or easy about community. Community is a fellowship of people who do not hide their joys and sorrows but make them visible to each other in a gesture of hope. In community we say: ‘Life is full of gains and losses, joys and sorrows, ups and downs – but we do not have to live it alone. We want to… celebrate the truth that the wounds of our
individual lives, which seem intolerable when lived alone,
become sources of healing when we live them as part of a fellowship of mutual care.’”
Nouwen is right. True community isn’t easy because life isn’t easy. Community and relationships are only simple when we hide what is really going on, when we wear a mask that says, ‘everything is good, all the time.’ But everything is not good all the time. In fact, rarely is there a season when everything is good. There is a lot of brokenness in our world, in our families, and in our hearts. Oppression. Racism. Sexism.
Cancer. Marital Strife. Kids in need of homes and families.
Habitual sin. Addiction. Concern for prodigal sons and daughters and friends. There are all sorts of things that weigh us down and many in the world would say, ‘grin and bear it.’ Don’t trouble others with your struggles. But that isn’t what the Gospel says. The Gospel says you are in my life, and I in yours, to help bear our burdens together. Because when I am struggling with shame or anxiety, some of you have been there before, and you can help me bear that burden. And when you are struggling with a sin that you just can’t seem to overcome, you can find someone in our church that has been there and that can help. But only if they know it’s there—only if we can be courageous enough to share our burdens openly—and only if we receive the burdens of others with grace and compassion.
I carry anxiety and, at times, shame. I share that, as Nouwen said, as a “gesture of hope” — hope that you would carry it with me and hope that you might share with someone what burdens you. Because Gospel Community recognizes that there are crosses to bear and there is a body of Christ to help us carry them. May we be a people that is honest and open so that we can be a people of “mutual care.”