Every month I go to see my Spiritual Director, Father Bob. We sit. We pray. We talk about all sorts of matters of faith life and ministry. Father Bob always gives me a verse for the month, a verse which I am supposed to reflect on every day. I must confess that I don’t always do this. I often start out very well, but then lose my momentum as I progress through the month.
The most recent passage that Father Bob assigned was 1st John 1:3-10. In this passage John tasks about fellowship, about light verses darkness, and about sin and forgiveness. It’s a beautiful passage, and I have very much enjoyed reflecting on it. What is more, particularly because it seems I have spent a lot of time thinking about the nature of community, I find that this passage has a lot to say.
When Father Bob first read this passage, what first struck me was the order of the way John puts things. In verse 7, John talks about walking in the light of God, and how that means that we walk in fellowship with one another. Fellowship is a divine reality, held by God in God’s own heart. It is only as we find ourselves united together, through our shared connection with our Lord Jesus, that true fellowship can really exist. It is Jesus who unites us in fellowship and purifies us from sin. But then John goes on: just as we are about to rejoice in this awesome reality of Kingdom fellowship, John seems to pull the rug out from under us. Verse 8 contains a well-known passage:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
Wouldn’t it have been better for John to reverse things? Wouldn’t it make more sense if it read, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.” Wouldn’t that make more sense?
I wonder if this is how we often read the passage. If so, it makes it sound like fellowship should be devoid of any conflict or strife, and that disagreement and ‘otherness’ is a sign of weakness and sin. Yet unity is not the same as uniformity. Fellowship is something much deeper than agreement.
It is quite a profound thing that John is saying, in the order in which he says it. Community does not wipe away our imperfections, nor does it mean that there won’t be bumps along the way. Fellowship demands grace and forgiveness. The fact is, we are fragile people. We have cracks and scars, and none of us are free from brokenness. As we live out our fellowship in Christ Jesus, we do so with the acknowledgement that we must continually cling to the gracious love of God. There will be times we do this well, and times in which we fail, yet fellowship calls us to recognize that the grace and forgiveness of God is able to help us walk together through deepest hurts and struggles.
This vision of life in the Kingdom, a life together where we all, broken and cracked vessels that we are, receive grace through the purifying love of Jesus, is intoxicating and challenging. We are called to strive to keep Christ as the sole focus of what community is, and how it functions. We are challenged to embrace the other as if we are embracing the Lord himself. Kingdom Fellowship is rooted in the presence of Jesus; it is a way of life that can only be lived as together we lay ourselves down in order to breath in his spirit and walk in his footsteps.
I don’t know about you, but that is the community I am looking for. That is the community that I want to be a part of. That is the community I want to help create.