At the start of this week I knew I wanted to write about radical communities. What I didn’t know was that we’d have witnessed yet another devastating event with another community coming together through hope and generosity in the midst of horror and despair.
At this moment in West London collection points are inundated with cardboard boxes and binliners full of clothes straight out of the wardrobes of local people, toiletries, nappies, toys and more, and almost £3 million has been raised within a few days.
When something as horrific as the Grenfell Tower fire happens we are shaken out of our comfort zones, and put ourselves in the shoes of the victims. This is when the church often comes into its own, opening up its doors and providing a refuge for victims and a rallying point for generosity.
But what if this was the sort of community giving we experienced every day? In the Bible, we find some of the most radical examples of community in the book of Acts:
All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Read the full chapter here.)
These early Christians in Jerusalem were fully committed to God and to each other – letting go of their individual desires and possessions to support one another and create a community where no one was in need. And even more than that – they were spending time together every day, supporting each other in their new faith, enjoying not only worshipping God together, but sharing meals. This sounds like the real meaning of fellowship.
Flicking through the Revised English Bible’s version of this passage, I came across an alternative translation. The new Christians are described as sharing their meals together with unaffected joy.
I love the word unaffected here. It suggests a pure delight in genuine relationship and reliance upon one another and security in God. The need to impress each other just doesn’t exist.
There’s something refreshing about these Christians meeting daily and finding joy in the simplicity of sharing together. In the same way as it refreshes us when we see a generous spirit emerge in the wake of tragedy.
Delving into the biblical origins, the word unaffected has been translated from the Greek ‘aphelotƒìti’ which is interpreted as
sincerity or singleness of heart in most other versions. This is the only time it appears in the New Testament and interestingly its earliest meaning was: ‘a smoothness of soil without stones’.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the next verse describes how God continued to turn hearts to Christ, adding more and more people to this group.
Maybe it was something in the rich, stone-free, soil of this selfless and joyful community that provided a fertile ground for new Christians to grow.
Maybe others saw something in that unaffected joy that made them stop in their tracks.
This passage makes me ask myself many questions… How could I replicate something like this with my own Christian friends or my church? How difficult would it be to commit to that level of sacrifice and selflessness? …but how much more joyful might it make me?
And crucially, how much more appealing to people is our faith in Jesus when we radically demonstrate God’s love like this?
In these recent dark times, churches have risen to prominence as their generosity has shined out like a beacon amongst deeply grieving communities. As a church body our challenge is to live like this not just in the most desperate times, but every day.
MONTHLY CHALLENGE TRAFFIC LIGHTS
You can donate to the Grenfell Tower Relief fund here if you have a Stewardship Giving Account.
Research community schemes or charities that you could get involved with in your village, town or city; anything that helps you to get to know other local people and build relationships. Have a look at Vinspired for opportunities tailored to your skills and area of the country.
Have a whole re-evaluation what community means to you and what it could look like in your church or local area. Challenge yourself to consider how you could share your possessions, meals or daily life more radically. Then put it into action, perhaps taking larger suggestions to your church leaders or approaching community centres.