Well, it has been almost a year since life changed drastically for all of us, and the pandemic created new challenges in doing life together as a church. Each in our own way, to varying degrees of effectiveness, we have been stretched to foster community in unconventional ways. Not only that, but we have endured a cultural season of disagreements abounding on all kinds of topics! And while there are some positive signs that we are heading out of the storm, the timeline is still unclear, and the guidelines remain stringent. What are we to do?
In A.D. 49, the Jewish community in Rome was locked in an internal conflict, most likely between the traditional Jewish community and the Messianic Jewish brethren. Exasperated with the resulting unrest in his city, the Emperor Claudius expelled the whole Jewish community from Rome, and they were scattered to other parts of the empire for almost a decade. The remaining Gentile believers naturally shaped the Roman church with a distinct, non-Jewish flavour. As anti-Jewish sentiment died down and Jewish believers began to return to Rome, there was a new tension that had to be negotiated. Whose “way” would dominate the church’s practice - the founding Jewish community, or the emerging Gentile community?
The apostle Paul saw Rome as his launching pad for a new mission in the west. He knew the Roman church would have to be unified if he could count on them for support. This is why he wrote the letter to the Romans. In his letter, he paints a picture, first, of common accountability to God for sin (Ch 1:18-3:20); second, of a common solution found in Jesus Christ (3:21-7:25); and third, of a common source of new life in the Spirit (8:1-39). All of this leads to a common life of love and worship together (9:1-15:13). Could there be a message for us here, scattered exiles who will soon gather together again?
When we regather, we will come with different experiences and expectations. Some will be impatient to throw off their masks; others will be more hesitant to move in close. Many have formed new personal rhythms that will mean renegotiating our rhythms of life together. As we do this, what “way” will we choose together? What is it that God might want to be doing in us as we prepare for those days of reconnection?
In the middle of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians, he writes these beautiful words:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
In the first section of his letter, Paul explained how our common experience of grace creates a new relationship of “peace” [Greek eirene, a synonym of shalom] with God. By faith sinners all have been welcomed at God’s table because of the atoning work of Jesus at the cross. Together we stand firm in God’s generous provision.
And so we can boast, not in our own ingenuity or superiority, but in the way God has revealed himself so definitively in love through the gift of Jesus.
And that, Paul says, puts everything in perspective.
Why would we do such a crazy thing? Because we know that by faith-fully enduring suffering, our character begins to mature in new ways.
As we consider the transitional season to come, I encourage all of us who are part of a Life Group to think about Paul’s words. Perhaps you have withdrawn a little from community, weary of not being face to face. Perhaps you have felt impatience and frustration building as you wait for things to change. But pay attention to what God wants to form in you through this adversity we’ve faced, and welcome the transforming work of his Holy Spirit in you. That, my friends, is what will help us embrace Paul’s exhortation and prayer quoted above: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).
What is at stake? One thing that has not changed is our world’s need to see a community that is united, in all its diversity, in its love for Jesus and for one another.
In the coming weeks, we will learn more about the lifting of restrictions for meeting. If those restrictions return to something like what we had in late October - meeting in churches, for example, but not in homes - then we will certainly do our best to make our church spaces available for your group, under whatever guidelines we are given. If you had made those arrangements prior to the winter restrictions falling into place, please confirm with me ([email protected]) and the office ([email protected]) that you would like to renew that booking.
In the meantime, if you have been meeting throughout the winter over Zoom, persevere. You will not regret your endurance, and it will be so sweet to reconvene in a few weeks. If you have drifted out of community over the winter, please re-engage. Don’t let yourself settle into the new status quo of separation. Life Together (Acts 2:42-47) remains the norm for “being the church”!
If you have any update to give on the status of your group or its members, please send that my way as well.
I would love to connect with anyone who needs some encouragement, prayer, or answers to any questions you might have. You can always book a connection with me, in whatever form you’re comfortable with, by visiting my Calendly scheduling assistant: