Jesus and Community

13 09 2008

Last week my roommate Brett, who ministers to adults and children with special needs, hosted a game night for some of her Fuller friends and special needs friends to meet.  Having been deeply impacted by the ministry of another friend, Christen Morrow, to those with disabilities, and living with a disabled family member, I was happy to be a part of the evening.  We played lots of games and ate lots of food, and I got beat at Connect Four A LOT.

But my favorite part of the evening was when we switched gears a bit and some of Brett’s friends shared their testimonies.  I was struck as each one of them shared, that unlike the stories of most people in my usual circles, not one of them spoke of “the day I accepted Jesus into my heart.”  Now, over the years, as my perspective has widened beyond conservative evangelical rhetoric, I have come to think more broadly than an individual personal salvation.  Still, I couldn’t help but be inspired by the way these adults understood their relationship with Jesus.

Perhaps by no other reason than necessity, these friends could not know Jesus apart from each other.  For them, to know Jesus is to know community.  Without the help of others, they cannot even get to church, let alone make sense of how the message applies to them.  To be sure, they are very intelligent people.  Most of them have jobs, which is more than I can say for myself at the moment.  But because of the isolating nature of their disabilities, they spoke more of the process of being included into a community, of being loved and accepted, of meeting others like themselves, and through that, of having a relationship with Jesus.  Able-bodied adults can get away with an individualistic faith.  Because we need others less (or fool ourselves into thinking we do), we force ourselves to know Jesus on our own.  We prize the piety of quiet times and devotions, drive to church on our own, perhaps sit by ourselves, and leave on our own.  We continue to sing songs of what Jesus did for “me” (albeit this is slowly changing) and when we really become convinced that Jesus is the hope of the world, we take it upon ourselves to become little Jesus Jrs, and through career or cross-cultural mission, seek to save the world like Super Man.

I imagine the communal faith of Brett’s special needs friends is possibly a saltier salt in the world, a brighter light, and frankly a more fun way of living life and bearing witness to the one who came and prayed that we would “be one,” even as the Father and the Son are one, that we would be “perfected in unity,” so the world would know that the Father sent Jesus and loved them (John 17).  This, in fact, is how the world is to know that we are his disciples: in how we love one another (John 13).

When we live on our own, independent of the help and faith of others, our mission and witness to the world becomes a burden too strong for any one human to bear.  Indeed, it required nothing but a cross for our Savior.  But if we begin to live more dependently with one another, to invite help even if we feel we don’t need it and offer it even when it’s inconvenient, if we begin to know our Savior in giving to and receiving love from others, then our witness to the world becomes communal, too.  The way we treat each other and those outside of the Christian community becomes a beacon to those who have yet to know his transformative love.

And by this all people will know that we are his disciples.