(A) DEFINING RESILIENCE
To be ‘resilient’, according to the dictionary, is to be able to ‘spring back’ or ‘readily recover’.
This suggests that certain testing or difficult things have happened, and a person or a group has found a way of recovering.
‘Resilience’ is about being ready, or having grown into a state which can absorb setbacks and difficulties and still function well.
Another good word could be “buoyant”, because to be “buoyant” means to be able to stay on top of the water.
Craig Lapsley, when he spoke at Harrietville last Wednesday, talked about ‘resilience’ in terms of health and well-being.
Communities, like Harrietville, and indeed within the whole Alpine region, are seeking to be proactively resilient – in the face of any fire or other disaster.
Craig also talked about resilience being required in, through and beyond times of change. In a broad environmental context this means climate change.
But in the context of a church, this means dealing with change brought about by “post-Christendom” – which refers to the church no longer being seen as relevant, and no longer in the centre of community thinking (as it once was).
Surely the Church, given its resources, can be an example of ‘resilience’, and make a unique contribution to community resilience.
How so?? The Holy Spirit, given to each of us, will provide all the giftedness and effectiveness required, if we are up for receiving this!!
We can go to the earliest record of church functioning in the Book of Acts – chapter 2:42-47 (and see what the Holy Spirit was up to).
Some may see this as idealistic, but surely this rings true as something worth aspiring to.
This is what happened in the early days of the church after they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
(B) AREAS OF CHURCH RESILIENCE (Acts 2:42-47)
We could just use the general term LOVE or CARING here, but we could also split this up a little bit and use some other words.
If we were to embrace these concepts, then we certainly would have a unique, special and effective contribution to make!
[Do you see a very important word in verse 42??? “They …”! The collective!!]
(1) DEVOTION = whole-hearted; not double-minded (v.42)
Ø Teaching – the how to of the Christian faith – the early believers knew that they needed to learn the basics of their faith, if they were to survive the rigours and challenges of their society, and then grow and flourish. Part of this learning would be to flesh out together how to effectively live out their faith in everyday life. What does it mean in real everyday life to be a follower of Jesus? How did Jesus live, and what did Jesus teach? What effect did this have? So the “apostles’ teaching” would have been all about Jesus, and what were the unique blessings that Jesus was bringing to people’s lives. In this way also, new people would be able to quickly appreciate what becoming an adherent of Jesus was all about. Central to this teaching would be the cross and resurrection of Jesus.
Ø Gathering – the actual word in the English text is “fellowship”, but the Greek word used is far more comprehensive than that … koinonia. This is far more than sharing a cuppa after services … this was about deep sharing, close relationship, real caring and spiritual communion. The early believers gained great support and strength from ‘gathering’ together often, sharing their burdens and their joys, and receiving encouragement when faced with disappointment or loss. This ‘gathering’ was not seen as a duty, but rather a pleasure and a lifeline. They still gathered, in those early days, in the temple in Jerusalem (before it became impossible) and then also in each other’s homes (near to where they lived) during other times of the week. You get the impression from this Acts passage of continued interaction. Verse 46 restates this desire to gather along with the hospitality involved.
Ø Hospitality – the connection these early believers had was not only in words but in reality. They shared with one another and were intent on building relationships. The sharing of meals in one another’s homes was, culturally speaking, the most intimate and friendly of activities. This natural hospitality would have included sharing communion with one another (the remembrance of the Lord’s Supper). Just like God’s hospitality to all of us, this hospitality and sharing would have crossed through societal barriers (like ethnicity and economic status) and embraced difference and diversity. Eating together is a great community builder, and sharing communion focusses this fellowship back to the source of all love.
Ø Prayer – i.e. “the prayers” … not just casual praying when it is convenient, this would refer to the set times of prayer that the early believers would engage in together. The early believers clearly believed in prayer, not only as an act of worship, but also as a means of activating God’s will upon situations and communities. We recently read in Acts 12, how the praying people of God brought about a complete change in the situation that Peter faced. One minute Peter faced execution, the next he was returned to ministry and leadership. Why wouldn’t you pray when it brought about outcomes like that!
(2) VITALITY – verse 43 – the early believers experienced many wonderful outcomes of their faith; God was working amongst them in mighty ways. It should be exciting to be part of the church. Of course this excitement is not only measured by what we get out of it personally, but also (and maybe more so) how others are benefitting. These “wonders and signs" likely extended to more than ‘supernatural’ events, which would be outstanding enough … but also rare and unusual happenings (from a human standpoint) i.e. occurrences of generosity, unity and neighbourly care. If people can get past their selfish inclinations and act in remarkably outgoing ways toward each other, then God must be at work – this all helping to explain the “awe” that came upon everyone. Church indeed should be exciting – we should come expecting something [having high expectations even], and return having experienced something significant!
(3) GENEROSITY – verses 44-45 – the early believers truly cared for one another and their lot in life. They were not selfish with their possessions or resources, nor were they over-envious with their time. They brought all their resources to the common need. This is way different from communism, because they did this by choice as a practical expression of their faith. There is an admission here that individually we are limited, but together we are whole. Here then is a decisive move from separation to overlap, from security to availability, from protection to vulnerability (Dan White Jnr – Syracuse NY). With this generosity came an openness, honesty and vulnerability [e.g. James 5:16] that allowed the general community to see that these people were real!
THIS CAN BE SCARY STUFF, BUT IT IS THE STUFF OF RESILIENCE!
(4) WORSHIP – verse 47 – “praising God” – these early believers were great worshippers … they knew where their salvation and welfare came from, and they were keen to publicly proclaim it. And this “praise” clearly infiltrated the local environment. If things were going well, they were willing to point to God as the source; if things were not going well, they were willing to seek out God for forgiveness and direction. They must have had integrity in all this – their words and actions must have stacked up well, because … why??? … they had the “goodwill of all the people”. We know from various historical reports, that Christians became highly renowned for not only looking after the sick, dying and dead of their own number, but of all the rest of the community as well. This all pointed towards great hope for those who were broken-hearted.
If we look at the outcome of these particular resilient attitudes (i.e. “goodwill” and numbers being “added”), then I think we can deduce some important other dynamics happening:
(5) EXTERNAL FOCUS – I think, by the results we read about in verse 47, that these early believers were missional … they were at least as externally focussed as much as they were considerate of each other. But then again, we have seen how these are likely connected and go together. You can’t really separate the two and expect good results. However, it is true, that the church was never meant to be a club, but rather a missional movement. The church is not essentially about ourselves, but rather about those who are yet to know Jesus. The ‘resilience’ of a church community may be assessed in terms of its growth … in effectiveness (Holy Spirit’s leading), in numbers, and in (good) reputation.
(6) BALANCE – Church life can be a bit tricky. We have to balance a lot of dynamics. We have to balance the internal needs of our congregation with our cause (mission). We have to value our being as much as our doing, and our doing as much as our being. Our desire and need to grow into the image of Jesus ourselves has to be balanced with our call to take the name of Jesus to the ends of the earth. We have to highly value relationships at the same time as valuing methods and processes to take us forward and make an impact (and help us embrace change). We have to balance relationships and progress. The ‘resilient’ church will balance all these (sometimes competing) dynamics very well. And, in balancing well, we will become more resilient!