(Note: This post first appeared in my church's newsletter for Summer 2015.)
In the weeks after Easter, we had several Gospel lessons taken from the chapters of John that are known as Jesus’ “farewell discourse.” These are Jesus’ words to his disciples during the Last Supper before he is arrested and crucified and they speak again and again about the connections the disciples share. “I am the vine and you are the branches,” Jesus says. And: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Or: “May they be one as You and I are one.”
Jesus was speaking to his closest disciples when he said these things, but John recorded them, and the Church continues to teach them, because we believe they speak to all disciples, that Jesus was laying the groundwork for all believers. In saving us from sin, Jesus joins us together and calls us to be connected in love and service. (“Love the Lord your God… and your neighbor as yourself.”) As one of my mentors was fond of saying, “Faith is personal, but it isn’t individualistic.”
Our connections to others in the church are central to our identity as Christians. It’s why we made “Build Loving Relationships” one of our 5 Cornerstones at MLC (along with Engage the Bible, Grow in Worship, Give in Service, and Daily Acts of Faith). It’s something we’ve all known at some level (or heard repeated in passages like those above), but now experience and science are bearing out just how important our connections can be.
Active members of churches frequently cite the relationships at church as key to them staying active. We know that people who feel welcomed within minutes of entering a church are much more likely to return. Similarly, the number of caring relationships new members create within six months of joining has a direct correlation on whether they remain active participants. Multiple studies show that kids who have at least five adults (other than their parents) who interact with them authentically and regularly are significantly more likely to identify as Christian and attend church in their twenties. We know that churches are one of the last places in our society where people from different economic, political, and cultural backgrounds come together on a regular basis and that those interactions often lead to healthier societies.
Just as God wants to be in a loving relationship with each of us, we have an inner need to be in loving relationships with others. The Bible tells us those two things are connected: in knowing God, we are drawn to love others and in loving others, we come to know God.
What are ways you can build connections this summer (in the church or out of it)? Is there an old relationship that could use some attention? Is there someone you aren’t close to that you still admire or appreciate? Take the time to tell them. In conversations, try asking questions that go beyond small talk to learn what people are passionate about. Swallow your pride and tell someone, “I know I should know your name, but…” Take a chance and share something personal about yourself that not everyone knows. If you’re worried about someone, call or visit them.
Jesus tells his disciples again and again to be connected to God and to each other. In building loving relationships, we are doing the work of God and we reflect the image of heaven on Earth from Revelation, where all the people are drawn together by Jesus, united in loving God.
In God’s Amazing Grace,
“We are listening for whispers; but we cannot hear the screams.” -Lloyd, “Listening for Whispers”