Fifth in series: The Sermon on the Mount
Community & Clean Communication
One of the things we often talk about in terms of Brown Line’s purpose and vision -- like why does it matter that this church exists? -- is a pretty unique thing that we think we offer: A sensible space for 21st century Chicagoans to deeply connect, Not just be with other people, not just interact in general with other people, but learn to deeply connect with other people To learn to laugh together AND cry together (because the latter doesn’t come as easily) To learn to do something meaningful, spiritual with others… not just float through life next to each other And, importantly, that this connection space is sensible to any of us - it doesn’t feel like you have to change your clothing or translate to a different language or swallow a bitter pill to access it All this is what we mean by the word community when we, like you'll hear about today, launch a bunch of groups and events We are trying to lay rails down to help community happen for you… because it doesn’t just happen by accident
Well, we've been in a series of talks learning from Jesus' famous sermon on the mount, and two weeks ago (before our break for the holiday) I mentioned that I was saving one of Jesus' "you have heard it said, but I say" statements from Matthew 5 for this week. And the reason I saved it for today is because it gets to our theme for today: community And specifically how you personally can engage community well
Briefly, I'll remind us: in Jesus’ “you have heard it said… but I say” statements, He encourages a behavior code that is literally impossible for any person to meet, which seems confusing and extreme at first BUT if we're tracking correctly with Jesus, we realize he doesn't do this to be puritanical or chastising or severe toward the masses. He knows he's laying out an impossible standard; he does it purposefully to knock the religious elite of his day, the Pharisees, off their high horses, and to show what the spiritual life is really about His message in these statements isn't "perfectly comply with this or you're going to hell!"... It's: "let yourself be humbled by this and you will be so glad for the fruit in your life!"
Here's the one we’ve saved for today:
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from evil.
So oaths in the ancient world were a big thing... say we are in a situation with the potential for mistrust (like, a transaction of possessions or a conflict over land) To avoid violence I might say: by the beard of Zeus I will stick to what I say Oaths imply an underlying distrust and fear toward other people and their words Which, in a sometimes cruel world, is warranted So it's good that people have been told “don't break your oaths!” But Jesus’ impossible version of this becomes: “don't swear oaths at all!” Essentially, be so honest and clear that there's never any need for asking someone to “take your word for it" I'm not sure if you've spent much time in this thing called “human interaction” but what Jesus is driving at definitely feels impossible But again Jesus’ point is not perfect compliance, His point is let yourself be humbled by this and observe the fruit The most helpful modern phrasing I've come across for the humility Jesus is encouraging is this: Clean communication The word clean really gets to the heart of the benefit of being honest and clear Communication like this doesn't require clean up, it doesn’t leave a mess For example, Cleanly asking for things As in, after a stressful day, I ask my wife straight-out "can I tell you about my day so I can get some things off my chest?" That's vulnerable and can feel uncomfortable. It comes more naturally to me to indirectly signal to her I'd like her to ask about my day (maybe by talking about my headache or by sighing audibly multiple times or by asking about her day even though I'm not actually in a place to listen to her -- really I just want her to ask me that) But all those strategies leave me open to disappointment and resentment Vulnerability is uncomfortable but it's cleaner It's also more work Maybe we have to take extra steps like asking a friend to edit an important email before we click send Or maybe we have to slow down and reflect because we realize we've never had better strategies for “asking for what we need” modeled to us by parents or role models But the work is worth it, because it's cleaner Or it's not always about asking for things. As in Jesus' example, often clean communication is learning to just say simply: Yes or No. Kyle and I were trying to determine "what is a modern day equivalent of the ancient world’s oaths?” We think it’s the aspirational rsvp You probably experience an onslaught of invitations to events every week You know that terror that someone will think you don't like them if you say no? That's what leads to the aspirational rsvp... you mark yes, or maybe... not because you plan on going (you may even be positive you're not) -- but because you aspire to… and you can't say no to that guy (he's so great and you don't want him to think you don't like him!)... this is a problem for future Vince to face Jesus might say to us: You have heard it said: stick to your aspirational rsvps (don't be a flake!) but I say don't even make them... Meaning: think and plan ahead of time and cleanly communicate. Even if that's "no" That's harder... we think we're letting someone down. But that's not the case. This is treating someone better... Don't we all want honesty from our friends?... so we never have to get to: "I know I said I'd be there last time and wasn't, but this time I swear by the trident of Poseidon, I'll be there!" Relationships are happier when people experience each other to say what they mean and mean what they say
Part of BLV being a sensible space for people like us to deeply connect is giving you a safe laboratory to practice clean communication. It does indeed take practice But even more than that, our offer as a specifically spiritual community is to connect you with a God who cares about the state of connection in your life and your happiness, and wants to personally help you as you practice clean communication So that you can deeply connect
Today, we're going to end the "formal service" part of our time together a little early and then have a community fair A bunch of stations for you to visit to learn about every community thing available to you through BLV this summer regular groups, semi-regular groups, one-time events The leaders of those things will each be there to personally invite you, answer your questions, and get you on their contact lists
To give you a taste of the sort of deeply connecting experiences we're shooting for you to have through community at BLV I've asked a few friends to share about their past experiences Kevin Joel Anna
Awesome thank you guys!
So if what you're hearing from these guys or me feels like it would benefit you (I really think it would!), here's our suggestions for you in light of Jesus’ encouragement toward clean communication: Visit every community fair station that at all seems interesting to you You'll get a handout with each station described and who the leader / rep is Even if you're already connected to a group or already know what you're going to do, take this as a chance to meet some of our church's amazing leaders. They are the people who most help people do life together here. It's not kyle and me, it's them… I mean we help… I promise… but our leaders are the mvps of community here not us the pastors After you visit everything that interests you, get on a contact list for the thing that fits best And then once you hear from the leader, put it in your calendar of course if it’s a regular group, you may have to miss once or twice for something already in your calendar, but make it a pre-made decision that you’ll be there otherwise Commit yourself to the other people in the group every one of these groups is gathered around a “thing” a day of the week a circumstance of life an interest but none of those “things” are strong enough to do anything but give a group of people a starting point what really makes a group of people great is people seeing themselves as part of that group of people this is my group. I have an ownership stake in its success as a fun, welcoming, helpful space for people like me
One last note:
If being encouraged to add something regular to your schedule is giving you stress right now (perhaps you already have a weeknight or two spoken for, like a night class or an exercise thing), may I offer a thought? Almost always I still think some commitment to living your life in spiritual community would be good for you; So plan the commitment you feel you can make (however small) The clean communication way to do this is to, when you commit, decide ahead of time what days you will be involved and what days you won't, and then tell the group leader. The alternative easier but messier way to do this is to commit (because you feel like you should) but then just end up making a game time decision each time a group meeting comes up. This is messier because it of course is not actually commitment. It is an aspirational rsvp And it can communicate to others in a group a message of, "you are not always worth my time." If this is the case for you, what a leader or pastor will then try to help you figure out is ways to live your life in community more informally we have a handout called “the personal check-in” everyone will get today, which can help… It is what Kyle and I do together as a part of our staff meeting every week
Alright I want to take us into a time of prayer now, because, clean communication is a great idea we get from Jesus, but again above all it is humbling! All of us need God’s help to connect well with others and experience the benefits of community And add to that that many of us have experienced hurts when it comes to so-called community in the past Maybe you've been hurt by people in the past, maybe you've been hurt by a church in the past, sadly that wouldn't surprise me
After I begin praying for us, today’s band is going to help us stay there by leading us in song… Engage in whatever way feels best to you: Singing along or just sitting back letting the music hit you.
And also, I want to invite you to be prayed for by someone on our prayer team They'll be in the middle section of the theater with a lanyard that says prayer team Our prayer team are trained, safe folks, who are here to help you have an interaction with Jesus and receive help from him; No one is going to make you feel uncomfortable or give you unasked for advice, and everything you share is confidential.
Stand with me and I'll pray