The coronavirus has had shattering effects on local community. Schools and businesses have shut. Healthcare is under pressure. Social connections and freedoms have been curtailed. Headlines warn of escalated cases of food poverty, mental health, domestic violence, job loss and family breakdown. The economy faces immense strain, suggesting limited social infrastructures for years to come.

Beneath the surface, responding to urgent demands with limited resources has led to reprioritised needs, categorised people and social divisions in a way that subtly reshapes values and culture.

These are community matters. 

Community matters to God. Community matters for the church. 

Christianity is, simply, good news. It is the news that something has happened as a result of which, the world is a different place.” Tom Wright

What is the good news of Jesus for these community matters? For the single parent struggling to homeschool? For those living in food poverty? For those experiencing job loss in a struggling economy? What is the good news of Jesus for families living without disability support? For children in the care system? For asylum seekers and refugees? 

Should be, will be, could be…

Genesis 1 and 2 begin our Christian story and describe the creation of the first human community. God’s beautiful, sustainable creation to be kept and cared for by human image-bearing creatures in the presence and loving rule of the creator king. God shared Himself and His life in this cosmic order and declared all things to be good, very good. This is the place of shalom, wellbeing, human flourishing, life as it should be in God’s good design.

The shattering effects of Genesis 3 have distorted multiple dimensions of our perfect human experience of community. Our humanity now fails to relate to God, relate to each other and relate to creation in the intended way that is good, very good’ – and we see the consequences in our local communities. These sin-struck community matters should jar with us as we, with all creation, groan and wait for redemption (Romans 8:20 – 22). 

We, however, are people of hope and promise as we wait for life as it will be – when the work of Jesus’s death, resurrection and ascended reign are brought to completion in the new, recreated heaven and earth. The creator will once again fully dwell with His reimaged creatures, in a renewed, redeemed creation – community restored. The human experiences of mourning, hunger, thirst, death, disease, pain, injustice rife in our communities will be no more (Revelation 7:15 – 17, 21:1 – 4). This is good news for the whole community.

We, the church, inhabit our local communities as good news people. We know in our communities what should be… we believe what will be… and we both proclaim and embody life as it could be through salvation in Jesus Christ, for the whole person that transforms whole community.

Good news embedded

Where are you? Who are you among? Is your faith embedded in your place, among your people?

God’s people have always been an embedded people. The first created humans were placed’ in the garden with a purpose; Abraham received a promise to become a people, in a land so as to bless all other people; Israel’s faith is so integrally woven with the land they journeyed to receive in promise so as to be a light to the nations surrounding them. 

Exiled from this land of promise, uncertain of how to worship (Psalm 137), Jeremiah urges God’s people to seek the shalom of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7), to put down roots, to invest long term in the people and place they now inhabited. 

Jesus moved from village to town to city preaching in the synagogue; sharing dinner tables; chatting at a water well; bringing good news, whole-life transformation to marginalised roadside beggars, rejected women and children, and sinful prostitutes and tax collectors. 

The New Testament letters address God’s people as the church… in… at…of” a specific city. The ekklesia (called out ones) were to live as intentional good news communities at, in and among their communities, as they lived for the renewal of their communities – as salt and light or a city on a hill (Matthew 5:13).

Where are you? Who are you among? Is your faith embedded in your place, among your people?

Good news is embodied

The community of God’s people have always been called to live out, to embody our identity as God’s people. The first act of worship recorded in scripture was for God’s image-bearing humans to hear His command to keep, protect and multiply His creation and to respond in worship-filled obedience. The law repeatedly requires faith in Yahweh to be lived out towards the community’s vulnerable, specifically the widow, the orphan and the stranger”. The prophets challenge Israel’s empty religious words that are not reflected in her daily community life (Exodus 22:21 – 24, Deuteronomy 10:18, Jeremiah 7:6 – 7). 

Jesus did not bequeath a set of truths that required a mental assent, but left behind a community of followers who were to believe and to live the good news – Who would go, teach and invite others into His kingdom way of life (Matthew 28:16 – 20). We inhabit the now but not yet of our local communities as the body of Christ, filled with His Spirit, enabled by His power to witnesses in word and deed to the coming of God’s kingdom (Acts 1:8). In His power, through His Spirit, He sends us into the broken places of our communities to join Him (John 17:18) as He even now is making all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

this is not life as it should be… we are waiting for life as it will be, and so we demonstrate life as it could be now, in the name and the renewing power of Jesus Christ, our king.

Witness of hope

In our post-truth culture, the human heart question has shifted from, what is ultimately true – prove it” to, what is ultimately good – show me”. Our embedded, embodied good news presence in a community becomes a powerful witness to a watching world. The good news transformation at the heart of community matters becomes a signpost to and a foretaste of the kingdom that will come in full. Like the first Christians, a radically distinctive hope-filled life will provoke questions for us to narrate the good news hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15).

When the church acts to alleviate the community matters of food poverty, isolation, mental health, domestic violence, racial prejudice, reduced services for disability; when we befriend and welcome the asylum seeker into our homes; when we share our families with children in the care system; when we proclaim the good news of Jesus in these places, we demonstrate: this is not life as it should be… we are waiting for life as it will be, and so we demonstrate life as it could be now, in the name and the renewing power of Jesus Christ, our king.

The example of the early church

In The Rise of Christianity Rodney Stark describes the impact of the witness of the first Christian communities in Greek and Roman cities:

To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachment. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fire, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services. For what they brought was not simply an urban movement, but a new culture capable of making life in Greco-Roman cities more tolerable.” 

We celebrate this legacy and that of God’s people throughout history who pursue the fullness of the good news in our communities and throughout society. What will be said of us, the church during this historic COVID period? We, God’s people, have the privilege and responsibility of embodying the fullness of the good news in our embedded places and communities. 

Community matters. Community matters to God. Community matters for the church.