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Community Building and Psuedepigrapha Pete
2 Peter 1:1-11
Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is nearsighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.
This reading from the first chapter of 2 Peter is one of those passages that I am sure I must have read at some point, but it must have been a long time ago, because I don’t remember ever thinking that the start of Second Peter was this cool.
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Pseudepigrapha Pete tells us that in order to thrive while we wait for the coming of Christ, we should make every effort to support our faith with goodness. And the goodness gets a lift from knowledge of God. And knowledge is promoted by self-control. And self-control is developed through endurance. While endurance is a product of godliness which is supported by mutual affection. And mutual affection grows out of agape - the love that we know in Christ Jesus.
“If you want to be effective and fruitful,” Pseudepigrapha Pete says, “then this is the tack to take. This is the path to follow. Support your faith by starting with love which will lead to all kinds of good things.”
One commentator summed it all up by saying that, “Perseverance in the Christian vocation is the best preventative against losing it and the safest provision for attaining its goal, [which is] the kingdom.” In other words, if you want to feel connected to God this Advent season, keep at it. If you want to know more about what God’s up to- keep studying the Word. Quite simply, don’t give up when your life of faith gets hard or complicated or stale. Keep at it!
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The writer of our text suggests that if our faith is supported by a growing goodness, a developing godliness and love- then we won’t be ineffective or unfruitful in our knowledge of God. Well I’m all for that. Especially here at the seminary.
He points out the importance of call and remembering the past- all those things that led us to being here - so that as you follow his recipe for growing in faith, you don’t lose sight of the grace that you’ve known and the blessings that are to come.
All of which made me think about small group facilitation and community building. Right?
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God tends to work with me in a very gradual way. No big flash of light. No dark mysterious voices. Just a series of spiritual post-it notes that get left around for me to collect. Or maybe they’re hankies or bread crumbs dropped on the path.
In any case, there was something about all that good stuff in Second Peter that made me think of our life together and that clicked with some things I had heard earlier this month.
A couple of weeks ago, I was at a training event for folks who will be facilitating small groups at a Region 7 event next year. There was a lot of talk about people’s Myers-Briggs scores and Jo-Hari Windows. We did simulations and analyzed things for hours on end so that we might be more equipped to understand the process behind community building. It was exhausting. Good, but exhausting. Like drinking out of a fire hose.
One of the theories though that really stuck with me was a concept developed by M. Scott Peck. In his book The Different Drum, Peck says that community building typically goes through four stages.
The first is Pseudo-community. This is the stage where the members are very friendly with each other and tend to cover up their differences, by acting as if they don’t exist. It’s like the first week of church camp or even the first week of seminary.
The thing is, Pseudo-community can never lead to real community. And Peck would suggest that it is the job of the person guiding the community building process to get the group through it as quickly as possible. Personally, I think our honeymoon period this fall could have lasted a bit longer, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there.
The next phase in becoming a community is Chaos. It’s when Pseudo-community fails to work and people start to get grouchy. Folks start to talk about their frustrations and disagreements. It’s when folks start to realize that differences can’t be ignored. And even though Chaos looks counterproductive, it is the first real step towards community building.
Peck calls the third step Emptiness. It is then that people learn to empty themselves of those things that are preventing them from entering into real community. And Emptiness is a tough step because it means letting go of things are important to you as an individual so that you can be a part of something larger. Peck argues that it is this death of a part of the individual that paves the way for the birth of a new creature, which is true Community.
Having made it through the Chaos and the Emptiness, the people in the community are in empathy with one another. There is a level of understanding and people can relate to each other’s feelings. Discussions, even when they get heated, don’t go completely south. Because these folks trust each other’s motives. They’re putting the best construction on the other’s actions- even when things seem out of sorts.
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Now I may be all wet on this one- but I think that the process that Peck describes and the one raised up in Second Peter- fit together quite nicely. They are both guides for how to thrive in this Advent life we live.
We gather together because of our shared love for God and it’s wonderful. But it’s not very deep. Mutual affection is great, but you can’t build a life on it. These are the qualities of pseudo community. It’s nice, but who want a life that’s just “nice.”
Next comes godliness, which is good- we’d all agree, but sometimes godliness can lead to false piety or a holier-than-thou attitude. It is when godliness leads to endurance that things start to happen for the individual and in the community.
Because endurance is what we need to get through the stage of Chaos. We need endurance and patience and resolve. If you think I’m wrong- read your Bible. Genesis and Exodus and the book of Acts are full of Chaos and Endurance.
Or think about that youth group trip when the bus broke down and things went completely in the toilet, but at the end of the trip you all swore it was the best week you ever had.
If we can remember the grace of the past and the blessings of the future, we can endure the chaos. And we can make sense of what comes next- the Emptiness. I think maybe Peck should have called that stage “the Emptying.” It’s only when we are ready to get rid of some of our own crap that we can be filled up with the new gifts that God would give us.
It’s only after we have managed endurance, that we can develop self-control to put our desire for a knowledge of God ahead of our other stuff.
And that leads us to Phase four- true community and what Pseudepigrapha Pete calls goodness.
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The Christian life is a transformational process. There is pain and sorrow and chaos and emptiness- but there is also joy and love and light and grace and peace.
Christian community is a study in change as well. And seminary communities are totally about change! Which can be hard and disappointing and scary. But also exciting and exhilarating and revolutionary.
And to me that’s what Advent is all about. In this season of hope, we are called to look for ways to stretch and grow, knowing that Jesus promised that things will most likely get worse before they get better, but they will get better. That’s the message in all those Adventy texts we hear the first three weeks. Things are going to probably get worse before they will get better. But they are going to get so much better.
Jesus promised. And he never breaks a promise.
Bet your life on it!