what does this community look like?

A conversation with some new friends about the real nature of the church (the kingdom of God) reminded me of this journal entry from years ago. I still think it's pretty accurate.

What does this community look like?

I think it looks like Jesus and his disciples. They do not have a place that is “theirs,” controlled by them, but rather live and move among the places owned and controlled by those more powerful in society. (How could they have their own property if they will not fight to possess and defend it but instead give freely?) And they are mixed in with the rest of society, allowing any who wish to be among them, so the only way you can tell who is really a part of the community is to identify who really lives like Jesus. There are not clear boundaries of the community, neither property or membership boundaries. They are a scattered few, mingled with many unlike them. But isn’t that how Jesus described his community? He said that his people, his kingdom, would not be easily identified:
“The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, “Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Lk 17.20-21)
Those who followed him could surely be recognized by their likeness to him, in their faith and in their active love. But they would not be recognized as a kingdom, with no clearly defined borders and no identifiable king. Because God would be their king. God would unify them and protect them and direct them through his Spirit. And so they would appear to be leaderless, landless, undefended and unconnected (at least lacking the kind of things that connected other people), yet with a common way of living and a common allegiance different from the kingdoms in which they mingled. “In the world but not of it.” As Jesus prayed:
“I am not praying for the world but for those whom you hast given me, for they are thine… The world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one.” (Jn 17. 9, 14-15)
They are hated because they do not identify themselves with the groups in which they mingle, so they are seen as outsiders, “not one of us.” They do not fight to defend their own borders or attack the trouble-makers among them, and neither will they do so for the cities and nations of “the world.” They do not need legal or authoritarian structures to unite or preserve their (God’s) community and so will not support or enforce those structures around them. So they are seen as subversive and hated. And excluded and attacked. And they do not resist this. If they suffer pain or loss they rejoice, and if they are driven away they wipe the dust from their feet and move on.

The reason for Jesus’ community being like this is that it is the perfect way to express faith, experiencing God’s care and encouraging others to look to God with faith as well. Their willingness to embrace weakness voluntarily and joyfully stands out, because no other human group acts in this way. Jesus’ community can be weak because of their faith in God who is strong. Who does (and will continue to) unite and guide and preserve them, just as he promised.

...They are God’s pilgrim people on earth.