Welcome to worship today at Christ Lutheran and welcome if you’re listening on the radio!
We continue in our series on recovering a Biblical worldview. Now I’m not saying we’ve completely lost that Biblical view of life. I’m not implying that we’re all just being swept along with the secular tides that surround us. But we all do soak in a bit of the worldview that we swim in daily. We’re surrounded by views that are often inconsistent with the Biblical worldview and so we have to closely examine what we hear and read.
Today we look at views of individuals vs. views of communities or societies from a book by Timothy Keller.
Before Christianity emerged individuals for the most part were seen as unimportant. The clan or tribe mattered most. There was little sense that each individual deserved care and respect simply as a human being.
After Christianity became influential---It was taught that all individuals are important and have dignity as children of God. In addition they are of great worth to their families and communities and vice-versa.
In the late-modern worldview that is prevalent today, the Christian emphasis on the individual has been stretched to the extreme. Almost to a religion of individualism. The highest purpose, under this worldview, is not to further the interests of any one group nor to promote any particular values or virtues---But rather to set all individuals free to live as they choose without hindrance, regardless of any communal relationships, as long as they don't harm someone else's freedom to live as they wish. Choice becomes the one sacred value and any limits are the only moral evil.
This concept of every individual as their own sovereign king or queen has been growing in influence for decades---actually far longer---way back to the garden when Adam and Eve decided they knew better than God.
We saw it in the 1960’s with the distrust of all institutions. Of course there were some good reasons for that---but there was also a lot of over-reaction.
You can hear the echo of the late-modern worship of the individual in songs from that era like the Isley brothers---“It’s Your Thing-Do What You Wanna Do!” Or Frank Sinatra—“I Did It My Way!” And many others since then.
No wonder the 1970’s got the nickname the “Me Decade”.
So you go from pre-Christian times when the pendulum was far to one side in favor with tribes or clans having final authority--- to our present day where in the view of many people, the individual should have all the power.
The problem is that crowning the individual as king destroys all kinds of community and human connections.
It leads to the disintegration of marriages---A late-modern person wants a spouse who gives me all the space I want with no expectations or sacrifice.
But this kind of marriage doesn't exist---or not for long.
The worship of the individual harms families. After all, kids are a hassle. You have to---take care of them---which sure gets in the way of your freedom.
Individualism erodes churches---they want you to be involved---how constricting is that!
Individualism fosters a distrust of all institutions, and wariness toward any community that doesn’t give complete freedom to the individual.
The ultimate proof that individualism fails is love. Keller writes---“No love relationship can grow unless each person sacrifices some freedom in order to serve the other, yet these restrictions, if accepted mutually, lead to the var¬ious liberations of mind and heart that only love can bring. Most people will say they feel most like "themselves" when they are truly loved and loving another—but that requires the surrender of complete self-determining freedom.”
True love can’t be experienced if you expect to live totally by your own desires. True love involves sacrifice for the good of the one you love. Not independence but interdependence.
And now we live in technological age where you don’t have to personally relate to other people. Instead of real conversation you play in virtual worlds with virtual people. You text the person sitting across from you instead of speaking. You go online to find out what other people are up to instead of hearing it from them.
But maybe the pendulum is starting to swing back. I don’t know about you, but I hear more talk of community these days. In some cases there seems to be a craving for community.
But too often we settle for less than the best. Through all kinds of social media we try to make up for the fact that we have pushed other people away by doing it MY WAY.
And at times we seem desperate for any kind of connection. There was a study done by York University in Toronto and the University of Connecticut. They set up a fictitious social network and 74% of those who signed up skipped reading the terms of belonging. Just get me in the network! And those who did read must not have read them carefully---because in those terms they signed, they all agreed to give up their first born child to the social network.
We want to be king of the universe but we’re desperate for community. We desire absolute individual freedom but we crave belonging? But the first destroys the second.---------So what’s it going to be---ME or US?
ME or US? How about ME AND US! Is that possible? Let’s look at what God’s Word says.
Psalm 139:13-16 “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
Each of us is obviously, personally, individually of great worth to the Lord our maker.
Or how about these words of Jesus---
Matthew 10:29-31 “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Or what about this parable of Jesus---
Luke 15:4-6 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’”
Obviously, God cares deeply about us personally, as individuals. But God also created us to live in families and congregations and communities. Because he knows that is part of what makes human life complete.
1 Corinthians 12:27 “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
Without each of us, the body of Christ is not complete.
Romans 12:4-5 “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
Each individual brings unique gifts that all others benefit from. And community is not just a practical thing, it’s part of the creator’s design for how things work best.
In Jesus’ prayer for his followers the night before he died on the cross, he prayed for unity for his people that they may be united similarly to how he and God the Father are united.
John 17:11 “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.”
The Lord has created each of us as individuals of great worth. He was willing to die for you and me. But he also created us to live in community and thrive when we are together. It’s not an either or---but both ME and US.
Tim Keller puts it this way--- “Freedom is not, then, simply the absence of restrictions, but rather consists of finding the right, liberating restrictions. Put another way, we must actively take tactical freedom losses in order to receive strategic freedom gains. You grow only as you lose some lower kinds of freedom to gain higher kinds.“
The best marriages, families, teams, congregations and communities are where the individual is valued as well as the group in a beneficial interdependence.
Leonard Sweet says---“I can’t be me without you!”
This time of year I see a lot of geese flying over our house. They can teach us something about individuals and communities.
1. When geese fly together, each goose provides additional lift and reduces air resistance for the goose flying behind it. By flying together in a v-formation, scientists estimate that the whole flock can fly about 70% farther with the same amount of energy than if each goose flew alone.
2. When a goose drops out of the v-formation it quickly discovers that it requires a great deal more effort and energy to fly. Consequently, that goose will return to the formation to take advantage of the lifting power that comes from flying together.
3. Geese rotate serving. The goose flying in the front of the formation has to expend the most energy because it is the first to break up the flow of air that provides the additional lift for all of the geese who follow behind the leader. Consequently, when the lead goose gets tired, it drops out of the front position and moves to the rear of the formation, where the resistance is lightest, and another goose moves to the lead position.
4. Geese honk at each other. Scientists speculate that this honking is their way of communicating with each other during their long flight.
5. Geese help each other. Scientists also discovered that when one goose becomes ill, is shot or injured, and drops out of the formation, other geese will fall out of formation and remain with the weakened goose.
Even a goose knows he’s better off being interdependent with other geese. We need to learn or relearn that fact as humans.
We need each other to share joys and struggles---to benefit from those who go before us---to share the load of serving---to encourage each other---to have people we can count on when we fall.
“I’ve got to be me” is a lonely way to live. But our sin drives us there too often. The Good News of Jesus is that through his cross and resurrection, he offers us the gift of new life as individuals joined together in the Body of Christ. It’s not a choice between ME or US. It’s the blessing of YOU and ME together in Christ.