Part 2 of my Seedy Mob sermon at Urban Seed:church Sunday 26th June focussing on ideas of community, “Mob” and koinonia!
Last week we looked at and reflected upon images of church that fire the imagination from 1 Peter 2.
• A newborn infant longing for mothers milk
• Living stones
• Chosen Race, Royal Priesthood, Holy Nation,
I compared and contrasted these images with the idea that’s been floating around Urban Seed of “Seedy Mob”
Last week I focussed on what I thought it meant to be “Seedy”! Like a seed….
• We are small
• We are engaged with the “seediness” of a broken world
• We are ourselves “seedy” (broken,compromised,in need of grace)
• We hold great potential and even greater hope!
Tonight I wish to focus upon the idea of “Mob.”
The image of Mob was first explored at an Urban Seed staff retreat back in 2002 where Mark Brett (Hebrew Bible lecturer from Whitley College) was our theological consultant for the day. Instead of lecturing he simply facilitated a sharing of our deepest theological questions. The ones that haunt us, drive us personally etc.
Interestingly in a room of activists the common theme was not how God works or relates to the world or a desire to do more. The deepest and recurring questions were all about belonging, about dissatisfaction with traditional ways of doing church and a desire for community that is truly capable of sustaining the work and oneself over a longer period.
After the retreat Mark went on to write a thoughtful academic paper on the theological and historical basis of community as embodied at Urban Seed and if you’re keen it’s a very substantial read. Perhaps wisely on the day he left us with the image of “Mob” used by Aboriginal communities (with which he has worked extensively to describe a sense of connection between people.)
“Who is your Mob?” is a fundamental question in Aboriginal culture, a definition of identity that includes but also transcends lots of the categories such as household, blood family, tribe, a connection to land and place, to ancestors, stories, dreaming etc. This image resonated with us much more than “church” in terms of capturing more of our desires even if our reality of our collective life was/is obviously far from that of Aboriginal peoples.
THE NEW TESTAMENT doesn’t use the term Mob. (Only in Mark 5 where it is sometimes poorly translated as referring to the demon from Geresea!!!!!) It only rarely uses the term people or nation. In its place is the Greek word koinonia. This is the Greek term for the most intimate human relationship possible. It is used, for example, for the union of husband and wife in marriage and to describe our relationship with God.
In Romans 15:27 Paul says that the Gentiles have come into koinonia with the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 1:9 he says that God calls us into koinonia with his Son. In 2 Corinthians is the famous benediction, “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the koinonia of the Spirit.” John writes that the gospel is proclaimed so that “you can have koinonia with us and our koinonia is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ,” (1 John 1:3). 1 Peter says that Christians have koinonia with the glory of God (5:1) and 2 Peter says we will have koinonia with the divine nature.
With remarkable consistency, then, the epistles describe Christian experience in terms of community; we are called into community with God and with each other.
By using the same word, koinonia, to describe our relation to God and our relations with our brothers and sisters, the New Testament sets the standard by which religious experience is to be judged. Our relationship to God is to be as close as the most intimate human friendship and our relationship to others is to be as close as the Spirit of God dwelling in our hearts. To be authentic, our religious experience must produce an ever deeper walk with God and an ever deeper community of brothers and sisters.
The search for community is not an alternative but is, rather, at the heart of the call of God. Paul’s letters deal with more than doctrine; often they attend to very practical details. One such detail was a collection being taken for the poorer churches. The Greek word used to describe this collection was a variant of the term koinonia. Used in this way, koinonia means to be generous, to share. In Romans 12:13, Paul exhorts the readers to “contribute” to the needs of the saints. Timothy is asked to be “generous,” (1 Tim. 6:18). Throughout the letters to the Romans and the Corinthians, Paul speaks of the “gift” or “contribution” being collected for the relief of the poor. All of these words are derivations of koinonia.
And so “Mob” has an economic dimension. (A reminder of our offering bucket/trolley up the back.)
Urban Seed: church can be a new way that we give to each other.
The more we give and share with each other the less we are dependent on inherited church institutions, corporate donations and hopefully some of the ‘seediness” we sometimes feel in being engaged or reliant upon sources of income that we would also wish to question.
This sharing makes a group a koinonia. Just gathering people under one roof, just exchanging a common ideology, just eating meals together or working together on a joint project will not create community. Urban Seed has piggy backed on a strong alternative Christian community scene in Melbourne in the 70’s and 80’s which often fell from high ideals into bitterness and rancor because in part the culture thought that community could be an experiment, a trial run without real commitment to each other, and that ideology and common purpose were strong enough bonds to restrain the selfishness of human nature. Not so. Community means participating in, sharing in, serving one another.
Community is an affair of the Spirit, not an institutional structure. Such radical participation in one another’s lives can go on in many different groups and gatherings in many different ways. And so at the outset of Urban Seed: church, we have no blueprint. We don’t believe in the blueprint mentality. If there was a single blueprint for successful community life the land would be full of successful communities. Many energetic, talented, creative people have invested themselves in carefully conceptualized community plans that have been torn into pieces in the struggle to put them into practice.
The question is not, what is the right plan? The question can only be, what is the Spirit calling you to now? When a group gathers to seek the Spirit rather than to erect an organization, there is hope for koinonia. When they seek the Spirit in their own way, rather than trying to impose the patterns of others upon themselves, the hope grows. Communities need structure but the structure must grow organically out of the life they are living or else they will build only empty forms, waiting to be torn down or filled with frustration.
We don’t have blueprints but we do have hunches. Urban Seed has 10 years of living and working together and lots of painful stuff ups. Marks and Robyn have had 10 years doing it at Cityside, NZ. We each bring our own previous experiences of church and community. I love Mark Piersons blog title “An intuitive introverts guide to starting a church”. Check it out for more of his hunches.
One of these hunches (and its also true from scripture as well as business) is that structure seems to be a function of mission. Different communities have different callings, do different work and so need to be structured differently.
Urban Seed began in 1995 with a residential community at the Collins Street Baptist Church. This provided much opportunity for koinonia, serving each other and the marginalised of our city, it also produced lots of in-house navel gazing and petty bickering and was often a frustratingly unsustainable short term experience.
In 2001 we looked to build the economic basis of our community. The emphasis shifted to create more jobs and work that shared the economic burden. At this time we also incorporated legally to become a separate entity from the inherited church.
The mission of Urban Seed has emerged as a generalist one, engaging lots of things; culture, politics, corporates, homeless and drug addicts, young people etc. And so we need a diversity of people and structures. We need ressies, we need jobs, but we also need new ways of connecting with each other and God so that others can both join in and continue to be involved in our mission. This is part of the thinking behind this new way of doing “mob”; Urban Seed: church.
It’s not just about structuring for mission however. Koinonia is a two-way street: serving, giving, sharing also means receiving, being cared for, and ministered to. Sometimes people say they want to work, give, share, help and yet their services never seem to build community. Why? Because they never let others minister to them. Serving can be a defense to keep others away.
No community is built by such compulsive servants. We must be willing to minister and also to be ministered to. My gifts and strengths may minister to your needs and weaknesses but my needs and weaknesses must be exposed to give you a chance to minister to me. That’s how the body is built up; through a willingness to engage with each others “seediness.”
And so to use another image of church used by Paul we are one body made up of equal, but different parts. Hands need mouths, heads need feet etc etc.
Two extremes must be avoided here. The first is when unity is equated with uniformity. Many religious movements today are totalitarian; the diversity and uniqueness of each person is sacrificed for the sake of the unity of the body. The other is anarchy. Many revival movements have degenerated into charismatic chaos, congregations of loose spiritual atoms where each does their own thing. There is freedom but the unity of the body is lost.
Koinonia is the transcending of these dichotomies; it is not a totalitarian state, nor is it a bag of loose spiritual parts. In koinonia the uniqueness of each member is preserved and cherished but each freely lays down their life in service of others.
In light of this it’s been our hunch to put a structure in place. I have sat around in a number of alternative church experiments where the most unifying spirit in the room is a sense of what we don’t want to be (ie.“the inherited church”) and where everyone looks at each other blankly with no direction forward.
Christian community is crucial today. It is not like anything found in the world: human camaraderie is not koinonia. That’s why its so hard to talk about—there are no models in the world for it. The church and the secular state know both anarchistic assemblies and totalitarian structures but rarely, if at all, do they manifest koinonia: where uniqueness, diversity, and individuality are nourished, supported, and valued but where mutual submission, mutual service, and love bind all into one body. This is why we cannot adopt a blueprint or techniques from the world but must allow the Spirit to create koinonia.
1 Peter 2:10 finishes with the line “Once you were not a people.” I believe this to be a powerful image for us who often cast ourselves as lonely activist refugees and questioners of traditional and dissatisfying forms of community.
We are also often cast as individual consumers in a fragmented, urban, capitalist society; “Once you were not a people.”
What better “community” embodies this reality than the one here at Docklands, where one cannot connect with neighbours on other floors due to security measures and the only “koinonia” seemingly created is via when late night TV presenters who almost mockingly get people to turn their lights on and off.
Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Called to be a Seedy Mob we are to carry out the mission of the old Israel: being the priesthood of the universe, the servant-society for creation. Our form is to reflect our function: characterized by joyful celebration and worship, mutual service of one another, engagement of the seedy world which Christ loves. Guided by the Spirit, koinonia is formed and governed in a way not found in the world—neither an authoritarian system nor an anarchistic cell, but a body bound together by love expressing itself in mutual submission and concern. Thus it anticipates the time when all creation will be part of Christ’s mob, recieve his mercy and radiate his love.
This sermon is based on the article “The Practice of Peoplehood” by James W. Jones
which appeared in Sojourners Magazine, May 1977