Thursday, October 05, 2006

"I" and "We" - Conclusion

(read Parts 1, 2, and 3)

John Donne wrote:
John Donne

PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that. The church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author, and is one volume;
. . . .
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee. Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbours. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it.

from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII (
read the whole meditation here, or download a text file of the whole of Devotions here)

We have all heard this quote from John Donne (poet and preacher), but do we know its biblical basis? Donne, in this meditation, emphasizes the interconnectedness of all man. As he writes, we do not take on the grief and toils and joys and hopes of others; they are ours to begin with, as surely as we are bound together as creation, as children of the Lord and brothers and sisters of the Christ. Jehovah never intended for a man to seek Him alone, but in the company of fellow worshipers. He called Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply”; He made Abraham into a nation; He called to Himself 12 men, to touch their lives and fellowship with them; He sent the disciples out in twos; Paul never journeyed alone, but in the company of Barnabas, Mark, Silas, Luke, and others.

We, today, are under the same calling. We do not seek merely our own salvation, but that of the world (Matthew 28:19). So then, why do we act as individuals? Why do we neglect our brothers; not simply those who are in another land on another continent, but those next to us? We neglect them when we say "be well fed" but offer no food. We neglect them when we hear their plea but offer no prayer on their behalf. We fail them when we are so caught up in our own lives that we do not see the sin they sink into. We fail them when we do not step out of ourselves to actually look into their lives, past the facade we all erect and into the hurt and pain and sin and despair they hide. As Donne writes, if my brother is torn asunder by the Enemy, am I not torn as surely as he?

We are called to be accountable to each other, fighting for each other’s salvation and encouraging one another to live in holiness. Nehemiah placed the people rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem together in families, telling them to fight for each other (Nehemiah 4:11-14). Christ tells us that we should love as He loves, giving our lives for our brother (John 15:12-13). He also tells us that we should first seek reconciliation with our brothers before continuing in our worship of God (Matthew 5:23-24). "We" are entwined as one creation, under one Creator, one body with one Head. "We" are created to bring glory to Jehovah, not in isolated worship but in community.

Consider the story of Achan (read Joshua 7-8). Recall that after the battle of Jericho, Achan sinned by taking what had been devoted to God for himself. When Israel then attacked Ai, they were routed because of his sin; for God had stated that the whole camp of Israel would be liable if one person broke this command (Joshua 6:18). The reaction of Joshua to defeat by Ai is immediate; he falls on his face before the ark, pleading with God and asking why God had abandoned Israel now that they were in the Promised Land – disgracing them before the Canaanites and embarrassing the name of the Lord (Joshua 7:6-9). God’s reaction, though, is not what you might think at first. Instead of comforting Joshua, renewing His promise to uphold Israel, he basically tells Joshua to quit whining – if you want to blame someone, blame yourselves, for the sin is with unfaithful Israel turning against the faithful Lord. Jehovah does not single out Achan for his sin, but instead proclaims that it is all of Israel that has sinned!

Why was all of Israel punished for Achan’s sin? Why were his sons and daughters stoned along with him, and why was the army of Israel routed by Ai? We are told explicitly in Ezekiel that God does not visit the sins of the father on the children, if the children are faithful to the Lord (Ezekiel 18:1-4, 14-18), so why is the nation punished? Is it possible that it is because no one in the camp of Israel upheld God’s command by helping their brother avoid sin! This was not explicit in God’s command, but they knew that if one failed, they would all suffer and so should have been looking out to help each other. Did no one see Achan take and keep the devoted items? Possibly. Did none of his family see him with the devoted items, or see him bury them in his tent? Maybe. But the fact is that God was trying to teach them early on that we are not in this alone. We can lift up our associates; encourage them, pray for them, and help them in their fight, working to bring us all to glory. Or we can let our associates go it alone spiritually, and suffer from the times they and we stumble; relying on our own strength and not in the strength of the unified body of Christ that comes from God.

As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you.
1 Samuel 12:23 (NIV)

Author's Note:
I have been writing this series on "I" and "We" because it has been on my heart lately, more so than usual. Some of it is taken from things I wrote previously, in my personal journal or to friends, and some is crafted just for this series. I get so sick of the faces we wear as Christians, painting on the outward perfection we feel we must wear to fit into the body of Christ; like whitewashed tombs. I'm sick to death of hearing too late of a marriage that is failing when, for all the world, you would have sworn their love would last forever. I'm saddened by the brothers and sisters who wrestle with temptation in silence when there are a dozen people around them who have been their and, through grace and strength in Christ, found victory. We are not alone in this: as we have a high priest who can understand us because He, too, wore this frail flesh, we also have a community that has suffered and endured and overcome. Neither should we place the blame on those who hide their struggles, as we should be seeking the lost and not waiting for them to come to us. John Donne's words strike me every time I read them; how can I consider myself on a personal journey toward salvation when faced with way God has made us as a people, a body of parts, and not as mere individuals. I hope they have challenged and encouraged you.

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Anne said...

I have enjoyed this series.

"We" fail to know one another as brothers and sisters in the faith. "We" fail to recognize "we" are family.

I attended a ladies' bible class this morning. I challenged every one of them to talk to someone in our congregation who they don't normally talk to. We need to know eachother in order to help eachother.

Chaotic Hammer said...

I agree with Anne. Great series, and I have also been seeing evidence, in my life and many lives around me, that we are much stronger when living together in community, as the Body of Christ was meant to, than we are when trying to be Lone Rangers for Jesus.

In my life personally, the strongest form this community has taken is with my Small Group. I'm not sure that any of us, several months ago when our group first got together, knew where things were going or what we should be doing. We just knew that we needed fellowship and support and everything else that comes from living in authentic community as Christ-followers.

I'm happy to report that less than a year later, we have opened up and allowed one another "inside the walls", and the results have literally been miraculous. It's very messy and imperfect, and far from looking anything like a 90-minute Hallmark Special Movie where everything always works out in the end. But I know I speak for every single member of the group when I say that we are all much better off, in every way, by allowing one another access into our lives -- for prayer, accountability, support, or even just a sympathetic ear at times.

I would encourage people reading this to get connected somewhere, in a place where Jesus is Lord and the members of the Body are learning how to live a life of true discipleship together.

Anonymous said...

Great use of Donne. Great application. Donne is my favorite poet. I own a nerdy amount of his poems and sermons.

euphrony said...

I agree about Donne. Amazing writer and speaker. Most people have heard a part of Meditation XVII, but have no idea of the context, the greater train of thought, or that he followed the meditation with a expostolation and a prayer. And, there are 22 more just like that, all connected in a train of thought.

I'm reading the whole of Devotions right now. Slow going, as I have to leave time to think and absorb what I read.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Thank you for this series. Now I'm trying to retrace my steps and figure out how I got here... I was reading someone's homeschooling blog, they linked to Shaun Groves' blog, he linked to Rob at remainundone and then I found yours. (just in case you were wondering, ha.)

Anyway, I have always struggled with the meaning of "worship". Surely it's more than music, but that's what we seem to mean when we say it. There are times in church when I feel like I'm watching a performance. That was what interested me when I started reading... and then it just got better.

The last part of the series was very relevant to me right now as our church is going through a difficult trial. I keep all my "junk" to myself after getting burned by being too open in the past. I know it's not the right way to live, but it is hard to let anyone in. It's hard to be real. It's hard to just BE, if that even makes sense.

So many thoughts running around in my head. Thanks for the food for thought.

euphrony said...

What Chaotic Hammer was commenting on (growing close in a small group) is something that I enjoyed a few years back. Having done that really opened my eyes to what I was talking about in this series.

Getting burned by being too open, morethanfine, is something that has also happened to me. Same group as above.

Man, we're all human. If I don'y rake you over the coals at some time, or you me, now that would be a miracle. The difficulty in life is not killing a strong bond over one (or even several) incidents. Sounds easy, in practice its very hard.

Thanks for reading.

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