The horrific carnage at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando has so many subtle ramifications and implications for all of us. One of them is that we are created to live in community and we do not do well when isolated. In the creation account, recorded in Genesis 2, there is the observation by God, the Creator, after he had created Adam that it is not good that the man should be alone. To resolve that need, God created for him a woman. Yet one one of the first tragic results of humankind’s rebellion against their Creator was the fracturing of that primordial community, as the man and woman began to blame each other, and to hide their nakedness from each other. What follows in human history is the sad account of jealousy, hostility, alienation of tribes from one another, warfare, and the total failure of human to prosper in an attempted autonomy.

The reality is that humans have a built-in need for caring community. It may sound strange coming from me, but the Pulse nightclub was evidently just such a caring community for the GLBT community in Orlando. Here were all of those GLBT (mostly) young adults engaged in all kinds of fruitful professions, and yet often having to hide who they were from family and working associates, who found each other and those others before whom they did not have to hide in a nightclub. (Was Jesus and his new reconciling community even a factor in their lives?)

The Old Testament promises that emerge piece by piece describing the new creation that God is going to inaugurate in the fullness of time …  has always the component that it is going to be a new creation in which there is peace between all of God’s creatures, i.e., “the lion and the lamb shall lay down together.” “I will make all things new.” Then as Jesus emerges onto the human scene he goes, not to the religious, but to real humans in all degrees of brokenness and guilt. Consider that the giant missionary of the first generation church could easily be labeled as a Jewish terrorist and murderer. That which Jesus accomplished by his cross is described as his ministry of reconciliation—reconciliation between God and humankind, and between humans themselves, so that they are no longer isolated from God or from each other. No one was excluded from Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation … sophisticated sinners, human failures, crude and effed-up sinners, economic sinners (greedy and avaricious), violent sinners, gentle and lonely sinners—you name it.

And what was their responsibility to each other? It was not to forsake the assembling of themselves together. This they had to do in all kinds of venues, considering each cultural and existential setting. Being together was not a place but rather a community of caring. (One can be terribly lonely in so many so-called church institutions, i.e. “Nobody knows my name.”) Every believer is to wear as his daily footwear “the readiness of the gospel of peace.”

In many totalitarian regimes Christian assemblies are outlawed, or restricted by the authorities to specific locations. But God’s children have a way of finding each other because they need the support of the others of God’s family. In Egypt, in recent years, the Islamic government has prescribed on certain places where Christians could meet, and made it a crime to meet spontaneously elsewhere. But God has a sense of humor. Ostensibly the largest Christian assembly in the middle east is in a slum located in the garbage dump for Cairo, and is the Coptic church of St. Simon the Tanner and consists of over 15,000 Coptic Christians who meet in a place where none of the ‘proper’ people of Cairo want to go. They have carved out a meeting place in a mountain of rock and there they gather and encourage each other and worship the God who has redeemed them in Christ. Their community is contemptuously known in Cairo as Garbage City.

A true church is where we who belong to Christ find one another and are equipped, where we are no longer alone, and where the most confused and lost and needy are not excluded.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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