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“Surely the Lord is in this place!” Gen. 28:16

Invitation to the Word
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Ada Middleton
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Cultivating communities of theological friendship 

John 15:15-16   

“I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”

Faith in Jesus Christ is a power, a force, which impels us toward God and one another. It also impels us towards those outside the church in order to tell through word and deed of salvation, wholeness in Jesus Christ, inviting and urging others to join us in following Jesus.

The power of faith in Jesus Christ to draw or impel us to one another is central to our Presbyterian way of living.  For us, Christian leadership happens in councils – gatherings of people called together to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit.  We live in regular rhythms of gathering to discern together.

Unfortunately, the “sin that clings so closely” (Heb. 12:1) works against the power that pulls us toward Jesus and thus toward one another.  This counter-force is not a new thing: “let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some” (Heb. 10:24 – 25)

We PC(USA) Presbyterians know the undermining counter-force of sin all too well.  Although we call ourselves a “connectional” church, we don’t practice connectedness very well.  Joseph Small, an acute observer of our denominational life notes: “’Impaired communion’ has . . . characterized Presbyterian life for decades. We have retained formal structures of communion while emptying them of meaningful connections. . . .  We haven’t needed one another for a long time.”  One of the challenges we face as a denomination in the church is to rebuild – or build – relationships with others in the denomination that embody the power of the Gospel drawing (or pushing?) us toward one another. 

In the work of the Office of Theology & Worship we’ve come upon a way to name the kind of relationships the Holy Spirit builds: communities of theological friendship.  Communities of theological friendship are communities in which God is both the object of and an anticipated participant in our conversation.  When we talk honestly about the things of the faith we bring our whole selves to the conversation.  When we gather together in this way, Jesus Christ promises to be present with us (Matthew 18:20).

Part of our call today is to cultivate communities of theological friendship.  If you are not in such a community, who might you invite to start one with you?  If you are, how might you continue to strengthen it?

Read: John 17.  Imagine Jesus addressing these words to you and your circle of theological friends.

Pray: for strengthened friendship with Christ and others.

Study: find the places in Acts in which the followers of Jesus are gathered together.  Why are they gathered?  Where do they gather?  What are they doing when they gather?  In what ways is your congregation the same?  What new vision for your congregation do you find from the congregation in Acts?

Live: are you in a community of theological friendship?  If not, who might you invite to start such a community with you?  If you are, offer God a word of thanks, and reflect on ways to nurture the well-being of that community.

Note: The Office of Theology & Worship has established a mini-grant program to strengthen and nurture communities of theological friendship across this denomination.  We invite you to learn more and consider whether a mini-grant might help you form or strengthen a community of theological friendship.

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