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Small Groups

Small groups seem to work best when its members find a place that becomes their own. A place to belong might just make or break a group. Maybe you remember meeting in a certain classroom for a Bible study, or a Panera Bread for a standing breakfast gathering. The Oxford group met at the Eagle and Child; Hemingway and his lot met at Gertrud Stein's. When it comes to meeting places for a small group, the church has a great tradition of meeting in homes. Home offers a place to belong. Within, one is welcomed to family traditions and privileges. Christians have run the gambit of names for church groups but I like "Home Group" because God: Father, Son, and Spirit is the true home of every human heart. Let me explain.

One of those Oxford thinkers of the last century, Charles Williams, makes the observation that the familiar words, "Our Father who art in heaven," from The Lord's Prayer could be slightly modified in private prayer to, "Our Father in whom there is heaven." In making the case that heaven is life with and within God, Williams honors the teaching of Jesus when he said, "Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand." In Christ, God's presence came to dwell in the person of Jesus. One Psalm describes the Hebrew captivity in Egypt as, "Israel sojourned in the land of Ham." This was Jesus' experience. St Paul says that he laid aside his glory and took the form of a slave.

He came down from heaven to bring us heaven. The Father sent the Son to work salvation for creation through humankind. We have the guarantee that Jesus was vindicated in his death by the miracle of his resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit. Our heavenly home is opened by the key of David, the Lord, Jesus.

Now then, one way we come to learn how to live more at home in the life of God is by knowing and sharing Christ. In small groups, we know and share Christ through: scripture, prayer, and confession.

First, our primary privilege and joy as adopted members of the household of God is to hear Him tell us a story. This true story of the world puts a roof over our head and teaches us to understand our life within it. Under its shelter, our restless hearts that pant for the presence of God like a deer for water, are sated by the cool refreshment of seeing, hearing, and knowing Jesus in all of Scripture, beginning to end. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are a home for the people of God.

Second, we know and share Christ by sharing our burdens with one another. John the Baptist got a lot right in his simple confession, "I am not the Christ." When we share our struggles, doubts, fears, and general human heavies with friends in faith, we confess the same. We each have a ministry of disappointment. In the shadow of the cross, the light of Jesus singularly shines. We are free not to judge ourselves or others. Neither is it on ourselves to conjure a dosing of grace. In the presence of Jesus and saints in the Holy Spirit, grace is drunk from an overflowing cup and it tastes like heaven! This is the blood of Christ. Take and drink. There is no grace without weakness.

Lastly, we make ourselves at home in Christ by praying for and with each other. Prayer is one of the best ways we learn to think God's thoughts after him. Prayer, alongside reading scripture and confessing, subjects our thoughts, imaginations, and feelings about scripture and the burdens of others to God. In the fullness of his person, God alone presides over all things with is authority, control, and presence. Having our hearts washed with the water of the word and after hearing the burdens of others, the Spirit teaches us how to pray and what to pray. God speaks, others speak, we speak. The active surrender of prayer trains us in the waiting and watching for God to act. We learn from Him how to be slow to anger and abounding in (quick to) love and faithfulness. Jesus had no earthly home during his ministry and yet, even in the desert for forty days, he was at home in prayer. He prays for us now and the Spirit also intercedes with groans too deep for words.

In conclusion, we experience all these things in small groups, and are reminded that we are not fully at home in this world-age. We belong to another world altogether where, we can be assured that we will be welcomed because our Lord Jesus has gone on ahead. In Christ, our truest home, the rest for our souls and the longed for lodging for a new body is with/in God. We belong now and finally to Father, Son, and Spirit. Therefore our relationship to this world is fundamentally one of an "I" not in relation to an "It" but a "You." Our "I You" relationship to God precipitates and necessitates that we make every effort to know our local faith family. Anyone who would have God as their Father must have the church as their mother. Communion with God is communion with the body of Christ.

- Isaac Banegas