Do you remember the United States Army recruiting slogan, Army of One? If not, don’t feel bad—it wasn’t around too long. For those of you who don’t remember, it replaced the quite well known, Be all that you can be, motto that attracted young people into the service for two decades. Supposedly the marketing strategy behind Army of One was to promote a classless (one) army as opposed to an army of officers, NCO’s, and enlisted men and women. The problem was it wasn’t perceived that way. It left the impression to many of individualism or even worse, that soldiers would be expected to go it alone. Neither idea was appealing so Army of One was replaced by Army Strong.
I remember hearing a story few years ago on an NPR station about a different kind of community. The piece told about Dr. Allen Ward and his book, The Rhubarb Club. It seemed that Ward had a fondness for rhubarb pie. He found out that one of the supporters of the retreat center he was connected to was also partial to the dessert that is much easier to obtain in the North than in the South. He left his phone number with the chef at the retreat center with the instructions that he was to call whenever the man requested the pie so he wouldn’t miss out on whatever was left over. A couple of other people found out what he was doing and requested that their names be put down as well. One thing led to another and The Rhubarb Club now has an informal membership of close to five hundred people.
There are no dues to pay, or committees to sit on. For those so inclined, they do have an anthem, a motto, a logo, and a secret handshake. What they really have to offer is a meeting every couple of months where people come together and enjoy some food and companionship. Ward says, “Ultimately it’s a community coming together, whose friendship, and cohesion develops around something as ridiculous as rhubarb.”
What do a failed slogan and rhubarb have in common? They both have something to do with community. The slogan failed because an all important aspect of the military is the concept of community. The Rhubarb Club prospered not so much because of rhubarb (there are members who don’t even like it), but because it promotes community.
We are born into community and when we don’t have it we don’t function well. Almost every one of the top ten stressors on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale has to do in some way with the loss of community.
The early chapters of Genesis have much to say about community. The inspired record has scarcely started when we read that “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). While this statement points primarily towards the marriage relationship, it also expresses the larger truth that God made us for relationships. We are social beings.
Cain’s question (Am I my brother’s keeper?), was wrong because its intent was to separate what God has joined together. God created us for community and any attempt to deny that, be it in the form of Cain’s murder of Abel or our claims to self-sufficiency, are wrong. Indeed, God’s punishment of Abel was remedial. He was expelled from his community and made a restless wanderer to teach him (and others) the importance of brotherhood. Later in the Genesis account, a similar thing happens on a world-wide scale at the tower of Babel when the people are made to speak different languages and scattered out over the face of the earth. Sin always drives people apart.
It’s no surprise then that part of the good news is not just that men can be brought into a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ, but as a consequence of this, they can also be brought into genuine relationship with each other. At Pentecost, we see the sequel to Babel as people speaking different languages are brought together as one through Jesus Christ. The book of Acts continues this theme as Samaritans and Jews are brought together (Acts 8), then Gentiles and Jews (Acts 10). Paul will stress that Jew, Greek, male, female, free, and slave all find a home in the community of Christ. Community is the intent of God in both creation and re-creation through Christ. We were made by our Father for community and God is bringing people together today in the same way He did two thousand years ago—through the cross of Jesus.
The community of Christ helps us to be all that we can be.