| Community And The Holy Spirit
Editor’s note: Last fall, one of her pastors at First United Methodist Church, Birmingham, Mich., invited Alexa Frye to preach about her experiences at the 2004 Duke Youth Academy for Spiritual Formation.
“At that time I was reading a chapter of Romans nightly,” said Alexa, a high school senior. “Every time I read Romans 12, God spoke to me more and more about my experience at Duke, and at that point I knew that the theme of the sermon was meant to be community.” The following excerpt is from that sermon on Sept. 21, 2004.
Someone once taught me that a Christian community is like steaming-hot coals. Keep them together, and they will keep each other warm and generate heat. If one coal is taken away, it loses the support of the other coals and quickly becomes cold and useless. Not only does this solitary coal suffer, but the rest of the coals lose an important component, and they, too, are unable to generate as much heat as they once could.
I could grasp the whole hot coal, cold coal community idea. I have a supportive family community at home, a fun and loving community with my close friends, and an embracing community here at First United Methodist. Although I was content in each one of these communities . . . I found myself longing for the beautiful, almost magical component that appeared evident in Christian communities I read about in the Scriptures and heard about on Sundays.
Over the two weeks I spent at Duke I learned that what my communities lacked—and what the Duke community provided—was the beautiful presence of the Holy Spirit.
Now you’re probably thinking, this girl went to Duke University for two weeks and all she got out of the experience was the realization that the Holy Spirit is a beautiful component of community?
And my answer to that ... is yes. For the first time in my walk in Christianity, I didn’t just experience the Spirit, I lived in it. What I experienced at Duke was nothing Duke provided. It was something we allowed Jesus to create in our midst.
One night during the first week, I looked around the commons room and realized that one of my new found friends, Matt, wasn’t there. My spirits lightened when I saw him heading my way, but I quickly realized that something was very wrong. He had just gotten a call from his mom telling him about the death of a friend.
Not knowing what to say, I hugged him and let him know that I’d be praying and was there if he needed to talk. With that, we left for our own rooms. I couldn’t help but thank God that night for allowing me to be there for Matt.
When our community learned of his loss, we were able to come together as a support group for him and the others who suffered similar losses. Prayer was constant throughout the week. We kept our hearts open. Matt felt so much love and support that he decided to stay at Duke instead of returning home to the comfort of his family and friends. Jesus taught us how to provide the love and support Matt needed, and it was in our community that he could cope with his loss. Jesus really showed us how to “rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, and persevere in prayer.”
The Spirit was in the attitude each youth adopted towards service work; although we all came from different financial worlds, we did not “lag in zeal, but were ardent in the spirit and served the Lord.” Despite our differences, we were able to “Contribute to the needs of Saints; and extend hospitality to strangers.”
If it had not been for my fellow youths’ ability to learn to “not be haughty, but give yourselves humble tasks, do not claim to be wiser than you are,” I wouldn’t have had the benefit of late night talks that have had a huge impact on my perception of the world and ultimate understanding of who Jesus Christ is.
Despite our different denominations, upbringings and values, we found a way to “live in harmony with one another.” I still experience this community in weekly calls from many of my fellow youth, just calling to check in.
After two weeks, it was time to leave the mountain. At home I began to notice where the Spirit was lacking in each of my communities. I also began to notice all of the places where the Spirit was at work.
I realized that this beautiful idea of community isn’t impossible or even unreasonable here at home, because at Duke I experienced Jesus in the atmosphere, the hugs, the tears, the attitudes, the talks, and the love. I realized that all of these things are attainable at home, too.
Our church is a Christian community—it just happens to be a community of 3,000 people. In such a big church, it’s easy to lose sight of this Spirit. So my challenge for myself, and for you, is to let the living God we serve into this community every chance we get, and to strive for the beauty a community of God can experience.
Be aware of the needs of the community. We live in a culture that tries to break this sort of community apart, and we can’t dance around the issues we all know are there. Let’s confront the problems of teen sex, drug and alcohol abuse, divorce, the demand for financial success, time management, the unrealistic expectations set in the workforce. The list of problems we all face every day is unending. It could do a lot of good to discuss these things and provide support—instead of pretending the problems aren’t there.
If we continue down this path together, who knows where the Lord will take us? If we keep our eyes and hearts open to His Spirit, our community will continue to grow, and when we hear about communities in the Scriptures, we won’t have to wonder about the extra bit of beauty, because we’ll be living it.
At Duke, I got a true glimpse of what heaven must be and how it really feels to be a part of the hot coals. It’s this feeling that restored my faith in God and prepares my heart to serve the Lord. Remember, we serve a living God, and if we just let God into our lives and communities, we’ll find that heaven really can be here on earth.
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