On Wednesday I had the opportunity to hear Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, speak to a packed house here in Nashville about his new book, The Prodigal God. After giving an outline of the book, he spent the rest of his time showing how his thesis applied to community. After exhorting us towards honest community and away from comfortable religion – “Religiosity presents no opportunity for people to be sinners,” he read us from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – he said, “Most people haven’t been affirmed enough to be good repenters.” Put another way, all too often cries of judgement drown out the whispers of grace, and we respond by hiding our failures and forsaking the commandment to confess our sins to one another, an unavoidable facet of true community.
When talking about the garden of Eden, Keller said, “Nakedness is a term used in the Bible about a lack of ease we have with ourselves.”
There was one statement in particular Keller made that has stuck with me. In one of Frederick Buechner’s books, Buechner writes about a sermon that he “will always remember though I cannot be sure that is exactly the sermon he preached because of course it is the sermons we preach to ourselves around the preacher’s sermons that are the ones that we hear most powerfully.” The sermon that I was “preaching to myself” in between the lines of Keller’s sermon included a quote from Larry Crabb that a friend of mine, Tom Darnell, shared in a couple of sermons he preached last year: “The greatest lie believed today is that one can know God without being known by someone else.”
Connecting the sermon I was “preaching to myself” with Keller’s sermon was a passage he read us from C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves where Lewis explains why two is not the best number for friendship, because, “In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.” Keller then said, “If it takes a community to really know a human being, how much more does it take a community to know God?”
It seems everywhere I look these days I’m reminded of the soul-searing danger of avoiding community and my absolute helplessness on my own.