Brothers and Sisters:
We are celebrating our 47th year as a community this month! In August 1974 the Lebeaus, Jones’ and Fr Larkin sign the first limited covenant for People of Joy - the Arizona predecessor of City of the Lord. Let us all rejoice in the Lord’s faithfulness to us as he has sustained us as a people through many trials and joys throughout the years. One thing is for certain; the world is a very different place now than it was in 1974!
I would say the biggest change in our world since 1974 is the rise of the so called “information age”. I was a freshman in high school in 1974. I graduated from Arizona State University in 1982 with a Bachelor of Architecture degree and never used a computer once for my schoolwork all the way through college! In fact, the first IBM PC came to market later in 1982 - a very basic Green screen that looked like something from the 1950’s. I had no cad programs to draw with (paper and pencil only), no word processor to write papers (Smith corona manual typewriter from 1952), no digital photography (film only) and certainly no internet. How did we do it? Portable Cell phones were still a few years away. My first cell phone was a Motorolla “brick” (remember those?) in 1988. I was a couple years into my architectural practice and my partner and I each got one. Man were we cool.
I joined the People of Joy in March 1982 shortly after I was baptized in the Spirit at a Lenten College Branch retreat mass at the community center. The Spirit fell upon me as I received communion and my mind was opened to the love and the reality of God. The morning of that Sunday, I had no intention of joining this “fringe” group, and I hoped to talk my girlfriend, Pam Douglas out of the group as well. The Holy Spirit had different plans for me. The way the Spirit was moving in those early days of the Community and around the world gave me the feeling of being swept forward in a wave of grace - similar to how to feel when you are in the ocean; you are propelled forward toward by a tremendous force toward the beach- even if you aren’t a very good swimmer- you move with the strength of the wave! Those days were in fact a time of transition from a marginally Christian secular culture to a full blown hostile environment to the things of God and His church that we see today.
Similar to the early church living in the midst of a pagan Roman culture, we are now faced with a generation that not only doesn’t consider God relevant and is openly hostile to the idea of religion, but only knows the name of Jesus as a curse word. There is great division and confusion in the Church. Established norms of gender, marriage, family and what it means to be human are all under the most intense attack that any of us have witnessed. The so called “Information age” that was intended to free us by making us more efficient with our work and make us all smarter, has in many ways enslaved, dumbed down and isolated a generation. Technology that was supposed to connect us more, has done the opposite and isolated us and made many historical human interactions unnecessary. Sitting at a cafe with another person chatting, getting to know one another is now prefaced by a search of their online social media profile and a lengthy dialogue by text message. If a meeting happens, what is there to talk about? I already know everything about you! Why bother getting together?
The enemy knows that if he can confuse identity and isolate people from one another he has won. Our baptismal identity as beloved sons and daughter of a loving Father is meant to be our primary identity. God has called us to live this baptismal identity in communion with other believers. One thing the pandemic has showed us, is that people need other people. The drug overdoses suicides and other social ills that are widely reported are very often the fruit of isolation and loneliness. Life without God is meaningless.
OK, So far this letter is pretty heavy. Lots of dark clouds and headwinds blowing against us from the world the flesh and the enemy. But here is some good news:
1 Peter 1:13:
Therefore, gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
The idea expressed by the phrase ”Gird up your minds” Is taken from military language where you prepare your attire for a battle. Brothers and sisters- the battle is in many ways in the mind. We are all familiar with the scripture:
“Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free.. So, it isn’t the truth that sets you free on its own, but the knowledge of the truth. The Greek word used for “Know” is “Ginosko” One of the meanings attributed to this word is “to know carnally”; in other words, very intimately as between a husband and wife. Mary used this word “know” to the angel when he said she would conceive Jesus and she replied she did not “know”(Ginosko) man. So my point is that the truth cannot be a concept or a set of teachings. It has to be lived and experienced. Our culture, and many of our brethren in the church have not experienced the truth of Jesus as Lord, or the truth of living in communion with others. They have heard the truth, but have not consummated the truth in their minds and hearts to the level of “knowing”. There is a difference between having heard about the marital embrace, and experiencing it in reality. I believe that idea of “knowing” the lordship of Jesus through the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a primary reason we are here together as a covenant community 47 years later. We have a “soul tie” so to speak with the Lord because he has become intimately “known” to us and consequently drew us together in communion with each other. We absolutely cannot take this for granted!
The “information age” promises that we can have thousands of friends, experience love and intimacy sitting in front of a computer screen, and live in a “virtual” community. Just like every other promise rooted in the enemy, it is another lie, a forgery, a counterfeit of God’s true desire. Brothers and sisters, this is our mission- to witness to the Love of God that we have experienced through the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and to call others to live out that experience with us in community, as a witness to the world of the life of Heaven.
We have several new members joining our community this weekend as “Formation members” which is the new name of our initial membership level. These new members have had the experience of “knowing” the Lord and have a great hunger to live that experience together with us in community. My prayer is that our community will continue to grow so that we can reach more people with the good news of “knowing” the Lord Jesus and the grace he brings. This is the only solution to the decline of our civilization. There is no other solution. Remember Peter’s words:
“Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
There is hope and grace when we reveal Jesus Christ to a world that does not know Him. Lord give us all a great Hunger for this mission, and great gratitude for what you have done for each of us individually and as a people called City of the Lord!