There is an advertisement on TV that drives me nuts. It’s for a company called My Budget and, at the end, the young management director says My Budget are experts at… blah, blah. That’s like saying the church are…; unless she says the staff at My Budget are experts, surely My Budget is a singular company and therefore should be My Budget is expert at…likewise surely is should be the church is…
OK, so I’m a bit of a grammar Nazi.
One of the difficulties we have in English is that we do not make a distinction between the singular and plural second person pronoun, ‘you’. I know some of you learned grammar when you were at school, so for those who didn’t, let me teach you something of what I learnt about English studying biblical Greek.
Singular personal pronoun, first person, ‘I’, second person, ‘you’, third person, ‘he’ or ‘she’. Plural personal pronoun, first person, ‘we’, second person, ‘you’, and third person, ‘them’. So whether we are speaking to a single person, or a group of people, there is no distinction in English, it is ‘you’ or both. Except, of course, you are in some parts of the country when we hear ‘yous’, although that is often used for the singular as well, or in parts of the US, ‘y’all’ or, as someone jokingly said, if there are a lot of people, ‘y’all, y’all’.
In the biblical Greek, however, the distinction is clear. You can know if it is the second person singular or the second person plural. The difficulty, even in the biblical Greek, though, is sometimes the word translated as you is distinct, other times it is expressed in the thing that ‘you’ is, or are, doing. This is the case in the question Jesus asks of those two disciples of John who would become his disciples, ‘What are you looking for?’ Also translated, ‘What are you seeking?’ And, perhaps, ‘What do you want to know?’ It’s the end bit of looking in the Greek that tells us that he has addressed the question to plural ‘you’.
Jesus does not ask this question individually of each of John’s disciples, he asks them, as a pair, and they respond together, albeit curiously, ‘Where are you staying?’ I’m not going to spend any time on their answer to Jesus’ question, rather on Jesus’ question, ‘What are you looking for?’
In biblical study of the New Testament it can be of great importance regarding this distinction between the singular you and the plural you. It would be a great burden for an individual to be expected to fulfil a command from Jesus that was intended for the community of believers, the church, to fulfil.
I can’t give you a comparison of the occurrences between the singular and plural ‘you’ in the New Testament. However, I can tell you that, in general, the New Testament is in the plural. The New Testament is about the collective, not individuals.
One of my jobs, if not the only real task I have in this work of leading a church, is to help you answer the question, ‘What are you looking for?’ It is, however, not a question to be asked approximately 75 times for each individual member, although that may be a question in the role of spiritual director to all who seek me for that purpose. As leader of this church, however, it is a question that I ask once of the corporate nature of the church.
But it seems to me that the question to the corporate identity, the community of faith, cannot be put until it can put aside the individualistic, singular ‘you’, which is rampant in our culture and alien to the idea portrayed in the New Testament.
We must acknowledge that there is a danger when an individual person does not, or cannot, have an identity, opinions, ideas, which are unique to the rest of the community to which they belong. I suspect this lack of individual expression is where radicalism has its origins and we find Christian cults and radical Islam. Likewise, there is, I think, also a danger when there is a demand for acceptance of each and everyone’s perceived needs, ideas and opinions. Perhaps this is where community begins to break down. There is also a danger when the leader of an organisation or a church imposes, or even requires, fulfilment of their needs, ideas and opinions by the members. This is the true defining nature of cults.
Which brings me to the point of all this. How do we move forward in expressing this idea of being ‘we’, not ‘me’, of being ‘us’, not ‘I’, of being a community, not a gathering of individuals, and of the place of leadership within a community? How do we get past ‘this is not what I want’ to ‘this is what we want and can you take us there’? How do we work out how to acknowledge individuality within the community and still have a common unity?
For this provides us with how to get to the answer to the question, ‘What are you looking for?’
It seemed quite clear to me that about 15 years ago when we sat down to ask that very question, your answer was not ‘Where are you staying?’ That might have been a good question to ask me as leader, I don’t believe that there can be good leadership if the leader isn’t going to stay for very long.
Your answers then pointed to the idea of being a Christian community that was not exclusive to anyone. From those answers the Vestry of the time constructed the vision statement, ‘To Grow a Christian Community for All’. That vision statement has been the benchmark for my leadership of you toward its fulfilment.
The biggest obstacle for modern disciples to this question, ‘What are you looking for?’ is not to share the answer of those ancient disciples, it unfortunately seems, ‘Where are we staying?’ Leaving frustration for the leader of the community of faith who is trying to lead into the vision the community has identified. It is clear that Jesus’ answer to their question was an invitation into journey not arrival. To be a disciple of Jesus is to be where Jesus is and for us modern Christians that continues to be a process of looking for; seeking.
The question for us during this Sabbath month is how well are working at being the plural you and what are we going to commit ourselves to this year in order that we may grow into that and what are we going to do in order that we can continue to grow a Christian community for all.