Oh, how good it is to be back with you! Wayne Muller, author of the book, Sabbath, says “the Sabbath rocks us and holds us until we can remember who we are.” The time away–for a retreat with Women Touched by Grace and vacation–was that kind of Sabbath for me. I am deeply grateful for that time. Thank you. I’m also deeply grateful to be back with you.
I’m grateful, too, to be part of a community with so many gifted preachers. Many thanks to Kirstin, Brenda, and Dorri for preaching these past three Sundays. And to Andrew for planning for his absence when his grandmother died. I haven’t had a chance yet to watch the services, but I look forward to doing that soon.
On my travels, I saw some things…like TONS of RVs! Have you signed up for the RV retreat? September 10 – 12! Traveling I-40, I saw another thing, a sign posted high up a telephone pole: “Jesus saves.” Below that was another sign that read: “Money with Geico.” Jesus got a deal. Cool!
Also on my trip, I saw faces of friends I hadn’t seen in years–songwriting buddies, sisters at the monastery, some of my Women Touched by Grace clergywomen friends. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we human beings are resilient. The world throws nasty things at us and we find ways to deal with them. In the last year and a half, we’ve demonstrated some of that resilience in our efforts to stay connected, but still…being with people who love us, who remind us, by their very presence, who we are…doing without that has been hard.
Being at the monastery again, I was reminded of a central tenet of Benedictin spirituality: community–creating it with members in one’s order and then extending it to others.
It took me a while to get the Benedictine practice of community. At the beginning of Women Touched by Grace, I opted out of community activities once or twice. Seeing Sr. Luke’s face after those events let me know I’d made the wrong choice. For Benedictines, community events are community events. There are plenty of times for solitude and contemplation, but being part of a community means showing up for community events.
In addition to the commitment to community, Benedictines also take a vow of stability (which happens to be my star word for the year!). Taking a vow of stability means you commit yourself to the community no matter what… When things get hard, the vow of stability calls us to work through the hard things, to do whatever we can to act the community into wellbeing. What the vow of stability does NOT permit is leaving the community at the first hint of trouble.
If you think about it, a commitment to community without a vow of stability doesn’t make sense, does it? If members of a community don’t commit to sticking with it, even in the hard times, it won’t be possible to create a community that’s deep and authentic.
In an opinion piece titled, “What If Humans Just Can’t Get Along Anymore?” author Farhad Manjoo notes that, from the beginning, “human history has been a story about cooperation.” He writes: “Reluctantly, violently, often after exhausting every other possibility, people keep stumbling toward one another to get pretty much everything done. From the family to the village to the city, nation-state and global mega-corporation, cooperation and coordination among groups of increasing size and complexity is, for better or worse, how we all got to now.”
But now, Manjoo wonders if we as a species have lost our ability to coordinate “our actions at a scale necessary to address the most dire problems we face.” Have we gone so far down the rabbit hole of individualism and protectionism that we’ve lost our ability to work together, especially with issues like the pandemic and climate change?
I’m an optimist. I believe humanity still has the capacity and the desire to cooperate and address existential threats to our common life as Earthlings. I also believe that the only way we’ll fulfill our cooperative potential is for us to become more skilled at practicing community.
That’s where we as a faith community come in. The biggest gift we have to offer to the world is the gift of community. When a community’s members practice community with each other, when they extend hospitality to guests, that gift of community, of connection, of cooperation, ripples out to the wider community. I am convinced that as we here at First Congregational become more skilled at practicing community it. Will. Change. The world.
At one of our congregational conversations recently, I was surprised to hear someone ask, “Where in the Bible does it explain how to work out conflicts?” In my time as your pastor, that might be the first time I’ve ever heard those words, “Where in the Bible does it say…” I was surprised again when someone pulled out their Bible and read Mt. 18:15-20. Here’s what it says.
If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on Earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on Earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on Earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Abba in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.
I’ve always loved that part about “where two or three are gathered…” Until recently, I’d forgotten everything that came before it! Yes. God will be in the midst of us when we gather in God’s name, but that doesn’t mean everything will be easy. In fact, it’s going to take some work to create a space where we’re able to recognize God’s presence with us.
Most of the letters in the New Testament could be described as primers on how to practice community. When the movement’s leaders–Paul and others–get word that conflicts have cropped up in churches they’ve started, they write back to the churches reminding their members of the basics of community life…basics like, “be kind to one another.”
Why the emphasis on practicing community well? Think about it. How will we share the good news of God’s love with the world if we’re mired in conflict? How will we work for justice if we’re aren’t acting justly toward each other? How can we act the world into wellbeing if we aren’t acting each other into wellbeing? In these letters, Paul and others seem to be saying that the work we do outside this community is directly connected to the work we do inside the community. It’s also a given that practicing community skillfully takes work.
Some passages of Scripture need explaining or illuminating. (Thank goodness they do! If they didn’t, I’d be out of a job.) Other Scriptures speak for themselves. Today’s passage from Ephesians does that. I offer these words to our community today…as we seek to become more skilled at practicing community, as we continue extending hospitality to others, as we continue acting the world into wellbeing, may we take these words in, hear them, feel them, live them.
A reading from Ephesians.
So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us.
We are members of one another. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Live in love. Do these things and we’ll be able to recognize God’s presence every time we gather. Do these things and our community will increase in strength and authenticity. Do these things and we will change the world.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2021