Community Building Sunday, shared reflections. (scroll down to see Karen’s remarks)
Click to hear audio – (NB first minute of recording is missing )
‘Written In my Flesh’ – Doug Norris
So, a few moments of Bible study for a bit of context, then some thoughts about living in community, and Karen will shortly complete the message.
When Jesus died, all of the smart money would have been on the complete evaporation of his movement. As had been the case in every similar movement the Romans had quelled over the years. Nip it in the bud, no flower, everyone goes home, and the empire is safe from dissent.
So what happened in the following months need not have happened, and it is mind-blowing to contemplate what the course of history might have looked like if that first embryonic community of Jesus-followers had not gathered. What western history would have looked like without the Catholic empire, art without Madonnas, music without the Kyrie and Sanctus…
Bruce McCleod – “If this congregation had never been here never been a gathering and a light on this corner for these 90- years, would this neighbourhood have sagged noticeably for lack of this love? I think so.”
A thought about the intensity of human community from Jean Vanier.
“My people are my community…. My people are those who ere written in my flesh, as I am in theirs. Whether we are near each other or far away, my brothers and sisters remain written within me, I carry them and they carry me.I know them, they know me…They are a springboard towards all humanity. I cannot be a universal brother or sister unless I first love my people…” (Jean Vanier)
It is possible that we are facing the most profound existential question of our age precisely on the playing field, and sometime it is the battlefield, of community. As the digital age separates and isolates us even while pretending to connect us, and as churches find our usual things losing traction, can there still be a profound and life-giving form of human community that will allow is to live better than our fears and as wisely as our elders and as hopeful as our combined dreams ?
What is at stake here is I think not simply the continued existence of a lovely congregation, but a form of light itself, and we can fight for it.
“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. “ (Rienhold Niebhur)
‘Loaded’ – Karen Bowles
As in all of the letters we have from Paul, he is writing to instruct a fledgling community seeking to follow Jesus. Today we hear a portion of a letter Paul wrote to such a community in Rome written some 60 years following the death of Jesus. Romans chapter 12, verses 3-8
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
This is the witness of the early Christian community.
I learned the meaning of binge watching recently when I watched all of a season of a British show called ‘Loaded’ on Netflix in one fell swoop. I can no longer be self righteous about screen consumption but I also quite enjoyed it. It was much like curling up with a good book come to life. It was entertaining. And it was a good exploration of community and friendship. It is the story of 4 young men who develop a video game and after many false starts and long hours creating and coding, they sell the game to big business for big bucks – hence the title ‘Loaded’. The ensuing episodes trace the story of how the money affects them both individually and as a community of friends. And each of the 4 is a type and fulfills a distinct function in the group based on their gifts: one is the creative addictive personality, one is the physically attractive front man – the one who understands high finance and does the schmoozing, one is the organizer, who plans and replans every move and the last is the one we could call the ‘nerd’ – the coder, the brilliant computer geek who is, as the stereotype goes, socially awkward.
Of course there are hijinks and there is drama. But in all of the episodes the through line is the common cause they share – the joy of building something together – in this case a video game – nothing too deep – after all it was television I was watching. And the title ‘Loaded’ takes on new meaning in the series – becomes something different than monetary gain – becomes firm friendship, having another’s back, living aware of the effect of one’s actions on others and – finally – living out of love in a community each doing the work they were meant to do, sharing their gift.
And what we do in this place – together – has a through line as well. It is written well in our call to worship. ‘Summoned by a call older than we know, we are gathered to be stronger together, wiser with shared histories, seeing more clearly with many eyes and able to do so much together than we could imagine alone, joined as a body of Christ.’
In this place and in the work we do, we can access, imagine and even create this kin-dom of God Jesus speaks of: in our worship and our prayer and our meditations, we experience a slice of the kin-dom, in our work as a community that follows the teachings of Jesus – we see the kin-dom in the reactions of those we serve and in one another – in our laying down of some of the ‘things the world gives’ – like being in competition with one another or the need to acquire – we uncover our connection to one another and to God. It becomes a joy to inspire and uplift another on the journey and we can grow enough spiritually, to no longer want or need to outdo or leap over another.
And this very practical primer of Paul’s from the first century on the forming and sustaining of a community begins with the very modern biological and cosmological fact that we are all connected, one to the other. ‘In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.’ There is comfort and wonder in such a realization. We are not alone. Here is an antidote to loneliness and a prod toward purpose. And second, Paul speaks of how to sustain such a community. Each has a gift he writes. Figure out what yours is, (and equally importantly, what yours isn’t,) and engage in it for the good of the whole, he writes. When we become self aware, when we become gift aware – able to let our own light shine – we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. And in this community formed to follow the ways of Jesus there is not only permission, but invitation and opportunity to discern, uncover, to share our gifts. And these gifts are many and varied and delightfully so.
God of relationship,
In Christ you called us to purposeful connection.
Our purpose in life is to be loved and love in return.
No better way to express this is to love our neighbour as ourselves.
In giving of ourselves we truly receive.
We find our gifts and calling as we use our strengths and skills to help those who need it from us.
In exercising compassion and understanding we find meaning and purpose.
And, yet, help us to remember,
That in letting others love us in the same way,
Through helping us in our need,
We help them find meaning and purpose as they use their strengths and skills.
So, draw us into this powerful communion of connection,
That in striving for the common good,
Sharing of our selves in community
We join you on the way always towards better things.
Therefore in hope and faith we pray.
We have each known the name of Jesus since childhood. Now many years since we first met him, perhaps we come to understand so much more than the name. To know this Jesus is to allow his teachings to reach into the core of our daily lives – to let his vision of the kingdom be the substance that guides how we live. Being part of a community seeking to love as Jesus did to know we are loved as Jesus knew he was, we find ourselves in the place just right, as we hear in the song we sing together: ‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight. We are indeed loaded!