As I wrote about back in November, my church is going through a significant transition. While I seriously thought we wouldn’t continue on, a few members have really kept things afloat. During the time we’ve been looking for a pastor, we’ve had a series of guest speakers. Because our usual organizer, Jan, was going to be at her husband’s high school reunion last Sunday, she asked me to organize the service. Here’s the sermon I gave, based on the passages Acts 4:32-35 and Romans 12:14-16.
Finding true community is rare. Finding true Christian community is even rarer.
I found true Christian community in college, when I broke bread in the cafeteria with my friends and my hall mates of different denominations gathered on Sunday evening fouir prayers.
I found it in rural Maine, when Chris and I lived on a cooperative farm. We gathered each morning for bagels and to recite St. Francis’ prayer before serving those who suffer most.
But those were unusual circumstances. Those supposedly aren’t situations that you can find in ordinary “adult” life.
In fact, an otherwise wise person – a priest – told me I wasn’t going to find a church like those places.
And yet I have – here.
So what do these places have in common? What makes for amazing Christian community?
Sociologist Brene Brown calls it wholeheartedness. We call it radical welcome.
We can find the two common characteristic in these passages: the willingness of people to be vulnerable and unconditionally support each other in their faith and life journeys.
As Brown defines it, vulnerability is showing up and letting ourselves be seen for who we really are. As the Acts passage says, “They shared everything they had.” While the passage is talking about material goods, I think it also refers to emotional burdens, struggles, and joys. The same types of things we discuss in prayers of the people each week.
Unconditional support is also called “holding space” in therapeutic and pallatative care. A while ago, Rev. Deb Vaughn, who many of you know, shared an article on Facebook about holding space. It says it is being “willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome.”
As the passage from Romans says, they mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. People in true community don’t try to make the mourners rejoice or the rejoicers feel guilty for their joy.
As it says in the song, Christians should guard each person’s dignity and protect their pride.
They meet and support each other where they are, right now.
The presence of these characteristics are a sign of people who believe they and all of their neighbors are worthy of love. They model their behavior and attitudes after God’s own. Despite the darkness, they take seriously God’s declaration that “It is good.”
Without a doubt, I have seen that sense of community here at Church in Bethesda.
Here, we have members who have shared their deepest struggles with us.
We’ve heard about everything from beloved family members dying to fighting against alcoholism.
We feel free to speak about our faith traditions without scorn or disrespect.
We celebrate each others’ triumphs, from birthdays to graduations.
We’ve provided food to those who wouldn’t have it otherwise. This is not only through our homeless lunch program, but fellowship after church. We’ve even stepped up to purchase a car for a member who needed it.
Personally, I have been deeply touched by your support. In so many ways, I know this church loves our family.
Many of you don’t know this, but last spring, I had a miscarriage at 10 weeks. I hardly told anyone because it was an extremely private grief. Then, right around the same time in my next pregnancy, I had some very scary bleeding.
Even though I didn’t share either of these concerns, I knew that I could if I needed to. I knew this was a safe place. Your hope helped our family through a tough time last year without you even knowing it.
And I’m far from the only one. Each person sitting in this congregation has benefitted in some way from the deep love of this community.
In fact, the community extends beyond these doors.
As long-time members know, we have many, many members who have moved away from the region due to the DC area’s transitory nature.
But so many of these people still talk about the impact this community had on them. Some even still give money to support us!
And our visitors see it in us. Last summer, we had a Muslim family not only attend our service but stay afterwards for a picnic. They felt safe and welcomed here.
Our love carries on far greater than we can see right now.
But like any relationship, community building is a job that never ends.
We are called to continually be vulnerable, opening our hearts and lives to each other.
We are called to continually show radical welcome and unconditional support to every person who walks through these blue doors. These blue doors that symbolize sanctuary, just like the place we are in right now.
We are called to be God’s love made manifest in the world through our hearts, our lips and our hands.
And I believe we can fulfill that call every day.