22 Pentecost - Proper 23
October 12, 2008
The Rev. Kristine Hill
|667 Mount Road, Aston, PA 19014 610-459-2013
|Small Parish - Big Heart
The little church you've been looking for!
All are welcome!
To serve the
To grow the
|The Rev. Kristine Hill, Interim Rector
I heard a discussion on the radio while I was driving to Calvary last week. I had
been flipping through the channels and this topic caught me by surprise, so I
stayed there and listened for a few moments. The question posed was whether or
not it really does “take a village to raise a child,” and the question was asked
based on this incident. In a fast food restaurant a 16 year old girl had “sassed”
a grown man. The man took offense and hit her in the face to teach her some
manners. Listeners to the radio program were asked to call-in and give their
opinion regarding this man’s response to the young lady’s disrespectful behavior.
Was his action justified, given the way she had spoken to him in public?
Personally, I was surprised to hear that example used to discuss the idea of
whether it takes a village to raise a child. It’s a good topic, but in the given
incident the man’s reaction seemed extreme. One caller to the radio-show said
that the man could have responded in an appropriate way, but that hitting the girl
was out of line.
After I changed stations I found myself wondering about that whole topic. It
does take a village to raise children, and frankly I admire communities where
adults know young people in the neighborhood well enough to say something if
they see a young person getting-into-trouble or behaving badly, and where
parents generally support such intervention. It makes a better neighborhood for
everyone. But in order for people to do that, there has to be a village to work
from. And a village is a specific thing; it is not simply a collection of people who
happen to live in close proximity to each other. It isn’t just the people you see
on occasion at the bank and the grocery store. Regular interaction on a barely
personal level does not make-of-people a village, a community. I kept thinking, if
that man in the fast food store had known the girl’s family - her mom and dad, or
her uncles, her grandparents, would he have responded by hitting her?
In order for people to be a village, a community -- or for that matter, a
congregation -- a certain relatedness is required, a particular kind of
interconnectedness, a specific way of “being with” each other. It takes a “village”
or a “congregation” to raise children, to step in and give comfort when someone
loses a job, to tend the elderly in their last days. Simply living in the midst of
“people” doesn’t cut it. What if those people do not know each other so as to
have been touched by what is beautiful in the other, to have developed patience
with what is difficult in the other? If the people around you are strangers – to
each other and to you – how can they watch your children, give you
encouragement when you’re unemployed, tend your aging parents? It takes a
village, and a village has distinct characteristics -- there is familiarity, even
intimacy. People know each other -- for good and for bad: knowing each other to
care and knowing each other’s business -- but, at least you’re not a stranger. In a
village people notice who is missing, who is hurting, who is celebrating -- and
they respond. In a village, when hard times come, people lean on each other --
share what they have, pool their resources, talk with each other to ease the
worry, band together and assist those who are struggling most.
So is life in a congregation. When we were baptized into Jesus we were
intended to live as part of the community-of-believers - the Body of Christ, the
Church. Christians are not meant to live merely individual lives as followers of
Jesus; we’re in this together, to learn from each other, to care for each other, to
work alongside each other in the one ministry of our Lord. It’s too hard to go it
alone in this world. It isn’t possible to be a Christian without other Christians.
Despite the fact that we get annoyed with each other at times, no matter that
‘this’ or ‘that’ person in the church family rubs us the wrong way… still, we
cannot be God’s-people-in-Jesus-Christ without each other. We were baptized, not
to be “lone ranger” Christians, but to live and grow in a “village” -- in a
community of believers, in a congregation.
With these readings we’ve had from Philippians the last several weeks, I’ve been
tempted to refer to the Apostle as “Uncle Paul.” It’s his manner of addressing the
church at Philippi – and consequently the rest of us who get to read this letter
in later years – that makes him feel like “uncle.” Paul speaks with deep affection
for the community of Christians in Philippi. His care is not just for them as
individuals but as a people who worship and serve the Lord together. Paul
addresses them like a kindly uncle, steering them toward unity, urging them to
see beyond their conflicts, praising them for their legacy of faithfulness and
devotion to the Lord. This letter must have fallen into their hands like a blessing
from God, easing their hurts, giving them courage, bringing the people of the
Philippian church together again in common cause.
Let’s imagine Paul has addressed this letter specifically to us, to Calvary Church.
He knows our recent struggles -- the loss of our dear rector, Father Bob, and all
the things that accompany such a loss -- some members drift away, there’s a
decrease in worship attendance, giving declines, the questions about when we’ll
find a new rector and what direction our parish will take. It is unsettling to go
through the change from one rector to another. At the same time, our country is
undergoing significant change. We are in the midst of a presidential election;
one way or another, will have a new president come January 20th, 2009. On top
of that, the financial crisis has now spread beyond the borders of our nation. Last
week we heard about banks closing in Europe, the nation of Iceland needing an
emergency loan to avoid bankruptcy, and stock markets continuing to plunge. Our
nerves are on edge as a whole society. Here at Calvary we wonder what the
future will bring. In the meantime, we are a community, a congregation that
needs and wants to maintain a healthy way of interacting so our life together can
be sound and open, both stable and ready to grow.
Aware of all that, uncle Paul speaks to us saying, “my brothers and sisters whom
I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord (as I have shown
you).” This address is not simply for one or two people Paul knows here; it is
not made because Paul is especially fond of Tom or Bill or Jane; this address is
made to “Calvary Church” as a whole; that is where Paul’s concern lies. He
urges Eudora and Sydney, or Janet and Gloria, or … put in whichever names you
think of -- any two people who are at odds in the congregation -- uncle Paul
loves them both and urges them to be of the same mind in the Lord. They don’t
have to agree on decorating the undercroft for Christmas or who to vote for in
the general election, but in the life and work of the congregation they need to
“have the same mind in the Lord,” for the good of the church. Paul loves this
congregation and does not want to see it harmed by our jealousies and
disagreements, by our hurt feelings or personal dislikes. Paul calls on us, also, to
help Euodia and Syntyche put aside their differences and work together in the
Lord, for the sake of the Body of Christ here at Calvary.
This is practical stuff, not very romantic, maybe not inspiring -- but Paul knows
this has to be accomplished before any spiritual work can be undertaken. We
must be a well-functioning body of people if we are to give comfort, hope,
encouragement, if we are to share life-in-Christ with the world around us. But
now, having brought us together as a unified congregation, Paul begins the
spiritual work, telling us to rejoice; at all times, in all things, rejoice. We
don’t know where our congregation will be in 6 months.. in a year, who our
rector will be, what our ministry will look like. We do not know who will be
president, whether the economy will hold up, or if we will be living through a
major recession. Doesn’t matter, Paul says. “Rejoice in the Lord, always; again I
will say, Rejoice!” We rejoice not based on how the world is but because of
who we are; we are a community of people rooted in Jesus Christ, embraced by
God’s mercy and care through Jesus. We rejoice because we live in Jesus.
Even so, rejoicing at all times and in all situations does not come naturally to us.
If you’re like me, it is more natural to notice what is wrong in most situations and
then complain about it. But Paul is calling us to live as “church” - as the Body of
Christ. We are not people who simply happen to show up here on Sunday
mornings at 8 and 10 o’clock. We are a ‘village;’ we share a certain relatedness to
each other through baptism. Because we live in the gracious, plentiful love of
God in Christ, we can rejoice every day, regardless what shape the world is in.
We are able to do this, not because life is perfect, and not because our
congregation is perfect, but because we know Jesus – the Lord of life, the one
who saves – we have Jesus with us, and Jesus has us as his beloved friends.
Yes, we have questions about the future, and yes, the world is in turmoil. But
Paul reminds us: “The Lord is near.” Turmoil? Questions? Upheaval? -- we will
face and live through them together, as a faithful community, with Jesus at our
side. With great confidence, first in God but also in us, Paul says: “Do not worry
about anything,” simply let your needs be known to God in prayer, and the peace
that surpasses understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ
Jesus. It is that simple, really. Though the world looks uncertain, and we don’t
just what Calvary’s future holds, still we are held in God’s loving care. What we
need will be provided us by our gracious Lord. And we will be sent to provide
others with hope, with faith, with life in Jesus’ name.
We are one body in Christ; no disagreements, no difficulties with one another can
change that. None of us can live as a follower of Jesus alone, but only in our
“village,” amongst our “people,” here in the congregation, where we are known,
where we both give and receive. Together we embody our Savior - his love, his
work, and his caring - to our neighbors and to the world. There is much to
worry about -- today and tomorrow -- and yet worries are no match for the peace
we have from God. The uncertainties in our life are real, but more real still is
God’s presence, is the power of Jesus Christ to save. We open our hearts to
God, set our concerns before God in prayer, and God’s all-consuming peace
settles over us, guarding our hearts and our minds. This is how we face the
future -- together, sharing one mind in Christ, entrusting ourselves to God and to
each other in Jesus’ name. amen.