Sermon For May 17, 2015 ~ “Celebrating Community”
Romans 12 ( http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=298857033 )
“Community: A Communion Of Unity”
Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Cleveland, Ohio ~ http://www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org
Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org
Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com
A video of this sermon can be found online at: https://youtu.be/gPtkc5ka-dY
How many of you have ever heard of the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory? It is a pretty standard questionnaire that seeks to determine a person’s basic psychological and social type. The first of the four scales that it references is whether or not someone is more of an introvert or an extrovert, whether they are more comfortable alone or in groups. I have taken the assessment several times and every single time I fall right in the middle, only a notch or two one way or the other. This feels so true to my own experience, for I am both an introvert and an extrovert... and everything in-between! To look at this positively, it means that I am as comfortable in a crowded community, addressing large assemblies, as I am in speaking with someone one-on-one or even in being completely alone with myself. I attribute any success I may have had as a pastor to this ability to balance these two worlds.
Of course, those of you who are astute will have figured out already that the opposite can sometimes be true: there are moments I am painfully uncomfortable in crowds and times when my skin crawls when I am alone. At my most brazenly honest moments, I see myself as a painfully shy introvert trapped in a chronically exposed extrovert’s life. But, thankfully, these have been few and far between, or at least I have been able to adapt to the dilemma in a socially acceptable way. When I have failed to manage this well, I ask your forgiveness.
And while both skill sets are helpful, and needed, in being a fully functioning pastor, it is the ability to be comfortable in, to nurture and sustain, and to promote community that I think is the more important ability in the 21st century, and an especially-needed trait in the Church. I say this for all those reasons social commentators and church pundits have been exploring and explaining ad naseum these last few decades, but also because I believe the ability to create and celebrate community is at the core of the Judeo-Christian faith and the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Commentators and pundits have pointed out that due to a variety of reasons, modern American/western civilization’s social skills have become less and less actualized and we have become a far more individualized culture. Robert Putnam’s ground-breaking social commentary from 1997, Bowling Alone: The Collapse And Revival Of American Community, highlighted how our human capital has become more and more focused on private good rather than public good, and how our sense of membership has become more focused on online philanthropy and cyber-activism and less on joining civic-minded groups and long-term participation in them. Added to this is the social media phenomenon where groups of friends, colleagues, even family members are focused, sometimes exclusively, on the small screen in front of them, seemingly to the exclusion of the people physically gathered around them, all the while connecting to others near and far via posts and tweets.
o one of the places where community is still in vogue, is still de riguer, is still common is church. Our faith communities are just that, communities, and while drive-in worship services and sermons posted on YouTube get some press, the idea of showing up to church remains the norm, and when we don’t do it there is still a sense of guilt, even if only passing. So my premise has been these last fourteen years of this congregation’s 173-year history, to focus on building community, nurturing community, sustaining community, and celebrating community. And these last five weeks I have tried to share with you how I have been doing that.
We first considered honoring diversity and focused on Isaiah 56:1-8. We then explored what it meant to liberate laughter, and used 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 as our guide. Next we focused on ensuring justice, and heard Jesus’ speech in the synagogue from Luke 4:14-30 as our own clarion call. Last week we discussed the need to nurture love, with Paul’s case for God’s love in Romans 8:31-39 central to the conversation. These four facets of healthy group life make it possible to truly celebrate community, and I have chosen my favorite scripture from when I began to be a part of the church community as a teenager, Romans 12, as my text today. Let me remind you a little of what I said in these past few weeks.
Creation is naturally diverse, and God was richly creative in the way in which humanity has been shaped. But given our human inclinations, we gravitate toward the familiar, the comfortable, and the easy – those just like us. This is not what God wants. Period. God created us diverse for a reason, because we learn and grow best when we are around those who are different from us. When we are reminded, cajoled, and invited to look out for those who are most different from us – even when we are accused of being “politically correct” by doing so – then we are better for it. Franklin Circle Christian Church was diverse when I arrived, but no one can deny that we are far more integrated and empowered as a diverse community today, in not only those who come to our programs and sit in our pews, but those who sit on our church boards and teams and those who envision our future.
Humor and laughter provide the lubrication and release valve (to create a weirdly mixed metaphor) for community life… but not just any humor and not just any laughter. Jesus made it quite clear that the foolishness in which God engages is never at the expense of someone else and always looks for the joy that can only come in building people up. Holy humor is humor that understands the true absurdity of life – where amoebas and giraffes, long division and black holes, Laverne and Shirley, Ponce de Leon, and Queen Latifa can all exist in the same universe. God-made-real-in-Jesus knew that if the divine being shouldn’t take her/him/itself too seriously, then we ought not to, either. Franklin Circle Christian Church is such an incredibly important and necessary community of faith, on the Near West Side of Cleveland, in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and in the warp and woof of humanity that we simply must laugh at ourselves and enjoy the ride!
And then there is justice, which just doesn’t happen, but must be ensured that it will happen. It takes hard work, sweat, and sometimes even tears to make sure that the compassion God had for humanity, the love Jesus had for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, is made real. We will be confident and unapologetic engaging in acts of charity and benevolence that cares for the least amongst us today, as we seek to empower people to be their own change agents and their own best advocates, AND as we seek to address the systemic causes of racism, poverty, ableism, disease, ageism, illiteracy, sexism, homophobia, and heterosexism. Franklin Circle Christian Church has long been on that arc of the moral universe focused on justice, but we must be vigilant lest we be torn apart by those who use false dichotomies and pit justice against compassion or advocacy against evangelism. We know that to do the will of God, follow Jesus, and build the Beloved Community requires doing justice AND loving kindness AND walking humbly with our God.
Fourthly, whatever we do, whether it be honoring diversity, liberating laughter, or ensuring justice… we must do it with love. Love is the very essence of God and is the ultimate charge Jesus has given to us, his followers. And this has been both the easiest task and the hardest challenge in this congregation. When one gathers folks together, particularly those who have been hurt by loved ones, disregarded by society, and ridiculed by the whims of the world, it is hard not to take out those injuries and offences on those closest to you, those who have opened their arms and hearts to you. But we cannot shoot the wounded! So communities like Franklin Circle Christian Church must love one another and the world around us all the more fully, passionately, even sacrificially. We must love those who are most unlovable, at least by the world’s standards, for that is what Jesus did. We must love humbly, knowing both the majesty of our place in creation and the minuteness of our place in the universe. Our love must be wrapped up with abundant forgiveness, of ourselves and one another, and we must ask for forgiveness as if our lives depend upon it… because they do.
And a community that is able to do these things, honor diversity, liberate laughter, ensure justice, and nurture love, as Franklin Circle Christian Church does and will continue to do, is a community that must be celebrated! This church is Good News to a world hell-bent on bad news. This church is a sign of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and will, if you let it, bring new life to those who are all but dead to themselves and to the world around them. This church is a city on a hill that cannot be hid, it is salt that brings flavor to a painfully boring existence for many, it is a candle that cannot, should not, will not be hidden. No! Proclaim it from the mountaintops! Run or roll or hobble or dance down the streets and avenues and proclaim God is alive and well and living in this community called Franklin Circle Christian Church to friend and neighbor and stranger alike! Celebrate Community, for you are a damn fine community to be celebrated!