Courage for CommunityPosted: September 27, 2015
Courage for Community
Esther was safe. As the Queen no one would have harmed her, but she was challenged to show courage for her community, and so she exposed the Prime Minister Haaman’s evil plans for genocide. And so Esther saved the Jewish people. Her courage is celebrated every year in the Jewish holiday of Purim.
SLIDE 4: YAD VASHEM
As I meditate upon the happy example of Esther’s courage, I remember another example memorialized at the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem Yad Vashem, in a memorial to the extraordinary caring of Janusz Korczak, also known under his pen name Henryk Goldszmit. Janusz Korczak was a pediatrician, who under the name of Henryk Goldszmit wrote famous and much beloved children’s stories, in Central Europe every bit as popular as Peter Pan or even Harry Potter. He also had a popular radio program heard all over Central Europe under the title “Pan Doktor.” As a humanitarian in Warsaw he ran two orphanages for several hundred children.
SLIDE 5: REFUSED TO LEAVE HIS ORPHANS
When the Germans invaded Poland, he was offered safe conduct out of Poland, but Korczak refused to leave his orphans. When the Nazis created the Warsaw Ghetto, they offered him safe conduct out of Poland again, and again he refused. When the SS came to take the orphans for resettlement in the East, a euphemism for transportation to the death camps, an officer who remembered reading Henrk Goldszmit’s books as a child offered to help him escape. But yet again the good Doctor refused to leave his orphans.
SLIDE 6: CHRIST LIKE STORY OF COURAGE FOR COMMUNITY
And so sometime during early 1942 Janusz Korczak along with 200 orphans were transported to Treblinka extermination camp, where he died with his precious orphaned children. The story of Janusz Korczak does not have the happy ending of Purim, but it is an unrivaled Christ like story of courage for community.
SLIDE 7: PROTESTANT INDIVIDUALISM
Protestantism has tended to treat faith as a very individualized phenomenon. Each person must be saved by a personal decision for or against the Commonwealth of God. Profession of belief and baptism have been the outward and visible signs of religious conviction. But in fact faith is lived out within the context of community.
SLIDE 8: THE COMMUNION OF THE SAINTS
Not only the particular congregations in which we claim membership, but also the larger Community of faith, sometimes called the Church Universal and even the past and future communities of believers of which we are a part — sometimes called the Communion of the Saints. We are part of a cloud of witnesses including Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Albert Schweitzer, Rosa Parks, Desmund Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day, Andrew Young, Bill and Sara Green. People of faith are never entirely alone, for we are called to live in community.
SLIDE 9: A UNIQUE TENSION
At United Church we live in a unique tension. We are called upon to welcome everyone – “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here!” Daring to be so open, we are constantly in danger of falling out. How can we belong to a community that opens its arms to everyone? If there are no discriminators, how do we know who is in and who is out? We often have a hard time establishing common ground, because we are so different from one another. It takes some courage to live in that kind of tension.
In a world that is seeking spiritual independence with a majority of young people refusing to identify with any kind of organized religious institution, we have to have courage to come together and maintain ourselves as a community of faith. So why should we persist in making the effort to join together in a spiritual community?
SLIDE 10: WHEVER TWO OR THREE ARE GATHERED
First, Jesus said, wherever two or three are gathered together in community, the spirit of Christ is there with them in the world. Jesus did not say, “Go become holy hermits.” No Jesus said, come together at the sharing table of Christ, where we can eat together, pray together, and give one another mutual support, for there am I in the midst of you. The commonwealth of God begins for you, when you claim your place in the spiritual community!
SLIDE 11: COVENANT TO PRAY WITH AND FOR EACH OTHER
Second, at United Church we covenant to pray with and for each other offering mutual support on our journey through life. None of us can make it alone. We may think we are rugged individualists, but when the going gets tough the tough reach out and join hands with good spiritual friends. Friendship increases our spiritual resilience. And reaching out to others isn’t for sissies! We need courage to be vulnerable enough to one another to ask for help and prayers. If you come to the Sharing Table be prepared to bring enough of yourself to the Table to be able to ask others to pray for you.
SLIDE 12: COVENANT TO BE IN MISSION TOGETHER
Third, we covenant to be in mission together. We don’t always have to agree with one another about everything we just need to be able to work together to reach out to other people who are in need. We join together in support of Foodline, NAMI, Habitat for Humanity, and the Huntsville Assistance Program.
SLIDE 13: BYRON AND TONI PICK UP WHERE RAY AND SHIRLEY LEFT OFF
Through our Neighbors in Need Offering we will support the ministry of June Boutwell’s friends Byron and Toni Buffalo, who have picked up where Ray and Shirley Berry left off on the Lakota Sioux Reservation. And then on November 29th the First Sunday of Advent we will decorate the Sock and Glove Tree to send to Bryan and Toni. So many things we can do, when we are in mission together.
SLIDE 14: ST. STEPHENS UNITED CHURCH WE DID IT TOGETHER
For instance, neither St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church or United Church could have built the “Healing Steps Labyrinth,” now because we have cooperated together we are able to offer as a gift to our community a handicapped accessible Labyrinth. We are called to be in mission together not “holy hermits.”
SLIDE 15: MENTORING EACH OTHER IN FAITH
Four, as we mature in our faith we the community become a place, where we can mentor others. Many other faiths follow the guru pattern. A Holy Person sets up a practice and invites others, who would like to learn the ways of spirituality to come and be mentored by the Holy One. Spiritual Direction can be a productive path to pursue for spiritual growth, but Jesus did not intend for his disciples to follow that path exclusively. Rather he called the church to become the community of faith that disciples and mentors people into the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus calls us into community, because working out our faith with others is one of our most important callings.
SLIDE 16: WORKING IT OUT WITH OTHERS IN THE FAITH COMMUNITY
One of the most important lessons we will learn on our faith journeys is that working it out with all those other people who can be so different from us is the most difficult challenge of faith. Just read Paul’s letters to the very naughty churches he was trying to pastor. Living in a community of faith is not easy, and trying to lead in a community of faith can be exasperating. But there is nothing more rewarding than when people in a community of faith begin to work together, for then the Spirit of Christ really is among us.
SLIDE 17: MENTORING CHILDREN
Five, the community of faith offers us an opportunity to mentor children. In Africa they say, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In our modern culture, where we live in the anonymous metropolis, our congregations become the villages that can help to raise our children and grandchildren. Children need a spiritual foundation. I have heard some adults claim that they have not exposed their children to any religion, because they want their young people to “decide for themselves, when they are old enough.” But what kind of decision comes from having no lived background at all? The truth is that people are always free to choose a different spiritual tradition from what they are raised in, but if they have never been immersed in any religious tradition at all, they are likely to remain lost, clueless.
SLIDE 18: RELIGIOUS TRADITION THAT RESPECTS OTHER FAITHS
I understand that some forms of the Christian faith are just down right abusive, and people think they might be much better off without any religious training. But a religious tradition that respects other faiths, leaves the individual free to choose his or her own way, and helps the child to learn to pray, is the best preparation for adult spirituality. At United Church we try to help children grow independently and in community.
SLIDE 19: EMBRACE THE COURAGE AND FAITH TO LIVE IN SPIRITUAL COMMUNITY
Remember all of these reasons for taking courage to live in spiritual community as our stewardship drive draws near. Also when the nominating committee calls, please respond faithfully. The faith community does not happen by accident. A congregation requires careful planning, inspired leadership, dedicated service and generous giving. Embrace the courage and faith to live in spiritual community.