Core Value: Community
One: God knits this island into one family. Therefore,
All: We seek to be a place of belonging and a harbor of mutual support and interdependence. We strive to share together, help and reach out to one another, grow in faith together, and live together in light of God’s love.
I want to spend some time unpacking this word, though, because it is such a pervasive part of our existence and because we all have many different ideas of what good community looks like - and perhaps there’s no better place to see how much we long for community (and how much we disagree about what it looks like) than in our television shows. What shows come to mind for you when you hear the word “Community”? [get responses]
I grew up with Friends as the prime example - the last few seasons were during my college years - and after 10 years on the air, I felt like I really got to know the lives of these six friends living in New York City, sharing life together, going through the ups and downs of relationships, new jobs, marriages and conflicts and all the dynamics that come with close friendships. There was the will they/won’t they of Ross and Rachel, the gatherings at the coffee shop or in Chandler’s and Monica’s apartment - and how they were always there for each other.
In addition to those you all shared, I could list even more shows that reflect community - How I Met Your Mother, Cheers, Seinfeld, Fraiser, The Big Bang Theory, The Good Place, This Is Us, Parenthood, New Girl, The Golden Girls, That 70’s Show, Glee, The Office, Will and Grace -- I could go on… (Marvel’s Agents of Shield, Fuller House, Parks and Recreation, etc…)
As you think about all these shows - and maybe even from your own experience of community - what are the important elements or characteristics of a good community?
We need community to survive, right? We all want it, we all talk about it, and yet it is so hard to fully realize. We’re busy, we’ve got memories of community gone bad, we have jobs or kids that make it difficult, we have social anxiety or a hard time sharing our free time with others or we over work or can’t seem to find the “right kind of people” to hang out with.
Add on to all this that no community is perfect either -- community is messy and we are imperfect human beings with mixed motivations and selfish interests and our own desires and preferences and - let’s face it - true community takes a lot of work. Conflict and disagreement happens in community. Disappointment happens in community. Failure happens in community.
But beautiful things also happen in community - grace happens in community. Love happens in community. Hope and compassion and forgiveness happen in community.
Church is all of these things - but it’s also much more - and that’s what our scripture passage from the book of Ephesians speaks to today - I invite us to hear these words from Ephesians Chapter 2, verses 11 through 22, and I’ll be reading from The Message.
Scripture - Ephesians 2:11-22
Ephesians 2:11-22 (The Message)
11-13 But don’t take any of this for granted. It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God’s ways had no idea of any of this, didn’t know the first thing about the way God works, hadn’t the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God’s covenants and promises in Israel, hadn’t a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything.
14-15 The Messiah has made things up between us so that we’re now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.
16-18 Christ brought us together through his death on the cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders. He treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.
19-22 That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.”
Church as a community that is a home for God -- I’m not talking about a brick and mortar building - but a people -- brought and held together by the cornerstone of Christ, built by God piece by piece to show forth the indwelling of God’s Spirit working in and among us in the world. To put it another way - church is a group of people that when you look at them in action, or when you’re with them, you see and experience a bit of what God is like.
It’s a lot easier said than done, however - and the early church had a difficult time putting that into practice. We see a bit of this in the letter we just heard -- The author is addressing one of the big dividing issues of the early church - the relationship between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. These two groups - did not mix - like oil and water. They had two completely different worldviews. The Jews worshipped one God, understood their whole existence as a people as those who had this special relationship with this God and with the land of Israel, and they had a massive set of rules governing how they worshipped and interacted with this God and how they related to others -- especially with those who weren’t considered “insiders.”
Gentiles also brought their worldview with them when they became followers of Jesus - one where many gods were the object of worship, where the world itself is hostile and populated by demons and evil spirits and you needed the protection of your local god, where Caesar was God over all other gods, and people ate food sacrificed to idols and all kinds of other rituals that kept the Gentiles perpetually apart from good, observant Jews.
Now what the author of this letter does to address this situation, however, is a bit unusual. Instead of saying, oh, ok - all you who were once outsiders to God’s plan -- you all can be in on it now too, you’re insiders now, come on in and join the party -- thus further reinforcing this us/them, in/out divide -- the author says that Christ has knocked down the wall completely. Let me read verses 14 and 15 again:
“The Messiah has made things up between us so that we’re now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody” -- a fresh start for everybody, brought together in his own body.
This was a shocking pronouncement for both Jews and Gentiles alike - that those who wouldn’t dare eat together, sit side by side with one another, or touch one another, even be in the same room with one another - are now one people. Friends and neighbors in Ephesus would have looked at this mixed company and been astounded at the sight of Jews and Gentiles hanging out together, going to each others homes, eating each others food and now bound together in a new reality, a new community fashioned by the one who tore down every dividing wall, the one who crossed all the laws off the books, who gave up his own life so that we might live as a new kind of people where all that old history would no longer matter - and that we might find a place to belong - no matter where we’ve started from.
It would have been an amazing testimony to the power of God - uniting those who were once enemies and creating them into a family. That’s a powerful witness of what God is like.
This kind of community that God creates - one of no insiders and outsiders, no us versus them, no barriers or boundaries or dividing lines between us - it should be a shocking reality for us as well. We live in a world that is perpetually divided - class, gender, race, politics, sexual orientation -- we’re so fragmented as a world and as a country...we can’t even agree on how to respond properly to natural disasters or mass shootings. We’ve built so many walls - visible and invisible - to protect ourselves from one another, to separate ourselves from each other, to define ourselves against those others over there….and the church stands as a place where we know and live as one people - a place where everyone’s on equal footing. A place where Christ has broken those walls and made us into one family. A place where we’re all in this together. A people who are a home for God.
That is the challenge and the invitation for us this morning. When those on this island look at our church - do they see and experience God in all of our life together?
I think we who spend time on this island understand how important community is - and that’s a value we carry with us into our lives every day. When someone is in crisis, we know how to love and care for that family. I know when Michael arrived, the support we received during those first few months is unmatched. It’s not every community that will reseason your cast iron pots for you. We know how much we depend on one another, we know that everyone should feel like they belong - both on the island and here at the church.
If it’s true for us as an island people - how much more should that be true of us as a church? I dream of this church as a place where people see and get excited about what’s going on here because God is so present you can’t help but be drawn in. I dream of being the kind of community where God’s so much at home, every Sunday morning is like God throwing a party, where every time we’re out serving, people marvel at how we carry ourselves, where every time there’s a disagreement or conflict, people can’t believe how graciously we work with one another, where we live in this new reality of no divisions between us, where everyone has ownership, where every time we gather together, people know that God is present and is in our midst.
That is a kind of community that can challenge and form us, where we can be accepted for who we are - where we can learn and grow and take care of one another, where we feel like belong and where we want others to belong too.
God knits this island into one family, therefore we - this church - seek to be a place of belonging and a harbor of mutual support and interdependence. We strive to share together, help and reach out to one another, grow in faith together, and live together in light of God’s love.
And, I pray, that we seek to be a people where God is at home - built together on the cornerstone of Christ - so that we might be a witness of God’s new creation - a new humanity, reconciled to God and to one another. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the Chebeague Island United Methodist Church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and two dogs, and soon will expect a new addition to her family. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the chuch community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.