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Remaining in community through tough times

Remaining in community through tough times

Psalm 63:1-8(9-11), 98 (Morning)

Psalm 103 (Evening)

1 Kings 12:21-33

Acts 4:18-31

John 10:31-42

Jeroboam is an interesting character in the Hebrew Bible. If there’s one thing he worked really hard at, it was at keeping things divided. As ruler of the Northern Kingdom, he continually was involved in a border dispute with Judah, the southern one. He made alliances that worked both ends against the middle. In this reading, we see him luring people away from worshiping in Jerusalem by starting up a golden calf cult, and putting those calves in the furthest ends of his kingdom–Bethel and Dan. Jeroboam knew how keeping people isolated and insular helped him maintain control.

You know, there’s a lesson in this.

As messy and cumbersome at times that organized church denominations can be, the structure helps maintain a certain level of transparency, and, for the more ecclesiastically-structured ones, it also lessens the effects of “the cult of individual personality.” In our individual faith lives, it calls us to community in addition to having a personal faith life.

Any of us who have lived through an interim period after the departure of a rector, whether that departure was a loving farewell or a difficult and painful divorce, have seen how being separated or isolated weakens the Body of Christ. Sometimes people don’t like the interim and loved the predecessor, and leave. Sometimes the interim period reveals painful truths about parish finances that were not an issue before, but are now, or become a sticking point in the call process. Sometimes it brings up much needed changes that no one wanted to point out because people seemed to be coexisting relatively peacefully. Sometimes individuals in the parish are blamed for the departure. Change begats an uneasiness, and the sad fact is most of the time, human nature, in the face of uncertainty, is for an individual to respond to that unease by moving to a point of personal comfort, rather than to a place of community strength.

In times of unease, communications can become more insular. We will choose to talk in the parking lot instead of talking in a meeting or face to face over coffee hour. We’ll choose to email over talking face to face. We may even hunker down so much we quit communicating to anyone but instead only converse with our own thoughts and fears. If we’re not careful, we can find ourselves figuratively worshiping a golden calf in the hinterlands, forgetting our own core and center of our life in Christ.

Jeroboam’s strategy reminds us that separation increases our chances of being controlled by strong or charismatic personalities, and, if we follow on in 1 Kings, we discover that ultimately, Jeroboam’s strategy fails and he falls off into obscurity. Our own choice to remain insular and divided runs the same risk.

As a faith community, we have a built in way to prevent some of that. We can pray as a community, as well as individually pray common prayers. I remember a time in the call process of our parish, we distributed refrigerator magnets with the prayer on page 818 of the Book of Common Prayer, and asked people to commit to praying it when they went to the fridge at least once a day:

“Almighty God, giver of every good gift: look graciously on your Church, and so guide the minds of those who shall choose a rector for this parish, that we may receiv a faithful pastor, who will care for your people and equip us for our ministries; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Even something as simple as this can ward off a little of that insular feeling. I didn’t think everyone in my parish was doing it, but I was convinced some were, and I knew some of them approved what I was doing on the vestry, and some didn’t. I could at least hold onto the fact that people who didn’t agree with me on some things could at least agree on this.

When is a time in your faith life that you found a way to remain in a community of believers, and to trust in what God reveals through the power of community?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

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