by Rev. Doug Gray
Something miraculous happens sometimes when a group of people becomes community. Sometimes it happens in a sports team, a choir or band, a project or work environment, a neighborhood. Have you ever been in a group of people that became community? What did that feel like? How could you tell that your group had become community?
[Take responses from the congregation.]
You are really onto something there. In fact, some might argue that God’s purpose from the very beginning was to create community, to restore broken community to wholeness, and to energize healthy community for the future. In our passage for today, Paul focuses on this last part.
First, unified but not uniform. The other day I was joking around with someone and we had a good time going back and forth. They asked me what I did for a living, and I told them I was the pastor of a really cool church. [pause] And all I got was crickets. “Oh,” they finally said. “I could never be in a church.” “Why?” I asked. “It seems like religion just wants you to be mindless. Say yes to all these things. Say no to all these other things. Someone telling you what to believe all the time.” That’s just not my experience, and it’s part of why I love being Congregational, part of why I love being part of this church. We are unified, but not uniform. One of the threads through all the stories of community is that a community has a shared goal. They know why they are and where they are going. I love that we are all different, and I love that we are all here to find God together. I love that we all have different ways of approaching things, and I love that we are trying to learn what it means to live like Jesus. We aren’t in lock-step—it’s really more of a dance. As different as we are, still we are learning how to have fun, how to love God, and how to be the best selves God made us to be. We are one body—the Body of Christ—but we have lots of parts.
Second, empowered for the common good. In early America and before, many towns had a “commons,” a shared pasture land on which everyone could graze their livestock. Boston Commons is a park on one of those shared spaces. Since the Commons was a shared resource, the cost of grass being eaten was shared by everyone. The Commons was a terrific idea—shared green space, shared pasture for the animals, everyone took care of it. Of course, every farmer wanted to improve their family’s situation, and so would want to add more livestock. Except, if everyone only added livestock, and nobody took care of the shared resource, then the Commons was over-grazed and became no good to anyone. Garret Hardin, in his paper, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” writes, “Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.” In other words, if we are only in this life for ourselves, we fail and so does everyone around us. Paul shows us the way out of the Tragedy of the Commons. He writes, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit… it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Whatever God has given you to do, wherever God has placed you, God has equipped you to be a blessing…AND God will give you the power you need to show grace in a way that helps us all to rise.
Third, every role matters. So I have a confession to make…I wish I were a tenor. I always wanted to have one of those amazing voices that could hit the high notes and melt people’s hearts. But I don’t have that kind of voice. When I was in high school, I was in fantastic choir—we traveled, made Christmas albums, sang at nursing homes. I found my place as a bass or baritone, and I learned to listen for people’s voices. When Todd wasn’t in the tenor section, the songs didn’t feel right. When Jennifer wasn’t singing alto, the whole section kind of wandered. When we were all there, when we were all focused, and all singing it was so beautiful that it could make the hair stand up on your arms, and melt people’s hearts. In the same way, I can tell when one of you is missing on Sunday morning—something is different in the feel of worship. When we are all here, when we are all focused in on God, something happens in our worship that really is remarkable. And every person matters—from Harry who dances for joy when the music moves him, to one of the littles running up the aisle to check in with mom or dad, to the prayer warrior who has trouble rising from their seat, to the person with doubts who comes any way—every one of us brings something to the party that wouldn’t be here otherwise. I believe there’s a reason you are here today, because I know that every role matters.
God does something miraculous sometimes when a group of people becomes community. It took this church to help it happen 104 years ago. That’s how this sanctuary and fellowship hall were built, but it changed Squantum. Rev. Davison (who pastored this church in addition to being full-time pastor of the Atlantic Memorial Congregational Church) said: “Squantum is without a hall of any kind, and its social activities have been stinted for this reason. The fact that the Community Hall is separated from the church proper and its religious work, will tend to make [the] Community Hall available for...the best interests of Squantum.” We are not uniform in our gifts, but we are unified in our purpose to serve Christ. We do not seek our own good only, but we are empowered by God to show the love we have received. We do not shrink from the task ahead as people who feel unworthy or inconsequential in the work of God, for we know that each of us matters, each of us makes a difference, and when each of us does what God places in our hearts to do, empowered by the Spirit, something miraculous happens, and we become community. What Squantum needs—what our world needs—is for a group of people who truly care, to light the way to true community. We know it’s Christ who makes it all happen, but what Squantum will experience is the love of God through us. Something miraculous happens when a group of people demonstrates community.