March 9, 2014 – First Sunday in Lent

The Joys of a Christian Community           March 9, 2014                        Susan Goux

Good morning, thank you all for allowing me to be here in front of you this morning.  I’m not a preacher, nor do I presume to instruct in religious matters.  What I do is “muse.”  Musing is thinking about things and considering topics that interest me or come into my mind as I have an opportunity to think about them.  Sometimes I even find myself talking out loud about them, with no one else around.  When I was in high school, I used to hear my father talking to someone but no one was around.  He was a very unassuming, soft spoken man, often with his head in a book, involved in intellectual pursuits.  I remember asking him to whom he was talking.  He said he was talking to himself.  I looked a little quizzically at him and with a slight smile on his face he said:  I talk to myself because I like to talk to a smart man and I like to hear what a smart man has to say.  While I agree that this was probably a good answer for him, for me it is more that I talk to myself because I like to have someone who will listen to me.  So you are getting to hear me think and talk out loud.

I grew up during a time of change and great growth in the US.  Corporations and government were expanding and reorganizing after the upheaval and trauma of world conflict.  It was not uncommon for families to move around the country as jobs moved or opportunities presented themselves.  Our family moved from California to Panama to Illinois to New York State back to California.  My dad worked in the emerging missile launching and then space program.  I went to nine different schools before graduating from high school.  When Tom and I married we also moved several times until we settled on Cape Cod.  I often wondered and even longed for the constancy and stability of staying in one place; getting to know people for a lifetime of shared experiences.  It seemed this could be a joy.  My extended family was rarely close by.  Telephone calls were very expensive, there was no email, or Facetime/Skype.  I know this is going to an extreme, but remember, I’m musing, it made me think about the people who set off from the East coast to the great American West in stage coaches or covered wagons or emigrated from a country far from America to never see their family again and maybe, if lucky, have one letter a year.  It sounds like a great adventure and many were convinced it was for a better life.  But when you read their stories or diaries, it isn’t so romantic and often quite lonely.  In today’s world where communication can be just a click away and plane travel is within reach, it may be difficult to really imagine what this was like but it is only a “muse” away.

It was always a point of interest to me to see new friends and acquaintances with grandparents close by, cousins in the same school, friends they had gone to school with since kindergarten.  I never actually felt left out but rather I felt there was something I was missing.  When we moved into a new town, one of the very first things we did was look for a church to attend.  The church became the center of our lives and actually, now that I look back on it, it also became like a family.  God is the father, Jesus is his son and we are the extended family.  Just as in a family there are all ages of children, parents, grandparents and if you are lucky enough, great grandparents.  Just as in a family there is support, care, people to guide you, give advice, teach you, love you, aggravate you, argue with you, frustrate you, sometimes even make you mad.  And then we are reminded that the most important thing is love.  Love within a family is what keeps it together even when things are difficult.  At church we look deep inside ourselves and feel the Holy Spirit and find the importance of the Christian family or as we call it the Christian community.  Hopefully you all have felt this love within your family.  My message today is that hopefully you have also felt this love about your church and the church community.

Does this mean that if you have a close family that you don’t need a Christian community?  I would argue that the Christian community does not replace our family but enhances it.  What I am suggesting is that the Christian community can be compared with a family structure.  It is not just another “institution” or “organization” but rather a fairly unique community.  Taking the comparison a little further if you think of a church in the context of a family expanding, the newcomers often come in the form of  “in-laws.”  Newcomers in a church can feel like in-laws.  In-laws in a family are people we don’t know and we haven’t bonded with yet.  The family can hesitate to accept these newcomers.  Why should they try since it will just add more work to the family as there are more people to deal with.  Who are they really, will they stay, how will they fit in?  Will they be more work or will they upset the status quo?  What should we do with them?  Are they worthy of our family or community?  Even though families don’t know the answers to these questions, they will politely (usually) invite the newcomers into their church.  Our church is God’s house.  We are inviting people into God’s house, which is also the center of our community.  God and Jesus ask us to accept on faith that all people are welcome into this house, our church.  We are told that everyone has a right to be here.  All are loved, and all have been given gifts that will enhance the community.  The more we get to know them the closer our family/community will be.  God will wrap his arms around all of us to make us one.

I often wish that everyone I know or everyone I meet could be part of a strong supportive Christian community.  I want for them what I have had.  I want them to know the joy of loving and caring.  I want them to know what a shared belief and understanding of God’s love can give.  And I believe that this is one of the reasons God sent Jesus to us so that we could know His love and to reach out to others to share it.  When I talk about my church and invite people to come, it isn’t because I think I should.  It is because I want to share with others the joy of it.  I also love having a wide variety of people to interact with.  People are such interesting creations of God.  Have you ever read an obituary (another fascination of mine) and said:  I wish I had known that person.  They had an interesting life, or they had such struggles I hope they had someone there to support them.  Lent leading up to Easter seems to me to be a good time to be musing on this.

How do we let people know about the joys of a Christian community?  In today’s society people are having trouble reaching out and connecting to others.  We live more insulated lives that revolve around the internet, earphones, electronic media that are more individual pursuits than group interactions.  There is a app for everything.  Is there such a thing as Christian Community.com? And if we met someone on that site would they really want to meet us in person?  (This is a little like courting within the family context.)  Would they feel safe, wanted, needed, and connect with God by using this site?  Will we only meet those with whom we have something in common?  Social media has a problem because it has a set of blinders, too.  We can image the person on the other end of a faceless internet connection to be just like us.  If that were the case, we would be missing so much.  People who are different from us can enrich our family.  Differences add richness to our lives, broaden our thoughts and ideas, bring different talents and perspectives that make the community strong and vibrant.  It also brings challenges that, if met, strengthen the community and everyone in it.

And finally, just like a supportive family, a Christian community can help you grow.  Grow not only spiritually but in many ways.  The two bible passages today remind us that we are made in the image of God.  They remind us of our interdependence, our mutual need for one another no matter how much we are tempted to go it alone.  Everyone has gifts but developing individual gifts may mean taking risks.  If you are with people who will support you and love you as you are, is it possible you can develop your gifts and grow to be a stronger, more fulfilled person?  God gave you your individual gifts and I have always believed that we have an obligation to use these unique gifts to make the world in which we live a better place.  What are your gifts?  Have you really looked hard at yourself to identify them and think hard about how God would want you to use them?  Can you find a new gift you didn’t know you have; I am in awe when I see people try things they didn’t think they could do and find that they can.  Sometimes we just need to have a supportive community to give us the confidence to try something new.  If we stumble, then there is a community to be there to help you up so you can try again in some other way.  Can the Christian community to which you belong help you in any way?  Are there others in the greater external community who could benefit from being part of this Christian community or we would benefit from having them with us?  How can we open our minds, hearts, and embrace the unknown, sharing God’s love and the gifts that He has given us?

Over the past year or so, there have been discussions about how the Bourne United Methodist Church can become a stronger community and share the joy of that community with others.  This church has all the elements: caring, supportive members and friends and knowledge of God’s love.  In the next couple months, we will be having village meetings to get to know each other better and to informally discuss how the church can serve each of us and our community better.  The first meeting is on March 30th at Kathy and Stu Parsons’s house for the members and friends who live in Bourne village.  Hopefully those of you in that village have received your invitation by now.  If not, please let me know.  The Sandwich village, adding in some others who live in neighboring communities, will meet at Marsha and Myles Ferrick’s on April 6th.  Invitations will be in the mail soon.  The village meeting for Monument Beach/Pocasset area will be April 27th at the home of Tami and Mike Good.  We are still planning the meeting for Buzzards Bay and surrounding communities after Easter.  If you can’t attend the one in your village area, please let us know so we can direct you to another one.  Growing our family, our Christian Community to share God’s love may surprise us all in what it brings.

Thank you very much for letting me share my musings.  I am thankful to be part of this Christian Community and family.