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Bishop's Monday Message: From I to We

Posted: October 5 2020 at 09:05 AM
Author: Bishop Sally Dyck


 


Have become more I than We? Have we become more individualistic and less community-minded? We see this in the church and have for years as we talked about how people were more spiritual than religious.  Being spiritual without being religious came to mean that people claimed to be able to connect with God through nature, an inspiring book or some music, and prayer (often an impassioned “help” in times of trouble), but didn’t feel that they needed all that other stuff—you know, stuff like the organized church! More I and less We.

I often wonder if this time of sheltering in place, even with online worship, will make us all the more individualistic? Or will it make us yearn more for community and its role in how we live out our faith, our spiritual development and our reaching out to others.  

I pray that it will be a time when we recognize that community is essential to our faith. The ways in which the community of faith exists may change, but I hope our valuing of it may be greater.

“Y Church” is the theme of our annual conference. Rev. Junius Dotson, our Bible study leader for our annual conference, reminded us in his first online Bible study, of how important it is to ask why. So what is the purpose of church in our lives?

One of the functions of the body of Christ is to build up the community of followers of Jesus. In one of the weekly writings of the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain Jonathan Sacks, before the Jewish High Holy Days, he commented on how difficult it has been to be separated from community in terms of prayer. Prayer is something that Jews are meant to do together; you even have to have a minimum number in order to have a prayer service—a minion. He says:

Collective prayer is like joining with others to maintain the wall around the city. The wall around the city protects everyone, not just me. Besides which, when I pray for myself, I may pray selfishly, asking for something that may directly benefit me but might also be harmful for others. If I sell ice cream, I want the sun to shine, but if I sell umbrellas, I want the rain to fall. Praying together, we seek not private good, but the common good.

Communal prayer is not just an expression of community. It is also a builder of community.

“Prayers of the people” take on a different twist, don’t they? Are they what surround you and make you one with others in your community, even through Zoom? 

The writer Paul was very concerned about building up the community of faith; his metaphor was the body of Christ. In Ephesians 4, Paul explains why there is a body of Christ, a community of faith: 

12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. ~ Ephesians 4: 12-13

What does it mean to equip or even train the saints? The Greek word means to make sound, fit and complete—even to mend (like fishing nets are mended or a bone is set)—in order to strengthen and make whole.  Left to our own devices, we may have holes in our faith, like a fishing net, that need mending with good teaching in order to have stronger faith.  

We all experience holes in our faith from time to time when life is hard, in times like now. What mends us? What heals a broken body and soul and community? Why church: to help equip, train, mend and strengthen places in our faith to become more whole and healthy. I think that’s what he means when he says to come to “the unity of faith” or wholeness that faith gives, maturity which does miracles like forgive and love, to become more Christlike.

So why church: CS Lewis tells in his book “The Joyful Christian” about a conversation with an old man who said that he had no time or use for “all that stuff.” By “all that stuff”, he meant studying the scriptures, hearing the stories of how others have lived their Christian faith and such things as the Apostles’ Creed.

He said, “I’m a spiritual man. I know there’s a God. I’ve felt God: out alone in nature.” He saw no value in knowing all those other things about the Christian faith. He only wanted and needed to relate to God directly. He didn’t need anybody else. He could be spiritual, but not religious, just him and God.  

But CS Lewis responded to him by saying that the Christian faith is like a map of the Atlantic Ocean (since they lived in England that was their point of reference). Hundreds of people throughout history contributed to the map of the Atlantic Ocean and their contributions were based on their combined experiences of the ocean by being in the midst of it, traveling it, determining its tides, experiencing it at different times and circumstances, experiencing its beauty and its dangerous places.  

CS Lewis suggested that if you want to just go to the Atlantic Ocean and stay along the shore, walk the beach, you don’t need the map of the ocean. But if you actually want to go out and sail the ocean, you’d better have more than your own experience of standing along the shore.  

As we navigate the turbulent waters of this time, we discover “why church.” Again, our annual conference Bible study leader Rev. Junius Dotson said in his first Bible study session that we know we have the right goals/strategies (the right why, if you will) when in the midst of something as unprecedented as now, we know they are exactly what we need to be focused on. And he made it clear that discipleship growth is the right “why” of church! 

Community requires the giving of our gifts, so why church also means we extend our faith into the world. Discipleship is also reaching out through whatever gifts we have in whatever situation we are in, as Paul says in Ephesians. We are never without our mission as disciples of Jesus Christ!

So for instance, I’ve read about 7- to 8-year-old children who did what they could for others during COVID. As simple as a little girl who went from door to door on her street, telling all her neighbors where she and her family live, and that if they needed anything, be sure and let them know. She was on a mission and she was building community!  

Or more recently a 7-year-old boy who raised funds to provide trailers full of supplies to South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation, which is one of the poorest places in the U.S. “They need things there,” he said. Part Native-American himself, while he doesn’t live there, he now calls them his family. 

I’ve also read recently about LeBron James, the NBA star, who recruited 10,000 poll workers for predominantly African American communities to ensure that people will be able to vote. LeBron James came to fame after I left Cleveland, but here’s a celebrity who has continuously invested in his hometown and home state by lifting others up. For instance, he has promised to send African American students in his home community to college. While he’s a celebrity, not all celebrities, including those he is sometimes compared with, have invested in lifting up others. He has a strong value in community and uses whatever his condition is to help others.

So you might say that you’re not LeBron James on the court or at the bank: true enough. But remember the young children and what they discovered they could do. We’re all probably somewhere in between.  How can you encourage people to fill out the Census—for their own good and the good of us all? How can you help people to vote? How can you brighten the lives of those who are sheltering in place, feeling isolated and alone? What can you do? How can you move from I to We?

Senator Cory Booker wrote a poem early on during COVID. It’s a short poem but I think it pulls these things together:

We can’t touch…but we still reach out
We hunker down…but we still rise
Our bodies are attacked…but our spirits fight back
The enemy is invisible…but still Infinite and invincible determination
We are distant…but we stand together
And together…we shall overcome.

Why church? Because when we come together we can overcome and help others overcome too. Even during COVID. Even in our fatigue from COVID and Zoom. Even in online worship. Even social distancing. Even now, with who we are and what we have. We can do something for the mission of Jesus Christ. That’s discipleship. That’s why church, friends!

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