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Who are "We" Anyway?

Readings


John 6:1-21

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.

A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.

Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.

Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.

When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?"

He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."

One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him,

"There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?"

Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.

Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.

When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost."

So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea,

got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.

The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.

When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.

But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid."

Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.


10 Unexpected Benefits of Real Community By Debra Fileta


Here are some reasons community might have more benefits than we think it does:


1. COMMUNITY CHALLENGES YOU TO BE MORE LIKE JESUS. (HEBREWS 10:24-25)

Nothing makes you more like Jesus than the daily grind of interactions with others. We often think about marriage when it comes to this refining process, but the truth is God also gives us community as a way to become more like Him.

God’s Word reminds us that we are put in relationships in order to encourage one another in our pursuit of God and His Kingdom.


2. COMMUNITY MEETS PRACTICAL NEEDS. (ACTS 2:42-47)

Just like in the early Church, community is a place where we come to get our physical needs met. We need to learn to let down our walls and ask for help from our brothers and sisters….

Whether we need someone to pick up medicine for us when we’re sick, cook us a meal at the end of a long week or help us carry a financial burden, the Body of Christ was made to support and love one another in practical ways. We can learn a lot about love within the exchange of practical needs.


3. COMMUNITY CARRIES YOU EMOTIONALLY. (GALATIANS 6:2)

Just as important as physical needs are the emotional needs we carry through life. We are given the responsibility to support each other in hard times and to carry one another’s burdens. As much as we need to be available for our brothers and sisters, we also need to have the courage to ask them to come alongside of us when we’re the ones in need of support, prayer or a shoulder to cry on.


It’s important to learn to be real with one another, because that’s what true community is all about.


4. COMMUNITY REVEALS YOUR GIFTS AND TALENTS. (ECCLESIASTES 4:9-12)

Two are better than one, because there is double the strength, double the stamina and double the talents.

Within the context of community we’re given the opportunity to discover our gifts and our talents and then use them to bless others. …


5. COMMUNITY OPENS YOUR EYES TO THE NEEDS OF OTHERS. (1 THESSALONIANS 5:14)

Within community, we are encouraged to look around at the needs of those around us. We’re called to strengthen those who are weak and to and encourage those who are down and out. Community calls us out of our self-centeredness and self-absorption by giving us the responsibility to look outward.


6. COMMUNITY EMPOWERS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. (PROVERBS 27:17)

There is something real about the concept of power in numbers. When we are surrounded by others …, we feel empowered in our faith and may even be more sensitive to God’s presence in our lives. There’s something powerful about … joining together, making each other accountable and being a sort of a witness of one another’s lives. We need people checking in on us, asking the hard questions, and challenging us to really live out our faith.


7. COMMUNITY HELPS MEET OUR NEED FOR LOVE. (PROVERBS 17:17)

There’s no denying that we are people who crave love. We were made to, by a relational God who longs for us to be in relationship with Him. But even more amazing, is that God gives us the gift of each other as a way to meet our earthly needs for love. ….


8. COMMUNITY OFFERS OPPORTUNITIES FOR CONFESSION, WHICH LEADS TO HEALING. (JAMES 5:16)

There’s power in confession. It gives us the chance to bring to light the things that have been holding us back in darkness. Within community, we’re given the opportunity to get real with one another, to confess our sins, and to break free from the things that are holding us back from living God’s best life. True community requires transparency, authenticity, and confession.


9. COMMUNITY TEACHES YOU TO WORK THROUGH CONFLICTS. (1 CORINTHIANS 1:10)

Bring any group of people together and one thing is certain: conflict is inevitable. But we’re called to work through our divisions with one another … . We’re asked to be a united Body, which isn’t always easy or natural. It’s a humbling experience that teaches us to lay down our pride, to learn assertiveness, and to enhance our communication.

We need each other, because it’s within the messiness of relationships with one other that we’re reminded of our … need for God.


10. COMMUNITY GIVES YOU THE CHANCE TO FORGIVE. (1 PETER 4:8-11)

There is nothing more beautiful than the picture of the Gospel displayed through our healthy interactions as a Body of believers. Within this Body, we’re bound to get hurt, and then guaranteed the opportunity to forgive. … This is the hardest part about community. …

Every day we are called to become more like Jesus, and community is one of the ways that we are invited to do so.



SERMON


This month we have been reflecting about “Where we, as a church community, have been and who are we now?” When Nicole offered the theme, I was perplexed about where to begin and I kept being drawn to the word we in that phrase. Who are we anyway just popped in, so I went with that.


Who are we? Each of us probably has our own answer, but here is a starting point. And as I reflected, it became more and more complex and beautiful.


“We“ are currently made up of a few babies and lots of folks in various parts of the life cycle through our eldest Art at age 97. “We” are men, women, transgender and non-binary. “We” are lifelong UCC’ers, “we” are new to the Christian faith. “We” come from various Christian traditions, and “we” don’t identify as Christian at all or are somewhere in between. “We” come from and live in different socio-economic levels and have varied levels of education. “We” live with mental illness, substance disorders, and various health conditions. “We” are hard of hearing. “We” are neuro-diverse and neuro-typical – meaning our brains all work differently. “We” live in various parts of Boulder, Jefferson, Denver, Adams, Broomfield, and Larimer Counties here in Colorado (Maybe others too), and “we“ join regularly from various parts of the United States thanks to our digital format. “We” are lay people and clergy types of various standings. “We” are somewhat racially diverse. “We” are singles and families. “We” are various sexual identities. “We” are all over the map politically. “We” are active in social justice movements and participate in various service projects around the world. “We” share our resources widely in the community and the world. “We” are contemplatives, “we” enjoy traditional worship, “we” love the organ, “we” love the more contemporary music and styles, “we” agree about some things and not others. I could go on and on, and I’d love for you to add more to this list of who “we” are.


According to our proposed new CUCC vision statement, at our core, we are a Welcoming Community of Spiritual Seekers, with an ever-evolving progressive view of the Holy, that is actively engaged in building a world with justice for all creation.


When I think of our “we” and how we live into that new vision statement – it’s both exciting and mind-boggling. I named a pretty diverse group of people, so that we make community work, is pretty profound.


As I reflect about who we are in relation to the community of 5,000 seekers gathered to listen to Jesus, I wonder how our communities are the same … and different. And I wonder about the nature of communities who are on a spiritual journey together. How exactly does a community come together? And why?


It seems to me that communities ebb and flow and are constantly changing. People come in and leave for various reasons. It’s like a constant stream – people are here for a time and offer their gifts and talents, ideas, energy. We teach one another, we learn from each other. We grow together, we worship together, we create, we learn, we build, we tear down, we cook, clean, garden, walk, lobby, write, fundraise, sing, read, explore, discuss, make mistakes, and make plans. The going is sometimes smooth and other times bumpy or downright difficult and challenging. Sometimes the weather holds and other times it is stormy.


Why do we try to make this thing called church community work?


I think it has something to do with this - Together we are better, and we have the opportunity to grow and thrive and be better humans. That’s a starting point and something worth further exploration.


The 5,000 people gathered around Jesus and the disciples. They were a group of seekers. People who had heard about Jesus and who wanted to see and hear for themselves what he was saying – they were curious and hungry for something more. They came together and formed community, even if for only a day. Who knows where they all came from or why any of them would head out without food. Or did they?


This story of feeding the 5,000 is the only miracle in all 4 gospels. And some of the details are a bit different. What we know about those gathered is pretty limited, but we can assume it was a group of men, women and children, and that there were many more than 5,000 gathered since the women & children wouldn’t have been counted. Oh patriarchy.


Anyway …


If I overlay the story with the 10 ways Debra Fileta lays out about why we need a church community, I learn some things. Maybe you will too.


COMMUNITY CHALLENGES YOU TO BE MORE LIKE JESUS

Here are 5,000 and more random people, gathered for the first and probably only time. What exactly they learned from Jesus that day, we don’t know. Some things I think they learned – Jesus is patient, kind, and generous of his time and gifts. He takes time to be in community and time away to rest and replenish. Jesus sees needs and acts upon what needs to be done. Jesus acts from a place of abundance – not seeing that there were only a few loaves of bread & fish – but seeing that not only was there enough to feed everyone, but that some would be leftover too. If we were more like that, what is possible?


COMMUNITY MEETS PRACTICAL NEEDS

Those in community help one another. Maybe it’s by offering what food you can like in the case of the story. Maybe it’s helping pay a bill, providing transportation, helping when someone is sick or injured. Maybe it’s listening, fixing or building something. It does require letting others know when you are hurting, struggling or need help, because no one can help, if we don’t know you need it. When a community joins together, anything is possible – even feeding over 5000 people.


COMMUNITY CARRIES YOU EMOTIONALLY

There are days that are just plain hard. Likely in that group of 5,000 some were hurting and needed support. Maybe some were grieving and needed to know that they weren’t alone. Maybe they were overwhelmed and needed assurance or companionship. And today, maybe you are in a good place and feeling confident and strong and can be there for someone who is down. And when you are in a rough spot, there are people here who can support you through prayer and action. That’s what community is for. You don’t have to go through things alone.


COMMUNITY REVEALS YOUR GIFTS AND TALENTS

On that day there were over 5,000 people gathered and only a boy with 5 loaves and 2 fish to eat. This boy gave a gift and Jesus used it to perform a miracle and everyone had plenty to eat, and there were leftovers! When we share out gifts and talents in community trusting abundance, miracles happen. 34 guns taken out of circulation. Meals delivered to people who are sick. Bathrooms remodeled in our church building. Cards sent to cheer or celebrate someone. Money raised for amazing projects to help communities in need. Houses built. Beautiful gardens of vegetables and flowers grown to beautify the world and feed people. Music shared, classes taught, prayer shawls knitted or crocheted. Everyone has a gift to share.


COMMUNITY OPENS YOUR EYES TO THE NEEDS OF OTHERS

Jesus could have kept on teaching that day and ignored the fact that people were getting hungry. He could have pushed through all he wanted to share and go on his way. He could have thought that they were foolish people who should have planned better and brought something to eat. Jesus didn’t do that. He saw the people. Really saw them. Being in community makes one look around and see each another. You could look away and pretend that you don’t notice that someone looks sad or down or not talking with anyone else. But being in community means you check in and say ‘I see you, what’s going on?’ Being seen is powerful. Seeing others makes us slow down and connect. Relationship matters.


COMMUNITY EMPOWERS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD

The people that day had heard about Jesus and what he had been teaching and doing. They were curious and hungry to learn more about him and the God he taught about. And we gather too – to learn, to study, to ask questions, to explore, to encourage one another, to serve together and grow in our faith and relationship with one another and with God. Can this happen on your own? Sure – but having companions on the journey who are exploring too is more fun and helpful. We learn that others have the same questions and struggles we have. We teach one another. We deepen our relationship with God as we learn and explore together.


COMMUNITY HELPS MEET OUR NEED FOR LOVE

We are not people meant to live in isolation for long periods of time. We need others to survive and thrive. It took a pandemic for us to understand that at a deeper level. Right now, if you look around the zoom squares or look around the patio, chances are you see someone you have grown to love and appreciate. We need this in our lives and being in a church community can help meet that need. I bet those 5,000 loved that little boy and Jesus that day … and loved one another for not taking more than was needed so that all received their fill.


COMMUNITY OFFERS OPPORTUNITIES FOR CONFESSION, WHICH LEADS TO HEALING

This one I bet is a little tough for most of us. Confession – what do we need that for? Well, we are all on the journey. Being human is messy and we are all imperfect. We make mistakes and we hurt one another. One of the beautiful outcomes of the Dismantling Racism work has been the deep exploration of the ways in which we have implicit bias and have said and done racist things to hurt our BIPOC friends and neighbors. We realized we have contributed to and supported the system of white supremacy in this country. We looked deep. We named the ways we participated. You could say many of us “confessed” some things to one another that we feel terrible about and wished we hadn’t done. If we don’t do that, we can’t heal ourselves or the community. In the words of Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." That’s what God wants for us.


COMMUNITY TEACHES YOU TO WORK THROUGH CONFLICTS

I can’t imagine that in that group of over 5,000 there were no conflicts. Wherever 2 or more are gathered, there is community and there is conflict. Church community is no exception. We don’t always agree. We butt heads. We hurt one another. We don’t always get our way. We get mad. And we are called to listen. To learn. To hear a new or different perspective. To grow. To stretch. To ask questions. To speak one's own truth in a respectful way. To keep coming back in love and hope. This is not easy, and it is part of being human living in community – including living and being in a Church community.


COMMUNITY GIVES YOU THE CHANCE TO FORGIVE

When there is conflict there is also forgiveness … hopefully. Learning to apologize and accept apology is downright hard – after all, no one wants to admit wrongdoing or mistakes. And we are human. Sikh activist Valerie Kaur offers us some amazing teaching through her Revolutionary Love Compass. She says, “When an “other” is in front of you, this practice is called “See No Stranger.” It begins with wonder. You can look upon anyone and say “you are a part of me I do not yet know. I will let your story into my heart, I will let your grief into my heart.” (https://valariekaur.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/The-Revolutionary-Love-Learning-Hub-Audio-Transcript.pdf)

Perhaps this is how forgiveness begins – by opening our hearts and practicing wonder. You are part of me I do not yet know. Jesus taught us that we are all connected. That we need each other. Indeed, you are part of me I do not yet know.


So, who are “we” anyway? I think this is an ongoing discussion and ever-evolving. As the proposed new vision statement says, we are a Welcoming Community of Spiritual Seekers, with an ever-evolving progressive view of the Holy, that is actively engaged in building a world with justice for all creation.


How will you be part of that and how will “we” live it? With God’s help, let’s find out together.




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