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Community - Gathered and Grounded

By Rev. Bob Thompson

Proverbs 29: Selected verses

A Vision by Wendell Berry

The past several years have seen British Columbians facing a succession of crises resulting ,from weather catastrophes. My cynical response is that our four seasons are now fall, winter, spring and fire. And so, it has been again this year, except that as we move into fall, the fire season is still very present.

As with the ones before, this fire season has been laced with stories of heroism, and self-sacrifice – firefighters working tirelessly to save the homes of others even after their own homes have perished in the fires – stories of flames stopped literally at the back deck of homes. These stories have given us hope, in the face of so many other stories of loss and suffering.

Similar stories of selfless service and caring really touched me during the 2021 atmospheric river. When the interior of the province was cut off by rain and landslides that closed all of the major highways, we heard stories such as the woman, caught by the landslide across Highway 7 in the Fraser Valley, who risked her own life clamoring over the slide to look for victims in cars swept away by the slide. Stories such as the city of Hope setting up a soup kitchen to feed stranded motorists even though their own food resources were perilously low. Stories of Fraser valley farmers and ranchers who had lost their own farms to the flooding, but were still helping their neighbours save their farms and livestock.

What made those stories particularly poignant for me was that a few weeks before I had been taking an on-line course by Michael Dowd, an evolution theologian, and he had said that in times of crisis, humans pull together, to help each other. I was skeptical of that. We were already experiencing the confrontation and hostility growing around Covid 19 mandates. There were lots of news stories of people who seemed much more interested in drawing battle lines between each other, rather than working together. And then came the crisis of the atmospheric river, and what he said proved to be true. And it happened again, with the wildfires that have just overwhelmed us.

In times of crisis, humans pull together. My sense is that we come together like that in times of crisis is a good indication that this is our natural way of acting with each other. In the modern-day vernacular, we are hotwired to care for and support each other. I guess that aggression and confrontation are built into us too, but still, when the chips are down, we have each other’s backs.

But then, we long for the crisis to be over, and for things to return to normal. And unfortunately, returning to normal too often seems to include returning to confrontation and drawing battle lines. Until it begins to feel like that is the natural way we relate to each other. To the point that we can lose sight of the kind of behaviour we exhibit in crises.

I, for one, would like to see the “normal” mainly focused on love, compassion, justice, peace, hope. Wouldn’t it be nice if the way we acted toward each other during the heights of these crises was the normal way we acted toward each other. Sort of like, wouldn’t it be nice if, in January, we didn’t put away the notion of reaching out and supporting those in need, along with the rest of the Christmas decorations.

In a conversation the other day, Elaine Towgood was wondering what role the church – our church – could play in continuing to foster that attitude of care and compassion that we have just experienced. How can we turn that into an always and forever kind of experience?

That got me thinking that that is really what we are about as a church. As Don Sawatzky is often heard to say, what we are all about is learning to live like Jesus. And Jesus invited us to be part of the kin-dom community, which was to be exactly what we are talking about – a community where love, compassion, justice, peace, hope are the normal way of acting toward each other. We gather each week to hear about and practice that kin-dom community.

We hear Jesus’ talk about what that community would be like. We hear stories about how Jesus and his companions lived out that community in their own lives and relationships. We need to hear those stories again and again, because we forget so easily – we quickly fall back into the mindset that says that isn’t the normal way we act toward each other. We need to continually figure out how to live love, compassion, justice, peace, hope in our particular situations, in our relationships, just as Jesus and his companions did in their time and place.

What we are about, is continually hearing and practicing, what it means to live in kin-dom community.

That is why I believe that sharing God moments is one of the most important parts of our Sunday gatherings. That is how we find out from each other, how we are living the call to be in the kin-dom community. That is where we get clues about how our thoughts and actions, can contribute to the community we long for. There are many times when, at the end of the God moments, I feel like, “O.K., we can end the service and leave right now. I have what I need to face the next week, trying to live as a member of this kin-dom community.

And when we carry on, I believe that one of the other most important times in our Sunday gathering is the Prayers of the People. That is putting into practice, our thoughts, and commitments about creating kin-dom community. We reach out to others in prayer, to support them in what they need for meaningful healthy lives, with the conviction that our spiritual desire, added to theirs, gives strength to their quest for a fuller life. We believe there is that power in prayer.

Elaine Towgood was wondering what role our church could play in continuing to foster that attitude of care and compassion that we have just experienced. I believe we have been given the vision of what that community could be like, and we have been given the tools we need to learn to live it. We just need to be purposeful and diligent about using those tools and learning from them – as individuals, and as a community.

May it be so. Amen.

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