Community is exhausting.
Because sometimes you are looking for a break and you try to hide in a house in Tyre but everybody still knows you are there, and then this Gentile woman, who you and your friends consider to be unclean, has the nerve to approach you asking you for healing and you get upstaged by the wisdom in her comeback line AND you have to re-think your whole community thing.
Community makes you want to pull your hair out.
Because sometimes you heal a person and you ask them not to let the word get out because it’s only going to mean more work and trouble for you and the first thing they do is blab all over the place.
In this week’s Gospel we have the opportunity to see Jesus struggling with community and getting somewhat grouchy about it. So I am going to continue in this direction for a bit. Bear with me.
Before I begin, a disclaimer: Any resemblance to actual persons, or actual events at Saint Anne’s is purely coincidental.
Community is annoying.
Because sometimes you spend time doing something, and then you find somebody else has undone what you just did, or thrown it away, because of a miscommunication.
Community is lonely.
Because sometimes there’s a big job to do and hardly anybody shows up to help.
Community requires too much patience.
Because sometimes a person’s way of helping is actually not helpful at all.
Community is stale.
It changes too slowly!
Community is scary.
It changes too quickly!
Community is extremely frustrating.
Because sometimes you want to try something really cool and new but it seems like first you have to ask every last person how they feel about it and then after all it turns out you can’t do it anyway because someone has an opinion or a sensitivity or there’s a larger economic or municipal hurdle that makes it unfeasible.
Community is divisive.
Because sometimes the thing you like best is the thing somebody else likes least.
Community is heartbreaking.
Because sometimes there is breakdown in communication, and friends can’t see eye-to-eye, and the situation seems un-fixable.
So: what keeps us here?
I stay here because this place helps me grow. When I share experiences with other people I learn about myself. I learn how to negotiate, what my buttons are, how to be patient, how to listen. Each interaction is a little lesson at how to be. It’s like flexing a muscle. If you sit at home and never bump up against a discomfort, if you never run on the community treadmill, if you always have control, then you will atrophy.
I think this is what helped Jesus grow as well. The confrontation with the Gentile woman blew open his notion of who could be part of his community. Don’t you wish you could have seen the expression on his face when the Gentile woman delivered her line? I imagine his face going from cold and self-important, to a little shocked, then softening and becoming gentle.
Community can be hard if, like me, you feel better when you have control. I like to work alone and I’m somewhat of a micromanager. We see this happening to Jesus in the second part of the reading. He performs a miracle and wants to control what happens next. He tries to contain it, but he can’t. It spirals away from him like a big reply-all email or a viral Facebook post. Jesus was worried that if the word got out he could not fulfill all the requests for healing that would pour in. Do you ever feel that way? Do you worry sometimes that if you say yes, you will get pulled into doing more than you planned on? Do you worry that the barrier will fall and your nice little compartments will get messy and your “church friends” will become simply “friends?”
Community challenges us in this way. But it isn’t all work. There are many many good things that keep us here. And as we have seen in the past few weeks, when community is good, it is REALLY GOOD, and it rises above all the petty details like nothing else can.
Community is inspiring:
For instance, were you here last Sunday? It was one of the top 10 favorite services I have attended at Saint Anne’s. Jennifer hit it out of the ballpark with her dragonfly sermon. Tony’s playing and singing on the offering hymn was so moving that he got a well-deserved round of applause.
Community is powerful:
When minds, hands, and hearts work together to solve a problem.
Community is sacred:
When you are able to spend the last hours of someone’s life with them and their family and then gather together to pray, cry, sing, laugh, and visit.
Community is hilarious:
When you spend almost as much time in a meeting laughing as you do getting work done.
Community is joyful:
Baptisms, weddings, Christmas, Easter. Where else would you want to be?
Community is delicious:
One word: Potluck
I was not very involved in the churches I attended in my Catholic youth and young adulthood. Even though I went to Mass regularly all thorough my 20’s, I rarely dug down much deeper than attending services. My life at Saint Anne’s has been different. I began teaching Sunday Club and helping with Summer Stretch. I serve on the Vestry and help with the Weekly Announcer.
I found out that the deeper you move into a community, the more foibles you will see. Why? The answer is obvious. You develop an intimacy and a level of annoyance that is usually reserved for those to whom you are related.
So: if you have ever been irked by someone or challenged by something here: Congratulations! You are moving from community to FAMILY. You’re in the circle deep enough that someone has let their guard down around you. They’ve shown you their flaws and vulnerabilities. I know that I have shown my flaws to many of you.
Seeing each other this way, like seeing the grouchy, snobby Jesus in this Gospel, gives me encouragement because his flaws are relatable.
It’s the same thing with priests. Did you know that priests are people? Of course I knew that. But I didn’t really know it in my heart until Saint Anne’s. Priests were always set apart, more capable, more tolerant, more holy and wise. Theo and Jennifer, Joanie and Bob and Lydia and other leaders that we admire have the amazing talent for remembering names, for smoothing over petty details, for knowing the right words to say when someone is suffering, for gathering everyone in, for working with and at least making the appearance of enjoying the varied personalities they encounter. Yes, it is likely that they were born with some of these talents and that’s what drew them to leadership. But I also believe that in many areas they simply made the choice to get better at doing what they do, and they practiced. They practiced getting used to the feeling of their hearts softening. They practiced choosing compassionate responses.
Again, I ask you to return to this Gospel and imagine Christ’s face softening as he makes a different choice. I can make the same choices. I can choose to be more patient, I can choose to think and speak of others only with kindness. I can choose to try and open my circle of community. In fact, our faith requires us all to try and make these choices.