Called to Community
Do you remember studying in American History about rugged individualism? The early pioneers like Daniel Boone wanted to live apart from everyone, dealing with nature and life alone. They didn’t like it if someone moved in a mere ten miles away. They wanted more elbow room. Or maybe you remember studying how during the industrial revolution a few people pulled themselves out of poverty and into affluence through personal hard work, neither wanting nor expecting anything from anyone else? These rugged individualists made themselves great, or so they thought.
All this made for good reading, but it was more poetic than reality. The early pioneers needed each other for protection, for help, for support. When the local tribe of Native Americans attacked, the settlers had to unite for their own protection. When Mrs. Boone was about to have a baby, she needed Mrs. Crockett to help out. The giant of the industrial revolution succeeded due to the work of the thousands he employed. There really never was nor ever will be any such creature as a rugged individual. To the person who claims to be a self-made man, I must respond, “Really, and how many days did it take you to create yourself.”
We are communal. We depend on each other for support, for help, for strength. This is obvious as we respond to various natural crises throughout the world. It is also obvious in our spiritual life. Only the need for community in the spiritual life is deeper, infinitely deeper. For Jesus did not establish a federation of individuals. He established a Church. He called upon us not just to work together but to unite as one person, one Body, the Body of Christ. He knew that we would be infinitely stronger united. He promised He would be with us.
The Gospel reading for this week is sometimes called the Dissertation on the Church. It is quite realistic. It talks about the way we deal with people who are destroying themselves and us with sin. “If your brother sins against you, go to him and tell him. If that doesn’t work, go again with friends to support you. If that doesn’t work, ask the whole Church for help with him, and so forth.” But that’s only looking at it from one side. The side that I’m most acquainted with is the other side. It seems that I can’t get away with anything. People are always telling me what I should or should not be doing. My guess is you often feel the same way.
I once heard a young speakers tell about an incident that happened after two months of marriage. It was Saturday afternoon. He told his wife that he was going to pop into the Church for confession. Before he left, she said, “Wait a minute,” and starting writing a things down. He assumed she wanted him to stop by the grocery story. She kept writing and writing. Finally, he said, “Dear, I’ve got to go, they stop hearing confessions at 3:45.”
“Just a minute,” she said, and she added a few more things and gave him the list. When he got in the car he glanced at it and found that instead of groceries she gave him a list of suggestions for confession. The worst part was that she was right on all of them.
Or perhaps you remember the conclusion of the old movie, Moonstruck. When the mother confronts the father with his sins, she tells him, “You have a good life here. Don’t destroy it.”
After a brief moment of male bravado, he says, “OK”.
Then she says, “And another thing, you’re going to confession.”
Every one of us know numerous times that others have encouraged us to change our ways. And that is a great thing. The care of others protects us from our worst enemy, ourselves. We are better people because we sense the deep responsibility we have towards each other. Husbands and wives are better people because they have and treasure each other and change themselves out of love. You parents don’t let bad things into your homes because you are raising God’s children. You Teens keep the garbage out of your lives because you are in love with Love, with God, and are looking forward to the future He is preparing for you. And all of us in ministry continually change our behavior for the sake of those to whom we minister, and, even more important, as well as the Ultimate One we serve.
The Gospel also tells us that Jesus is with us even if just two or three of us gather in his name. The presence of Our Lord when we pray together is very real. He is present in Word. He is present in Sacrament. But more than that: He is present in us. Sometimes that presence is so real that we can feel Him in each other. At other times, we might feel nothing; but we still know that He is here.
Our church structure has huge beams holding up our huge roof. They are massive. They were produced in North Carolina. When they were brought to Tarpon Springs, they were so large that they had to be sent in by train in huge open box cars. That was last train trip up to Tarpon Springs on what is now the Pinellas trail. The architect who designed our Church conceive a very heavy roof. He designed the beams to hold that roof. Can you imagine how much weight those beams hold? Now here’s the thing: the beams are made of small pieces of wood. The small pieces of wood are laminated into a powerful structure, capable of holding an immense weight.
This is a good analogy of the importance each of us have in the Body of Christ, the Church. We are those little pieces of wood. We can each hold only a little weight, not all that much. But when we are united together, and united with Jesus, we can hold the weight of the world.
We need each other, and we need Jesus. And we have Jesus. We are the Body of Christ. We are the Church.