14 May 2017
5th Sunday of Easter, Year A
Trying to live as a community takes work. It doesn’t seem to matter what kind of community we’re talking about; it takes a deliberate effort to make it work.
For instance, when the United States was coming to be, it took a Revolutionary War, lots of arguing, compromise, and a lot of heartache for our founders to come up with our basic societal structures and system of self-government. Of course, that’s on a large scale. So, consider also the small scale; for instance, when two people get married.
A marriage is a community of two. And it takes work to make that union work. There’s probably debate about the smallest details: Who’s going to make sure the bills are paid? Who’s going to take care of the garbage and the house cleaning? Who’s going to make sure the newlyweds stay active in their church? What are the ground rules for this new household, this new community that’s taking shape?
Trying to live as a community takes work. And it doesn’t seem to matter what kind of community we’re talking about; it takes a deliberate effort to make it work. And this is no different in the community of faith.
Just three weeks ago, we read in the Acts of the Apostles that the early Christians were doing well. We heard that “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life. All who believed were together and had all things in common. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people” [Acts 2:42-46].
But now, today—just four chapters later in the Acts of the Apostles—we hear there was disagreement in the community. And what’s interesting is that this was only three or four years after the Resurrection of Jesus and the first Pentecost. After only three or four years the Christian community was already starting to have tensions within itself—and for good reason.
We know from the Acts of the Apostles that “every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” [Acts 2:47]. Every day the community got larger. And, as we know, the more people there are coming together, the more chance there is for disagreement among them, and the more need there is for organization and rules. The difference between Chapter 2 and Chapter 6 in the Acts of the Apostles is that the Christian community had grown in numbers, and it had become more diversified. And so the work and struggle of being a community of faith became harder.
And almost goes without saying that this same dynamic of communal growth, tension, resolution, and further growth is just part and parcel of what it means to be part of the Church. To be part of the Catholic Church means learning how to live with one another—emphasis on the word “learning.” It takes work, and heartache, and headaches, and laws and structure, and lots and lots of prayer and humility and faith.
Being part of the Church doesn’t mean that every day is going to be a “mountaintop experience.” You know, some days it’s going to be nothing but a chore to try to be charitable to a fellow parishioner. Some days we’re going to think about a brother or sister in Christ and wonder, “What in the world are they doing?” And then there are days when you just want to jump ship and get off this crazy ride we call “the Church.”
But we don’t. We stick with it. Not because we like conflict, but because of our common, shared faith.
In Scripture today we heard that “the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table.’” Now, this is a particularly important line for me as an ordained priest. But, really, it’s an important line for all the faithful, who are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own.” And it’s important because it reminds us of a basic structure that underlies any community of faith.
The basic structure is: to put God first, and material goods second; and then to have certain people within the community whose job it is to make sure that God is first and material goods are second. In the Gospel of Luke, there’s a scene where Jesus is teaching the crowds about heaven, and then a man interrupts him to ask for help with a legal problem he’s having with his inheritance. And Jesus’ response is: “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?”
In other words, he was saying, “Friend, I didn’t come to be an administrator of your goods; I came to lead you to God.” And that’s the sentiment the Apostles have when they say, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table.” In the Christian community, there are those whose basic task is to make sure the people of God remain people “of God;” and to be a people of God means, among other things, to take on the heart of the one Priest, Jesus, and to be faithful to him.
As I mentioned before, there are days when you just want to jump ship and get off this crazy ride we call “the Church.” But we don’t. We stick with it. And we do that because, even in spite of our differences, we know that our common faith in Jesus is at the heart of it all. We are a community “of faith,” first and always. And this really is what makes being Catholic such a wonderful thing.
The U.S. Bishops use the phrase “unity in diversity.” Our unity is in Christ. Our unity is our common profession of faith that, “I believe in one God, the Father the almighty; I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; I believe in the Holy Spirit; and I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” But around this core of unity is an immense diversity—what St. Paul calls “the many parts of the one Body.”
Way back in the year 36/37 AD that concept of “unity in diversity” was already at work. Only three years or so after the Resurrection of Jesus, the Church was already trying work through what it means to be unified in Christ, and yet diverse within itself. And every now and then, throughout its history, the Church has had to struggle with that same question. Even here, today, at St. Clare it’s something that we’re working through as a merged community of faith.
As I’ve mentioned before in the bulletins, newsletters, and announcements the parish is considering its short and long term direction. There are a lot of “pots on the stove” right now; things like: getting a new hymnal, reorganizing our committees and groups, forming several new ones, getting a better financial plan in place, rethinking the way we do our high school religious education, considering ways to keep growing the school and, finally, coming up with a pastoral plan for the parish as a whole.
There are a lot of “pots on the stove” right now for St. Clare. And a common ingredient in them all is that very ancient concept of “unity in diversity.” How can we be a community “of faith”—a community rooted in Christ and our common profession of faith—and yet also a community which allows for our diversity to come through.
And we are certainly a diversity parish: people who are farmers, others who commute to the Fox Valley or Green Bay; people who love organ music, people who can’t stand the organ; young people, old people; young families and empty nesters; rich people, poor people, and everybody in between; Hollanders, French, Belgian, Irish, Germans, Hispanics, and more; outsiders and insiders; loud people, quiet people; stubborn people, easy going people; progressives, conservatives; happy people, sad people; brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers; sinners and saints, children of God.
There’s a lot of diversity in this community of faith. And it takes a lot of work to make it work. And the most basic “work” we each do is to be a person “of faith.” In spite of our diversity, and even right within our diversity, we nonetheless share a common faith and a common destiny. We’re all headed to “the Father’s house, where there are many dwelling places.” And we get there through the one Lord of us all, Jesus, who inspires us and builds us up in faith, to live in faith.
And so, let us stand now, and profess together: “I believe in one God . . .”