Summary: In a world of division and strife, finding peace means building healthy relationships and strong community based in Christ's love.
As I prayed over and prepared this sermon this week, I kept thinking how ironic it is to be writing a sermon about fostering community in the wake of a very contentious Super Tuesday primary. If anything, for weeks, we have watched the breakdown of community played out right before our eyes on TV, radio, and print news as reports of the 2016 race for the White House have dwarfed every other news story. I feel like I’ve been focusing on this theme a lot in recent weeks, but it’s on our minds, isn’t it? For many of us, the biggest hurdle to peace in our lives currently is the angst we are feeling over this presidential election cycle. And I don’t know about you, but for me, a lot of what is troubling are the significant divisions we are seeing in our country as people rally, sometimes viciously, behind their chosen candidate. So if division is a source of anxiety in our lives, then unity, community should be a source of peace. “I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”
There can be no doubt that the divisive political environment in our country is a big problem right now, but I think it points to something much deeper. The kind of hate-filled rhetoric we have heard from candidates and their supporters doesn’t just happen in a competition for political office. This comes, I believe, from a complete breakdown of community. Perhaps you have heard of the “back porch phenomenon,” which simply points out the fact that we have gone from building houses with expansive front porches (as we did in the early 20th century), to building homes with no front porches, but with back porches surrounded by privacy fences. We can all tell stories like Mark did in his book, Finding Peace in an Anxious World, about remembering a time when we knew all our neighbors and interacted with them, their dogs, and their children on a regular basis. But such familiarity is gone, and in its place has arisen suspicion. I wish I knew WHY community has broken down as it has; you might wonder the same. But I don’t know that we have any good answers. We can speculate—maybe it’s because crime rates have risen. Or maybe it’s because having the latest breaking news right at our fingertips has made us more aware of the bad things happening in the world and in our communities. Perhaps the problem is that TV, computers, and other electronic devices have caused us to turn more inward. I don’t know. But the simple fact of the matter is that disconnecting from one another has also made our lives more worried and anxious.
Just think for a moment about those times in your life when you really felt like you were part of a tight-knit community. For me, it was my three years in seminary. I had close friends in high school and in college, but my seminary community was different. There was a group of six or eight of us. We first connected on orientation day, when we were sitting out on the lawn eating some lunch and my friend Katie said, “Y’all want to order some pizza tonight?” Several of us looked at each other, sort shrugged our shoulders, and said, “Why not?” And that was it…from that point on, I guess the best way to put it is to say that we did life together. We’d eat lunch together, then we’d go over to the dorm basement and play pool until time for our next class. Then we’d eat dinner together. After we finished classes or studying in the evenings, we’d often walk together the three-quarters mile to the closest 7-Eleven, where we’d buy slurpies to sip on as we walked back to campus. We probably did that three or four times a week. On the weekends, we’d make chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast and eat them in the dorm kitchen. Or we’d pile onto the twin bed and loveseat in my apartment to watch movies. Oftentimes, we’d go for a bike ride around DC or into Virginia. We made blankets for the homeless and walked around Northwest DC handing them out. We would often go to the various churches where we worked to support one another in our different endeavors. We helped each other study, we laughed together, we cried together, we got mad at each other and confessed our sins to one another. I miss those day to day interactions with those folks so much, but here’s the thing; I know that was true community because what we shared was more than just friendship; it was sacred, it was holy.
And that’s why fostering community in our lives is so important when it comes to experiencing peace. Community is special, it’s sacred, it’s a way that we connect more deeply not just with one another, but with God. Really, this is so much of why Christ prayed for the unity of believers. The kind of unity that Christ had in mind is one of mutual dependence and trust, such that our primary access to God is by way of one another. What if we looked at every relationship we have as one that connects us more fully with God? How much more would we seek out community? How much more would we work toward building healthy relationships in our lives?