Journeying with Community as Christians in 21st century San Francisco

This Sunday we consider the importance of community as we seek our spiritual path through our lives here in the Bay Area of the 21st century. Today’s Gospel story tells how Zechariah and Elizabeth brought the infant John to the Temple to be circumcised. Their spiritual path was grounded in community, and they chose to mark momentous events – such as the birth of their son ­ with a ceremony held at the center of Jewish life: the Temple in Jerusalem. Living in community was central to their way of being Jewish.
But how about us: Episcopalians living on the rim of the Pacific Ocean in a time of trouble, turbulence and despair? For us, being Christian also centers on living in community. Unlike other spiritual paths, our form of Christianity is not a solitary way: we are not a people who choose to shut out the world around us in our effort to walk more closely with our God.

Consider the way we, as Episcopalians, join the church. Whether we are infants or adults, we must be baptized to become a Christian. Baptism is the only initiation rite we recognize for becoming a Christian. And – for me ­ one of the most important actions in our Baptismal Liturgy comes when, after all who are to be Baptized have been presented, the Celebrant addresses the congregation and asks:

“Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?” And the People answer: “We will.”

We – you and I ­ were baptized into a community of people who promised they would do everything they could to support us in our life in Christ. We are baptized into a community that promises to love and help us, and that is our context for living a Christian life in this time and in this place.

Likewise, in some of our liturgies for marriage, we see a similar action by the community assembled. In the 2012 marriage service for same-sex couples, for example, the priest asks the assembly:
Will all of you here gathered uphold and honor this couple and respect the covenant they make?

And the people answer: “We will.”

And then the priest asks: “Will you pray for them in times of trouble and celebrate with them in times of joy?

And again the people answer: “We will.”

Next, the priest calls us to join and “pray for {those just joined} in their life together and for the concerns of this community.”
In both baptism and marriage, the people assembled to form a community of faith who are called on to help and support those just baptized or married. This commitment to care for each other is part of what makes us who we are as Episcopalians.

We are not set on a solitary path but rather we have chosen to live in community. Just like Zechariah and Elizabeth.

The naming of John the Baptizer

Yet Zechariah and his community were surprised, as we heard in today’s scripture, he was struck dumb by an angel. And the community was in for an even greater surprise when Zechariah was able to speak again.

Surely this story was repeated over and over again, as Luke tells us the community “pondered” what sort of person this John would become.
I wonder what are the stories this community tells about how God is working in their midst?
I wonder how these stories shape our understanding of this community?
And looking back on this discussion of community and today’s Gospel story, I wonder:

Where have you heard God speaking in our church or ministry?

When have you felt yourself growing closer to God in this church community?

When have you experienced God’s love for you here? When have you felt yourself loving God in the context of this community?

Which moment most resonates with your own experience?

What role is community playing in your life?

How are we, as a faith community, proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God?


St._ John the Baptizer
St. John the Baptizer

As each of us knows ­ and I feel more keenly today more than many ­ new phases of life often arise unexpectedly. I wonder how our community will choose to support those entering into a new phase of life, like parenthood, graduation, retirement, or a move to a new and far away city? These are some of the unexpected edges of our life that can either give us more traction like a speed skater or ­ if handled poorly ­ leave deep wounds.

As we continue our Advent walk, I invite you to see the Way of Love as a journey that includes the community. The witness of Zechariah and Elizabeth who bring infant John to the Temple to be circumcised reminds each of us of the importance of our faith community to sustaining the Way of Love.Just as the community did for John’s family, our faith communities provide us with a safe place for discernment and growth. Sometimes they challenge us and other times they affirm us. Sometimes they bind up our broken hearts and sometimes we are the ones who help heal the hurts of others. Communities celebrate and mark important moments along the journey. That is what we do.This Advent, as a community, we are exploring something called a spiritual ‘Rule of Life.’ We each already have one – one we follow every day of our life: it is how we run our life; how we decide what is important and what we are going to do next.
Many of us have a ‘Rule of Life’ that just sort of grew without planning or thought – it just grew out of what we liked or wanted to do. Now, as a community, we’re talking about being more mindful our life rules so our spiritual path takes us where we really want to go.

The good news is this doesn’t mean you have to spend hours praying or fill your house with smoke from incense. We can start with something as simple as doing one spiritual thing a day – a pattern we are developing this advent when we take home and follow our weekly advent calendar. Here’s one way we can do this:Sunday: WorshipGather in community weekly to thank, praise, and dwell with God. When we worship, we gather with others before God. We hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, give thanks, confess, and offer the brokenness of the world to God. As we break bread, our eyes are opened to the presence of Christ.By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are made one body, the body of Christ sent forth to live the Way of Love.

Monday: Go
Cross boundaries, listen deeply and live like Jesus
As Jesus went to the highways and byways, he sends us beyond our circles and comfort, to witness to the love, justice, and truth of God with our lips and with our lives. We go to listen with humility and to join God in healing a hurting world. We go to become Beloved Community, a people reconciled in love with God and one another.

Tuesday: Learn
Reflect on Scripture each day, especially on Jesus’ life and teachings.
By reading and reflecting on Scripture, especially the life and teachings of Jesus, we draw near to God and God’s word dwells in us. When we open our minds and hearts to Scripture, we learn to see God’s story and God’s activity in everyday life.

Wednesday: Pray
Dwell intentionally with God daily.
Jesus teaches us to come before God with humble hearts, boldly offering our thanksgivings and concerns to God or simply listening for God’s voice in our lives and in the world. Whether in thought, word or deed, individually or corporately, when we pray we invite and dwell in God’s loving presence.

Thursday: Bless
Share faith and unselfishly give and serve
Jesus called his disciples to give, forgive, teach, and heal in his name. We are empowered by the Spirit to bless everyone we meet, practicing generosity and compassion and proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ with hopeful words and selfless actions. We can share our stories of blessing and invite others to the Way of Love.

Friday: Turn
Pause, listen and choose to follow Jesus.
Like the disciples, we are called by Jesus to follow the Way of Love. With God’s help, we can turn from the powers of sin, hatred, fear, injustice, and oppression toward the way of truth, love, hope, justice, and freedom. In turning, we reorient our lives to Jesus Christ, falling in love again, again, and again.

Saturday: Rest
Receive the gift of God’s grace, peace, and restoration.
From the beginning of creation, God has established the sacred pattern of going and returning, labor and rest. Especially today, God invites us to dedicate time for restoration and wholeness – within our bodies, minds, and souls, and within our communities and institutions. By resting we place our trust in God, the primary actor who brings all things to their fullness.
The good news is there’s no one spiritual ‘Rule of Life’ which is right for everybody. What matters is that you get to consider and then shape your own spiritual journey to go where you want to go.

So this week, amidst preparations for Christmas and a new year, let us each commit to following the advent calendars we receive today and taking one spiritual step forward each day. This is one way we can prepare ourselves for the end of Advent and rebirth of Jesus in our hearts.

Let us pray. God of hope, you call us home from the exile of selfish oppression to the freedom of justice, the balm of healing, and the joy of sharing. Make us strong to join you in your holy work, as friends of strangers and victims, companions of those whom others shun, and as the happiness of those whose hearts are broken. We make our prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord. May the church say Amen!


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