Iron Sharpens Iron—Living in Community at Church

I appreciated being able to go to the Yearly Meeting’s annual gathering.  Thank you, and I heard last week here at Klamath Falls Friends was a good service as well.  At the annual gathering, it was great to see old friends from Richmond, Indiana and to be with the other pastors and people of the yearly meeting I have gotten to know over the last year, to catch up, read their new books, and to share time in fellowship with others.  The SCYM group of pastors and their families are definitely a community which challenges each pastor in it to thrive, but also holds each other without judgement and with a listening heart, like you have to do to reach community.  I look forward to seeing each pastor, even though we didn’t find the time to get together as a group per se.  We sat at lunch tables, listened to each other’s challenges, walked with one another to workshops, the dining hall and on breaks, and lifted each other in prayer and in spirit.  I am blessed to have such a wonderful group of coworkers in this field in our yearly meeting.

But a group I hear from occasionally and meet with even less often pales in comparison to the kind of community a church itself can provide on a daily basis.  A church should be a community that is a safe place to not be a saint, where we are all held equally to one standard, love, and a lateral weight of importance is assigned to each person, equal if you are a new attender or if you have been a member here for decades, if you are pastor or you are a six year old boy’; everyone is treated the same way. Because every member is important and needed to help us become better people, better used by God, and better able to hear God’s leadership.

The quote Tony read today from Living the Quaker Way by Phil Gulley helps us to think about community in some of its more challenging times.  Church and community are fun, great places to be when everyone agrees and has the same vision.  But a church and community it brings must be flexible for diverse opinions, bound together not by shared beliefs or shared narratives, the roles ancient religions filled in our society.  Instead, we can hold loosely or lightly those beliefs and those stories, and trade it for complete trust when beliefs are different and deeply listening when the stories are told.

Today you will go into a time to discern way forward. I challenge you to build community where even your pastor can be assured that judgementalism is laid aside, and instead iron sharpens iron, and we help each other to see the good in challenging times or we hold each other up with encouragement and lots of prayer for one another.

Think of each person in this room. They are all unique and have unique beliefs and stories.  None is the same and most are night and day different for why and how they ended up here calling this place church. Let us hold our beliefs for ourselves with dignity and scrutiny, but let us hold the beliefs of others lightly without a grasp, with an open palm that extends friendship, love and a sense of belonging. Let us become encouragers and listeners, more deeply and more assuredly than ever before as we discern way forward in a world that is clamoring for great acceptance and love.

The rhetoric and dissension outside these walls will not get better any time soon.  We are in a worldwide culture war, not just in Klamath Falls Oregon but in Russia and Hungary, in Africa and beyond.  Do we want a hierarchy where white straight men get preference over anyone else, and those who support them and the ways in which they get power are rewarded with a voice, or do we give voice to people who are set on making all equal, or for whom that paradigm makes no logical sense?  And how do we do this without disregarding those voices that speak a truth differently than we do, from a different perspective, and from a different story.

What if we validated the stories others told by listening and found out why someone reacts like they do? Even when they disagree with us we don’t start reacting and disagreeing? Where is love in refusing to listen to people with contrary beliefs from ours?  Is that not self-love over the love of others?  How  do we refuse to react to one another but to respond in love no matter the subject matter? How do we let all things be held with love and kindness, and let us have a safe space in which to become the best versions of our spiritual selves as possible, watching and encouraging growth of the Spirit in each person we interact with every day.  May the Holy Spirit that breathes breath into humanity also be found in the breath you breathe, the air around you and in you, and the spirit in which you interact with the world.

Having a safe place to come and regroup each week or support each other during the week is the most important function of church.  We are here to hold each other through all our most secret trials.  Let us be bold enough to allow a safe space for all to discern the voice of God speaking in them.  May we create a space that nurtures our differences and protects our vulnerabilities.  This is my vision of what church can be.


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