by Cecile Torbergsen, Devotions Chair, Episcopal Church Women of the Diocese of Louisiana

The theme for today’s gathering is EMBRACE THE COMMUNITY AND THE WORLD (Matt. 25:35B – “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”  Jesus said this to his listeners when they asked “When did we see you?”   Reading a little more of the chapter, we know Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”  Who are the Community and the World, and how do we embrace them?

A Community is a group of people living in the same locality and under the same government.  It also could mean a community of similar interests, or Society as a whole.

The World is our planet; the collection of communities, countries and peoples.  When we’re young, community and world to us are family, school and church friends.  Those raised in Christian homes probably experience being embraced by family members, and from them learn about hospitality, respecting others and observing the Golden Rule – to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. As we mature, we recognize that we and our communities are part of the big wide world, all made by the one creator God who loves us all.  In my somewhat insulated childhood environment, most people usually lived in the same neighborhood of the same city as their relatives.  Their friends, neighbors, schools and churches were their long-established communities within the city.  Rarely were there any strangers to welcome, other than occasional visiting relatives.  But when as a young wife and mother I moved to a different town, I was warmly greeted as a newcomer at Christ Church in Slidell.

This town was booming, with people moving in from all over the country, joining in activities and jobs right away.  Slidell natives were amazed, but hospitality was rampant among the newcomers.  In turn, I learned to welcome  and embrace newcomers to my church, neighborhood and workplace.

In Christian context, the community of the people of God is where we learn to strip away our self-interest in order to serve others.  It is here that we learn to share what God has given us, whether it be goods or spiritual gifts. It is also here that we learn to be served.  Sometimes we are the foot-washers and sometimes the washees.  Community means watching over one another for good, knowing that as we serve, all of us are growing stronger in Christ.  Christian communities provide workshops for prayer and worship.  As these communities witness to the power and presence of Christ in the world, they are models of what God wants for all of humankind:  love and acceptance, compassion and kindness, truth and honor. Where would we be without such community!  As mature Christians, we seek out and find smaller communities such as prayer groups, Bible Study, ECW, EFM, Cursillo, and other ministries in our Parish, Deanery, Diocese, Province, the national Church and ultimately, the Anglican Communion of the Body of Christ in the World.  And we invite others to join us in these ministries!  That is how we embrace our community and our World.

But how can we embrace those not raised with a faith experience or religious guidance?  Some unchurched folk might join secular communities; but some others might feel unfit for existing communities . Our baptism calls us to carry the ministry of reconciliation to all those around us, bringing God’s compassion and healing power into our broken world.  It is incumbent upon us to welcome the alienated, address the plight of the homeless; feed the hungry, seek justice for the oppressed – In other words, help to establish a beachhead for God’s peaceable Kingdom-community in a hostile World. Moreover, community is about relationships, to help us live together in the World as God wants us to in a great variety of ways – ways that strengthen rather than disrupt our vocations, families and ministries.

Community is a gift where God offers to pour out love on us all.  If we live into Christian community, we can broadcast the good news as a lived reality, and mediate God’s love to those who so desperately need it.  We simply cannot experience fully the power and delight of life with God without also being drawn into life together with our sisters and brothers in Christ.  Community is to be sought and welcomed.  By taking whatever risks to follow Jesus, we find that the reward is to enter into life as God intended it to be lived from the beginning of the World.

This being the Eve of the Day of Pentecost, I’ll close with the appropriate collect; Let us pray:  Come, O Spirit of God, and make within us your dwelling place and home.  May our darkness be dispelled by your light, and our troubles calmed by your peace; may all evil be redeemed by your love, all pain transformed through the suffering of Christ, and all dying glorified in his risen life.  AMEN.

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