A Strong Community...
So began one of the articles I read in reference to this weeks gospel reading. The rest of the sentence was "enhances the lives of its members", but a strong community is more and does more than mere enhancement. The strong community fills our gaps, makes us whole, supports us in time of need, rejoices when we are happy. But the strong community is more than even that - it is diverse. Diversity comes in many forms, but it is these very differences that make the community stronger together. A bundle of sticks that all have a thin spot in the same area will break consistently. A community where all members are exactly the same will have the same vulnerability. A strong community has differences of philosophy and thought, of ability and resources, of backgrounds and traditions. A strong community can take these differences and sit at the table together and enjoy the company and fellowship.
Throughout our lives, we all have difference communities we participate in: they are connected to our identity. I remember one time in seminary, one of my classmates (one community) asked me the very reasonable question, "Where are you from?" (what is your community of origin) I replied, "I am from a small town no one knows of but everyone passes on the highway west of Albany."
I will never forget this woman's response. "Honey," she said, "You come from a small town that has survived 200 years of existence in this great nation. Your town has history and dignity and pride. Be Proud of the small town you come from. Say It's Name First, then give the location if you get a blank look."
A strong community is part of our identity, and claiming that identity brings awareness and connection and strength to the ties that bind the community together. These communities are the towns we grow up in, the churches or other houses of faith we attend, the neighbors whose driveways we help plow in the winter, lawns we mow in the summer. Our communities are the music festivals, the poker nights, the knitting circles, the book clubs, and other hobbies. Our communities are the sports teams of kids, grand-kids, nieces and nephews, or adult leagues we might participate in. I remember getting a charge of excitement whenever I read about other bagpipers in the newspaper when I was growing up. These are the ties that bind, these are the connections that keep us whole.
Sometimes, though, the strength of the identity of the community becomes it's weakness as the call to confirm to a demanding social order creates a concern about inclusiveness and a system of exclusivity and isolation. This exclusivity was the issue the disciples raised to Jesus' attention in Sunday's gospel, but Jesus' answer keeps the door open.
A strong community is a net - the members are all connected one to another, and it can catch all who come through the door.