Tuesday, May 10, 2011

It Takes A Village
Luke 24:33-35[1]
Some years ago, Hillary Clinton captured our attention with a book entitled “It takes a Village.” Her premise was a simple one—generations of people from all races and cultures and languages have recognized that it takes more than the “nuclear family” in order to raise children. It takes a village. Although the book generated some controversy, it seems to me that every parent knows what she was talking about—without an extended family, without the support system of schools and churches and scout groups and sports teams and neighbors, it is nearly impossible to raise a child.
We in the reformed church have incorporated this perspective into the way we raise our children in the faith. Parents present their children for baptism, promising to raise them in the community of faith. And in turn, the community of faith promises to embrace these children and to play a supporting role in their nurture, guidance, and instruction. In fact, this has been a central feature of what it means to be the community of faith for generations—we know that it takes a village to raise children in the faith.
So why would we think it would be any different in our own faith journey? All of us continue to develop our faith long after childhood. Life doesn’t stay in one place, which means that the faith we had as children must grow stronger in order to meet the times of testing and trial that come to us all. The fact of the matter is, we are all continually developing in our faith. And yet, because we live in a culture that values self-sufficiency and independence, we tend to approach our faith journey as if we’re essentially on our own. We seem to think that we either can or should keep our faith struggles, our questions and doubts, our uncertainties and even confusion to ourselves. To me it’s the equivalent of throwing children out on the street to fend for themselves after they turn 13!
The reality is that faith has always been a community endeavor. From the very beginning, we find the early Christians gathering together to share with each other the bewildering experiences they have had with the risen Christ. I find it interesting that a common theme in the stories about the disciples discovering that Jesus was alive is that they immediately went back to the rest of the group to tell the others what had happened. It’s one thing for them to race from Golgotha to the upper room in Jerusalem. It’s another thing altogether for the disciples on the road to Emmaus to run 7 miles back to share the good news with the others. Notice that the Gospel reading for today says that “That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem” (Luke 24:33). Anybody up for a late night 10k? When they got there, they found “the eleven” were saying that Jesus was risen. And they in turn shared what had happened to them. The cumulative effect is that in the sharing they were supporting and encouraging and strengthening each other’s faith! As one contemporary prophet puts it, “The resurrection is not a fact to be believed, but an experience to be shared.”[2]
I think this is true of all of our faith. It simply is not something that can flourish in a context where we think we have to be spiritual “lone rangers.” Faith flourishes in a community. There is something about faith that it needs to be carried out “ in the presence of all God’s people” (Psalm 116:14) in order to thrive. I like the way Henri Nouwen puts it:
“Christian community is the place where we keep the flame of hope alive among us … . That is how we dare to say that God is a God of love when we see death and destruction and agony all around us. We say it together. We affirm it in each other.”[3]
It takes a village for us to make the journey of faith if for no other reason than it takes human flesh and blood to translate the truths of our faith into new life. Our faith is simply too theoretical for people of our day and time to embrace unless there is someone there to demonstrate them in action in the real world. One of our confessions puts it this way: “The new life takes shape in a community in which people know that God loves and accepts them in spite of what they are. They therefore accept themselves and love others, knowing that no one has any ground on which to stand, except God’s grace.”[4]
Faith is not easy. We’ve been talking about how we as people of the 21st century have some challenges with our faith. Just as in every other aspect of human development, it takes a village for us to sustain a thriving and growing faith. It takes a community to hold on to the faith that God is working to bring grace and peace and mercy and love and life to every life in the midst of all the suffering and heartbreak and cruelty and hypocrisy of this world.[5] Our experience of life in this world is such that we always have to keep learning what it means to have faith. That doesn’t typically happen well when we try to go it alone. Faith is something that thrives and grows in the sharing. And that happens in the context of a village—a community of faith. Our community serves as a kind of extended family for us in our faith. It’s our support system, encouraging and guiding and strengthening us as we take our journey of faith.

[1] © 2011 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 5/8/11 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] Walter Wink, “Resonating With God’s Song,” The Christian Century (March 23, 1994).
[3] Henri Nouwen, Finding My Way Home, 105.
[4] The Confession of 1967, 9.22.
[5] Most of us have been in the place where we say with the disciples on the road to Emmaus “We had hoped ...” (Lk 24:21).


Steven De Ruiter said...

wonderful piece. thanks for sharing. very helpful in my exegesis.

Alan Brehm said...