Living in community and caring for one another is another of the Christian Spiritual practices that often gets overlooked and underestimated. Community was important right from the beginning of Christianity. We know this because where Christ said, “Wherever one or two of you are gathered there I will be as well”. A Christian community is meant to act as a family, as a support system in times of need, as a bearer of Christ’s message and as the embodiment of the work of God in our lives. What that community looks like and how it acts is what makes this a Spiritual practice.
To live in a community, there are several things that are needed. We need to live into the love of Christ, be forgiving of one another, and caring about how we interact and welcome strangers and friends alike. These all sound like common sense but in practice they are much harder. I myself struggle with the forgiving aspect of this spiritual practice. I envy people who are able to forgive so easily. My mother is possibly one of the most forgiving persons I have ever known. As some of you may know, she has 6 sisters and one brother (which means I have A LOT of cousins). With a family that size, not everyone is going to get along and with that many sisters sometimes that means that unkind things are said and feelings are hurt.
During my childhood, I remember that family parties involved one of the sisters crying because of something one of the older sisters had said. I used to say to my mother, “Why do you keep seeing them if they are going to hurt your feelings?” But my mother would say that family is more important than hurt feelings. Family is your support when hardship happens and they are trying to be better people. Don’t you think everyone deserves a new beginning?” I always tend to lean towards no for that answer. But that is not the Christian answer to that question. That is the bitter answer to that question.
If we look at the Bible we see that community is more important than anything else. We see that Abraham welcomes complete strangers into his home, gives them a feast, and prostrates himself before them humbling himself to make them feel welcome and to show how important they were to him. He took the time, at his own expense, to care for their needs. He lived into the first part of this spiritual practice. Jesus took this idea of welcome and care further to include the act of forgiveness as part of it. We see it in the prodigal son. No graveling was needed because the wholeness of the community or in this case the family unit was more important than past slights, harsh words, and hurt feelings. Forgiveness was freely offered and the prodigal son was immediately apart of the community he once shunned without any reproach.
We are called to offer community as a spiritual practice, a way of connecting with God by connecting with the people around us. In that practice, we offer community to strangers and friends alike, to people who are estranged and to people who work to maintain relationships. We offer forgiveness and not blame, love and not judgment. We do this all because by living as a unit we are showing the world the results of our faith, of the love we are called to live. Reinhold Neibuhr reminds us that, “Forgiveness is the final form of love” and to love someone, each other is the greatest way for us to connect with God and to free ourselves from those hurts and pains that constrain us in life. It creates space for us and others to know that all people are accepted, loved, and valued. It creates a space where all people are free of the judgments of society and where each person can experience God.
Let us worry less about the past, the indignation, and slights of life and let’s celebrate together the community, the forgiveness, and the love of God. For the love we show, the acceptance we show, should mirror the love and accept we have experience from God. Remember what the father from Jesus’ parable said to his eldest son, “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found”. We are called to focus on the today, to embrace people for today, tomorrow may bring something different to our relationships and to our community, arguments will happen, hurt feelings will happen but with forgiveness we give each person a new beginning and we live into the love of God.
This week, let us offer forgiveness, let us be inviting, let us embrace the freedom offered to us through community, togetherness, and a holy connection between each other and God. We do this first by placing love first in our hearts, by offering forgiveness to those we have been unable to forgive for years when they come seeking, and by being the community that welcomes when they eventually decide to come back. So work to love first and to judge second. Work to remember that community and family are more important than anything else in life because it is through togetherness that we truly experience the love of Christ in its fullness.
This week I would like all of you to find ways to accept, love, and welcome people into your lives, into your families, and into your community.
 Reinhold Neibuhr, 20th century.
 Luke 15: 32, RSV.
(Genesis 18:1-8 and Luke 15:11-32)