Tomato plants require abundant water. Before the recent rains, I was out pretty much every evening watering our one tomatoe plant in a small raised bed. It concerned me, in the heat and dryness of the past couple of months, when I missed a day or two in a row. I was worried that I wasn’t doing my part to ensure a healthy yield at the end of the summer.
When we received the deluge of much needed rain in the last week, I could see the plant fill out immediately and expand even out over the edge of the box. How much it needed the rain! How much it depended on it, to grow.
I realized, in that mundane example, how interdependent life is on this earth. That it truly takes all parts, all members of creation, to participate in the maintenance and growth of life. I did my small part when it wasn’t raining. And when the time was right, beyond my doing, the much-needed rainfall did its part.
These days, we face a new beginning. We are like Moses and the people of Israel on the mountain looking into the Promised Land. We are like Moses and the people of Israel looking into the Promised Land, and considering how best to cross the Jordan and live in this new land. This new land, I call the post-pandemic church. We are now in liminal, inbetween space, one foot in the near past, and one foot begging to take the next step.
It’s a good time to recall and recover the basic question of who we are, as the people of God. “Why congregations?” The first point is that congregations create a place for deep social bonding. Perhaps the key word in this phrase is ‘deep’. Or, ‘deeper’ than what we might initially think.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus is rejected by his home town. His response to this rejection redefines what relationships look like in the reign of God on earth. And, it goes deeper than what we might initially think.
For one thing, it is often a social bonding born out of conflict and difference—as Jesus himself experienced. “And they took offence at him.” Whether with his family members or hometown neighbours who only knew him as a carpenter’s son, Jesus recognized our knee-jerk capacity to exploit our differences and assume that what makes us different from one another is somehow bad and unacceptable. And must be rejected outright.
The deeper bonding is not about overlooking or denying our differences. It is about respecting those differences while acknowledging our deeper, common humanity underneath the surface of human interaction.
The deeper social bonding that congregations, churches, and communities of faith offer and from whom each of us will benefit is a bonding that goes beyond traditional family definitions, social club constructs, meetings of the ‘like-minded’. These may serve an ego-purpose of feeling good.
But the reign of God is much more than feeling good, or everyone conforming to some arbitrary standard of behaviour. It is recognizing how interdependent we are on this planet Earth.
I like illustrating truth from stories on the big screen or in books. I know not everyone here is a sci-fi movie buff, so please bear with me as I give you an example from what is now an old movie. Do you remember back in 1997 a movie called “Contact”?
In an interview with astronomer, Dr. Jill Tarter, she was asked about her work searching for life on other planets. Jill was the inspiration for the main character, Dr. Ellie Arroway, in that movie, staring Jody Foster.
During the interview, Dr. Tarter often referred to ourselves as “earthlings”. While this term is not one we normally use to describe our common humanity, she suggests that understanding ourselves as earthlings might just save the world.
She says, that calling ourselves “earthlings” is like “holding up a mirror to every individual on this planet and saying, ‘See, all of you? You’re all the same, when compared to something out there that had evolved independently.’”
This broad perspective helps us notice our differences “over which we’re so willing to shed blood, when, indeed, we are all human. We are all earthlings.” And if you see yourself as an earthling before you see yourself as American, Canadian, Indigenous, Asian, rich, poor, privileged, Muslim, Christian, gay, straight, etc., perhaps we can have a more fruitful conversation and deepen the social bonds in the community of faith.
And not reject someone for being different.
Jesus responds to his rejection at Nazareth not by giving up nor conforming to the pressures of his local tribe to just ‘be like them’. Jesus responds by moving forward in God’s mission to go out into the world not depending on anything else besides the promise and vision of the all-inclusive Gospel of Christ. “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two … [and they] cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”
The Gospel ends with a call for repentence – a turning around. “So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.” In the Gospel repentence is not just for individuals. We are at our best, not journeying alone as autonomous individuals doing our own thing, even with the Lord. We are at our best when we are in community.
The word ‘devil’ comes from the Greek which means, ‘to divide’, bring ‘discord’ and separate. Good religion realigns us. Good religion will always bring different people to be together in one place, to be a congregation and a faith community that includes rather than excludes, widens the circle rather than shrinking it, follows Jesus into the world rather than circling the wagons.
Those tomatoes needed me as much as I needed them. Not just for me or my family and friends to enjoy eating at the end of a season. But to remind me of my place from the larger perspective, to remind me that while I may play an important part in watering them when it’s dry, ultimately I depend on and trust in God’s timing and God’s gifts; and, to remind me that if anything my job is to pay attention to just how interdependent we all are in God’s reign. And love others, for that.
The heart of Christian community is the heart of God, who is community. For Christians, God is not one person, but three. I believe that unless we live in communion with one another, our witness to a God who is first and foremost community will fall on deaf ears.
There is no more important place for you in the community of faith, no more important job for you to do in the community of faith, than starting by just being yourself, and doing what small thing you can, as part of the interdependent web of relationships to which we all belong. Just be you. Because that’s who God created you to be, out of a great and deep love. And then, turn to another, and love them for being who they are, created also in the image of God.
 Mark 6:3
 Cited in Cameron Trimble, ibid.
 Mark 6:7,13
 Mark 6:12