May 7, 2017
John 10:1-10, Acts 2:42-47
This is our second year of Wisdom Reads.
Each year a Benedictine value is identified and then a book appropriate for all ages is selected that reflects this value. .
This year’s read is Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. This year’s Benedictine value is community.
If you haven’t read Seedfolks there are copies the lobby reception area. You can also get it out of your local library.
If you’ve ever lived in a large urban area or in a low income neighborhood, you know about vacant lots.
Vacant lots are a lot more than just an eyesore. They are an indicator of a community’s health.
Dave and I lived in Philadelphia when we were in our 30’s. One summer the garbage collectors went on strike. Vacant lots became the local garbage dump.
Even when there isn’t a garbage strike, vacant lots are the repository of old furniture, appliances, empty liquor bottles and who knows what else.
With empty syringes, broken glass, rusty metal and rats, they are a health hazard. They become a no-man’s land, or using inclusive language, a no-person zone.
Such is the setting of this year’s Wisdom Read, Seedfolks.
An abandoned city block in Cleveland.
Without a master plan and because a child plants six lima beans, it evolves into an urban garden. This garden becomes the catalyst for many to experience community. The health of the neighborhood improves dramatically.
Transformation happens. The best thing about this transformation is that it is not planned or legislated. It unfolds over time.
It happens because many individuals make small spontaneous choices.
The vacant city block becomes a common space, a town square.
The early Christian community in Acts 2 had all things in common.
We are told that the believers sold their possessions and goods and distributed the proceeds to all so that no one was lacking.
The Greek word for common is koinos.
Koinos is the root word for koinonia, which translates community.
What is community?
It is more than the sharing of material things.
Community forms around a common need.
I think of community as the set of relationships that form as we recognize our common humanity.
Our common humanity
Each one of us on this planet created in God’s image.
Each one of us reflecting the diversity, depth and mystery of the Creator.
Each person is my neighbor, my brother or sister, an extension of me, a mirror of myself.
Each person is God incarnate.
We are the community of the human race.
We are part of a much larger community, the community of all living things that make their home on planet Earth.
There is much that sabotages our common humanity:
Race, economic disparities, education, language, injustice, inflammatory language, stereotyping.
These and other factors keep us from being equal participants in the community of the human race.
That is why the story of Seedfolks is so compelling, so hopeful.
In a neighborhood where people are isolated and distrustful of one another, community emerges. One person calls the garden Paradise.
Many people reclaim their humanity.
Sae Young emigrated from Korea.
She was robbed at gunpoint at work. Because of that experience she is afraid of everyone all the time. One day she passes by the garden and wants to be with people again. She claims a spot and plants a few things. She feels safe in this community.
Amir is from India.
In India he knew all his neighbors. In the US he has learned to treat everyone as a foe unless you know for sure they are your friend. He also gardens and learns that the garden makes the eyes see our neighbors and know them.
Marcella is a pregnant teenager.
She says she wishes someone would shoot her. But then she becomes friends with Leora who shares her flowers and her wisdom. For a moment Marcella stops wishing her baby would die. Marcella is Mexican, Leora is African American.
These people and all the other players in the drama, wanting to be acknowledged for who they are and valued for themselves. All with a common desire to belong and be more fully human.
Everyone shares the same soil, the same sun, the same rain or lack of it. They share the same parental emotions for their plants. They want them to be fruitful and multiply.
People look after one another; they share their experiences and wisdom.
Today’s gospel reading,
“I came that they might have life and have it abundantly”
Abundant life does not happen in isolation. No man, no woman, no child is an island.
Abundant life is experienced in healthy community.
John Donne had it right;
No man is an island
Entire of itself….
Any man’s death diminishes me
Because I am involved in mankind.
Community is a central Benediction value.
Joan Chittester writes in Wisdom Distilled From the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today about why communities and families exist:
They exist to make the world the family it is meant to be. We have to share a common vision, we have to want good for one another (p.44)
They enable us to be about something greater than ourselves (p.45)
The garden enables people to learn about fruits and vegetables beyond the range of their culinary experience. Part of our humanity is our need for food.
Recently I visited the Asian Market on the corner of Allen and University in Middleton.
Near the cashier was a display of seed packets.
There were generic basil and tomato seeds.
There was also bitter melon, fuzzy gourd, amaranth, white icicle radish, pai tsai and other packets…foods outside of my culinary experience.
I need someone who will grow these with me and show me what to do with them.
Joan Chittester also writes that everyone contributes the health and future of the community (p. 42)
Leona was the one who gave Marcella a reason to live.
She’s also the one who wanted the city to share their resources in cleaning up the lot. So she starts making phone calls to city hall. She learns:
When people talk to you on the phone, you are nothing but a voice. And when you are on hold, you are not even that. I had to make myself real to ‘em.
What does she do? She goes to the vacant lot, collects some of the garbage and its smells in a plastic bag and takes it to the Public Health Department. There she opens the bag so everyone can get a good whiff. She is not ignored! The city steps to the plate and sends personnel and tools.
Leona contributes to the health of the community with her creative action.
It is a child who comes up with a solution for getting water to the garden.
In the various community meetings I have attended since January 20 I have heard the same theme over and over again.
We must form relationships with people different from ourselves, we need to build bridges rather than perpetuate walls.
Our calling is to be seedfolk.
Joan Chittester, again:
Our relationships with God, with ourselves and with others are the only lasting mark of our humanity (p.49).
We don’t have vacant lots to bring us together.
But we must find ways to build bridges and be a catalyst for transformation.
One local African American pastor stated that if we are truly interested in building relationships we must attend a church outside our comfort zone not just one Sunday but for six months.
What if some of us took a six month sabbatical and worshiped someplace else?
We also need to share our stories to provide hope and encouragement and witness to what is possible.
I close with this:
Two weeks a very powerful storm called a super cell moved through Takoma Park, MD. It only affected a small area but left incredible destruction.
My friend, Saundra, and her extended family, lost 7 trees. Several were torn out by their roots. There was structural damage to the house and the outdoor patio was completely destroyed.
A week later Saunda’s family hosted a gathering of gratitude and loss. All their neighbors who had experienced damage were invited. There were poetry readings, music and spontaneous sharing. Saundra told me what a wonderful experience it was and that she loves her community.
A week before the storm Saundra and her family had hosted an Easter egg hunt and potluck. That was also a community building activity.
Community forms in the midst of life’s experiences.
Each of us is called to be seedfolk…so that all may experience the abundant life God desires for each of us.
Our opening prayer says it well.
Your saving grace never ceases
To call people out of divisiveness
Into the unity of human community.
Contine to attune our ears
To the shepherding voice of Jesus
That in this fractured and contentious world,
We may find the solidarity of faith and love.