As we form small group neighbourhood ministries we enter a realm vastly different from the ordinary world…
A new ranking. A new approach to honour.
“…as it is, there are many members but one body
the eye cannot say to the hand ‘I have no need of you.’
nor again, the head to the feet ‘I have no need of you.’
On the contrary
the members of the body
that seem to be weaker
and those members of the body
that we think less honourable
we clothe with greater honour.”
1 Corinthians 12:20-26 NRSV
Gospel runs contrary to the world. So as we take up our role in bringing this radical new community dynamic alive we must first sternly reject society’s old ways and press on for something better.
The residents of the homes have too often experienced bitter isolation. These wonderful people have often been wounded by stereotypes, but now:
will be claimed as indispensable to our holy union.
Our communion cannot be full if people are forcefully excluded or ignored for simply being ill.
The Church of Jesus will find some of its finest moments when it reaches out in joy and courage, moving beyond the walls of the church in the power of the Holy Spirit.
A new honour: here is how the church brings honour: by giving time and attention. The church of Jesus, with great love and joy, can listen to the residents of these homes (actually listen!), call them by name, receive them as our teachers in matters of life and Spirit, and, remember them. We honour the residents by bringing them the best we can bring. If it’s snacks, fruit, seasonal meals – we provide the very best we can. No matter what we offer them, we offer the very best we can. This is how we honour those who may have seen so little of it.
A new imperative: it is the happy role of the church to claim – as essential – those who are so often excluded. When this happens, it is a genuine triumph of the Holy Spirit. Life takes on a new character. The glamorous and desirable of this earth have their places, they too are children of God. The powerbrokers of the world also have their roles in this life. But, says God’s wisdom, the ones who – brilliantly, and strangely – are crucial to our communion are the ones dismissed by the world as weak. It is the joyful privilege of the church to make this evident.
Christian community is gloriously strange. It sees here – and sees beyond; it lives here – and lives beyond; it is compressed in time – and eternal.
Here is an offering of Jeoffry by Lindsay Veh.
Jeoffry is a cool cat indeed. He’s a relaxed, music-loving dude who basks in God’s love. In Smart’s poem Jeoffry can dance to the measure and is a source of joy. He purrs in thankfulness when God calls him a good cat. He is in love with God and God loves him. Here is one relaxed and liberated cat! And yet, here is Jeoffry on a scruffy bureau, in a room with torn wallpaper and an unkempt floor. He lives in the midst of affliction’s disarray, and yet, sprawls in joy!
We must slow this down. For, to be in a place of affliction, and still rest in some measure of joy is a gift of grace. One cannot be glib about this, or cheap, or pretend it rolls easily off the tongue. The affliction/joy interaction is a most holy combination. Being alive in the love and music of God’s world, requires no small act of Divine intervention.
Perhaps visits into a boarding home can shimmer in this kind of grace. They might be gentle and peaceful, relaxed and warm. There may be singing and prayers. The visit may spend itself in heavy, silent times when friends just simply sit beside each other. In Christian community there is no pressure to accomplish the world’s programs. The community simply settles into its union in the presiding God.
Visits graciously settle into this vastly odd new terrain of light spiritedness and hurt. In this radically reordered arena, those who had been cruelly branded as weak, are now essential; those formerly neglected, are brought greatest honour. A deeper, truer life is possible. Love radiates. God’s music is heard.
Jeoffry shows the way. He abides in the harsh realities of life, but he lives in some way beyond them – he is in, and above, he is constrained and free, he is stifled and can still manage a song.
Residents wait to be met.
Mingle your narratives with theirs.
This is new life.
And so it proceeds, a subversive, holy gathering in a boarding home will continue to capsize the world’s appraisal. And the next thing to go is the world’s recipe for the good life: perpetual sunshine.
Take in this second rendition of Cat Jeoffry by Sue Miller.
Jeoffry is in the madhouse. He certainly is. Is Jeoffry a black cat, backlit, or simply sooted by the oppression of the place? Is he friend or foe? Is that look calm or dangerous? Is there hope in this place? Where does the passage way of light lead? And is the corridor’s light all that welcoming?
Life plays itself out in dark and light. God inhabits both. So must we. The tiles of the floor, scuffed and contrasting, bring this dynamic before us. This is quite the floor! Stay with it and take a close look. Risk the intensity of lying down on light and dark.
Scarred and trampled on, soiled and chipped – the floor remains in front of us and dares that we walk it. It is life. It is the hardship and glory and the interplay of brilliance and awfulness which are clearly essential to an honest communion.
in celebration of God’s love –
delighting in paradox –
go out into your neighbourhood –
and link expectantly with the residents of a boarding home.