We have been created by God to live in community. That is the message I take from God’s recognition that “it is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a helper to be his partner” (Genesis 2:18 NRSV). As I read this story of creation, I hear in it a reminder that while we are all individuals, we also need each other. This storyline stands in contrast to one that often dominates the American psyche – that of the “rugged individualist.” This individualistic message helped drive the movement west, as people sought new opportunities to create life. It is a part of the American mythos preserved in movie Westerns, such as those feature the image of the “man with no name.” Of course the truth as the pioneers moved westward they sought to create community. Even the loners – the explorers and the trappers -- understood that they needed others to sustain their journeys.
There is another biblical image that underscores the wisdom of Genesis 2. St. Paul speaks of the way in which each member of the church is part of the body of Christ. Each member contributes their gifts and their abilities to the community, much as the parts of the body function together as a whole. Taking this image into the life of the local community, I believe that we all have gifts and abilities to contribute to the common good of our community. In the life of the community of Troy, it is the myriad of volunteers who, when joined together, contribute to a vital and healthy and just community. As Paul says of the members of the church, so is true of our community as a whole. I would even add here Paul’s statement of how deep this interconnectedness runs: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26 NRSV).
These reflections have their origin in my participation earlier this week in Leadership Troy’s annual Community Awards Banquet, which focuses on the virtue of volunteerism. At this banquet Leadership Troy honored volunteers from a number of community groups for their contributions to their organizations, a local business for their contribution to the community, and the naming of Troy’s Distinguished Citizen of the Year. For my part I was invited to offer the invocation – the prayer that would open the evening’s celebration. The person honored as Troy’s Distinguished Citizen was Cindy Stewart, Troy’s Director of Community Affairs. I met Cindy soon after I arrived in the community and quickly discovered that she was a person of integrity, graciousness, and helpfulness. I can think of no one who better represents this city than Cindy. She loves the city and its people, and she has given herself completely to the life of this community. Those of us who gathered were both amazed at the number of groups Cindy volunteers with, but at the same time not so surprised. She epitomizes what it means to make available one’s gifts for the good of the community.
In the spirit of honoring the call to give of one’s self for the common good of the community, I would like to share the prayer that I offered this past Wednesday evening. My hope is that it might be the prayer of others, and serve as a reminder of our calling to love and serve one another. This, I believe, is my divine commission. I will leave it to others to decide if this is a divine commission for them.
Gracious and loving God,
You gifted us and called us to create communities and institutions that allow for creation to flourish. In gifting us for this task you called us to pursue the common good of all. You called us to lives of service to neighbors near and far, so that all might be blessed. Therefore, we come together in all of our diversity of backgrounds, opinions, and experiences, to work together for the benefit of the whole.
This call to serve one another and to provide an arena where all might flourish fulfills the command to love our neighbors, even as we love ourselves. Sometimes we get caught up in the pursuit of our individual dreams and desires and neglect the community in which we live. For this we ask you pardon and your insight as to how we might pursue the good of all.
This evening we come with hearts full of gratitude for this community we have the privilege in which to live. We give thanks for the people who give of themselves unselfishly to make this a better community, one that is safe and just.
We come with special gratitude for the gift of Cindy Stewart. All who have the privilege to know and to work with Cindy Stewart know that she loves this community and that she gives her all to it. She stands out as an exemplar not only in her vocation with the city of Troy, but in all the areas that she gives of herself as a volunteer. We honor her tonight with this dinner as Troy’s Distinguished Citizen of the Year, but we will give greater honor if we will follow her example.
Therefore, tonight, as we gather around tables to share in a meal, we do so in gratitude for your gift of community. We give thanks for all who give of themselves as volunteers, without expectation of recognition or payment, so that this community might be a place where all might flourish. Inspired by your love of creation, we seek to follow your call to love one another with justice and with grace each and every day.
Reposted from my Troy Patch Blog.