These two words appear together more than 100 times in the Bible.  One another.  Apparently each other refers to TWO.  But one another is like the southern way of saying All Y’all.  These “One anothers” are often repeated by different authors in the Bible, or similar ones appear in different books of the Bible.  Greet one another with a holy kiss appears at least half a dozen times alone.  What does a holy kiss even look like? Love one another probably appears the most – I didn’t even try to count that one up. These “one anothers” refer to the body of Christ. They offer a guideline for what it means to live in Christian community.  This list is not an unfamiliar one to most of our ears.  Reciting the “one anothers” is pretty easy.  Practicing any one of the “one anothers”  is a challenge enough let alone 5, 10, 0r 20 of them. It’s daunting.  The “forgive one another” admonishment takes a lifetime alone.  But then there are the others – serve one another, encourage one another, love one another. That’s why it’s called spiritual practice not Spiritual Perfect.

But I tell you that you are in the exact right place to begin or to continue this spiritual work.  For you have chosen, and chosen well to be in Christian Community – a place where we practice the greatest commandment – Love God, Love Neighbor.

Beacon mission statement –                                                                                           Love God more, Love People more, Love More People.

These “one anothers” are habitual spiritual practices that nurture the gift of Christian community.  Christian community is sharing a common life in Christ. It offers a continual challenges to commit ourselves to life together as the people of God and helps to transform us beyond self-interested isolation and superficial social contacts.

In the best sense of the word, Christian community offers a sense of belonging, a place of being connected with people. Knowing that if you don’t show up, someone will notice, knowing that people care whether you show up or not. A group of people who begin to matter to you, and to whom you matter.  People you carry with you throughout the week.  Having people to share things with – joys & sorrow, work & play, victory & defeat.

We build Christian community by paying attention AND practicing the “one another” scriptures.

I remember a time before I went to seminary when I was looking for a new church.  And what a daunting task that was.  I had been wounded in a previous spiritual community, because that can happen, so I decided I would look for a church that could provide anonymity AND community at the same time.  I think I wanted intimacy in being known, but also a church big enough where I could hide if I wanted.  Do you know what an impossible expectation that is?  You can’t have both anonymity and community at the same time.  To be a part of Christian community requires showing up, being present, being seen, being known, and seeing and knowing others.  We can choose to hide and isolate, but we are always invited to go deeper and to bring each piece of ourselves out of hiding.  And we are invited to serve one another, and love one another, and encourage one another, and bear one another’s burdens, and forgive one another – it’s hard to do that if we choose anonymity.

And I won’t pretend for a minute – it get’s messy!!!  Human relationships and even Christian community, by their very nature are complicated. Serving one another and loving one another is not always or even usually convenient or easy, and it definitely does not consult our calendar.  The Bible really should have said, “Serve when needed, not when convenient.”

Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am, in the midst of them.”  Being in Christian community is not optional or even extra-credit. It is essential to living in the way of Christ.

Rebecca Parker, a United Methodist pastor and most recently President of Starr King Unitarian seminary in Berkeley shares a story in her book Blessing the World: What Can Save Us Now?  She writes about a time when she was a young pastor. She received a call for help, from a parishioner who was in the hospital and had just received a terrible diagnosis. Rebecca felt unequal to the task. She turned to the church secretary – an older woman who had worked in the church for many years. Rebecca asked her, “What could I possibly do or say that would be of any help?”  The woman looked at Rebecca and said, “Do what the angels do.” Rebecca was desperate. She asked, “What do the angels do?” The woman answered, “Just be there.” Rebecca drove to the hospital, and walked into the room. The patient reached out for her hand, and clung to it tightly.  Rebecca had no words to offer. But at that moment, she realized that “just being there” was enough.

All of the “one anothers” – caring, comforting, encouraging, supporting, forgiving, serving one another – all of these flow out of the practice of first being present to and with one another.  As we draw alongside one another, listen to each other’s lives, we release the healing power of community. It requires no special training; all of us can do it.  But it does require time and attention, in a world where both are hard to come by.  It requires making a habitual practice of being together.

The power of choosing to live in Christian community is immeasurable. If we know we are encouraged, loved, supported – if we know we have a place of belonging – we can be motivated to do things that we would never undertake if we felt unsupported.  Studies show that we need to be loved to remain truly healthy. New born babies can die if they are not touched, held, and given affection. Long after we grow up we still need loving support system of family / friends / church community. Love and friendship give life.

Certainly we do that by showing up and worshipping with one another on Sundays. Another way it happens even more intentionally is in small groups that gather together for study, prayer, and sharing.

May we continue to love one another with a love that desires the deepest joy for one another, causes us to bring one another before God in prayer, and to make sacrifices for one another.  The church is not so much an institution with rituals and rules, as it is an intricate body of relationships, of one anothers.  People who love God, and love and cherish one another.  May it be so at United Church in University Place.