I first met Sid when he was a college student at John Brown University where I was the chaplain. After he graduated we stayed in touch and our friendship outlasted our time on that campus as well as our obvious age difference. This particular group of friends are connected in various ways through many shared experiences, many happy and some sad. It has grown because occasionally someone new will be invited to the gathering who hasn’t been there before but is a friend of another participant. It is interesting to me how quickly they become incorporated into the conversation and the experience. Before long it is hard to tell who is the newcomer and who is the long-time member. When the three days are over, we are all exhausted from the constant activity, but somehow completely refreshed and invigorated.
Maybe this is the way the church was designed to work. People that, over time, develop a sense of experiencing life together because we have been a part of each other’s happy and sad times. When new people are invited to join, they are immediately brought into the developing story and before long it is hard to tell the newcomer from the long-time member. Everyone is included and all have a voice and a contribution to make. The group creates a kind of gravitational force that pulls people into its embrace and all of a sudden we are no longer alone. As long as we don’t resist out of fear, I believe it will happen naturally over time. It can’t be helped. We are designed to join-in and become a participant.
Occasionally at Christmas time, some people experience an intensified feeling of not fitting in or being connected. For some reason that demon of isolation works overtime during this month to convince people that no one cares, that no one is there for them. Looking around we sometimes only notice those who make us feel less than desirable or wanted. But maybe this year we can also have our eye out for something else. Maybe we can notice those people and places where we are actually being pulled into the group and invited to participate.
In this group of friends I was with this past weekend, I’ve noticed that no one checks anyone’s credentials at the door before including them fully. There are no sets of behaviors or beliefs that are required before being welcomed. Because we are all different and have our own collection of challenges and circumstances, we assume that each person is on a unique journey, working through their own set of complicated issues. Also, the unity and togetherness is so inviting and invigorating that they need not be forced. It happens but no one is making an effort to make it happen. There is an unspoken rhythm to our time together that moves almost effortlessly as if spontaneously choreographed. There are occasional arguments or minor tensions, but the overall experience is so powerful that these aberrations are quickly marginalized under the pull of the communal dance.
I’m sure you have all had these exact experiences from time to time with people you’ve known through the years. You may not have thought about it quite this way, but I believe it is happening all around us. It even occurs in society as a whole, only much slower and with many more divergent and deviating challenges. God is working to bring the kingdom of God to earth, just like we pray every week or maybe everyday. And this kind of togetherness, this mutuality, and this bonding is what I think God’s kingdom is mostly about. It isn’t something we have to try and make happen, but rather it is something that is happening all around us if we have the eyes to see and ears to hear. And when we do see it, we can’t help but get up out of our chairs and get involved. One thing I’ve learned in these occasional reunions among these friends; there is no way to stay seated if everyone is on the court trying to throw a ball into a hoop. No matter how bad your knees are, you just get up and run.