I write this the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, sitting at my dining room table, looking out the window with the big flakes of snow falling. It feels like a Hallmark movie, which I have been watching too many of lately. They are my addiction at this time of year. I love the spirit of holidays that they portray: families reunited, people recapturing the heart of Christmas, finding love and belonging, making a difference. There is power in storytelling, even as simple as these stories are. I always know how they are going to turn out, but I watch anyway because I love a happy ending, I want to believe that good things are just around the corner, and believing in miracles is a more hopeful way to live.
We are in quite a season, aren’t we? The post-election angst continues. It fills my Facebook feed and the morning news shows. What kind of America will we be? No matter how you voted and feel about the outcome of the election, what has become clear to me in the days and weeks following is that the mission of the church has become more important and is more needed than ever.
You must have noticed that we are not treating each other very well. This election revealed how diverse our experience of America and our sense of its future really are. I can respect that. But what saddens me is how much we disparage those who do not think like us, who have different lived realities and don’t look like us. We are talking past each other. We are labeling the “other.” And we are hanging out with those who reinforce our already deeply held beliefs so that we are not challenged to consider other perspectives. We are letting fear and anger get the best of us and that keeps us from engaging in true dialogue, which from my perspective is always what has made America great.
This is why I think the church is so needed right now. It is one of the few places in our world where you choose to be part of a diverse community of folks, and you publicly commit to being a community of love and forgiveness for each other. Every time we baptize a child, we reaffirm our commitment to be that kind of community.
Now, this is not easy. If you think it is, go back and read any of Paul’s letters. Have you noticed how many times, in how many different ways, he says to love one another, get along with each other, be like Christ who humbled himself? From the beginning, and for as long as the church has been made up of people, there have been differences of opinion, people seeking to get their own way, power struggles, and just plain bad behavior. But Paul kept exhorting the church: You can be more than this. You are more than this. Because you are not just a collection of people who have come together. You are the body of Christ and you are one because you belong to Christ Jesus.
Bishop Cynthia Harvey’s closing sermon at the Extended Cabinet Summit in Jacksonville, Florida spoke deeply to me. She exhorted us to get entangled. She began by talking about the redwoods. They are the oldest and tallest trees in North America, and you would think their root systems go deep in order for them to be able to grow so tall and withstand wind and storms. But that’s not the case. Their roots are shallow, but they are entangled. Redwoods do not grow in isolation. Underneath a stand of redwoods, you will find a web of roots, gnarly and intertwined, entangled with each other, and that is what gives them strength.
This is church. This is the power of community. When we choose to become entangled with one another, it is not always pretty and can actually be quite messy. But this weaving of relationships, built on a foundation of love and forgiveness, allows us to grow strong and tall.
I think this is what the church can offer the world: a way of being community that is not about agreement on every issue—but is instead rooted in relationship and a deep sense that we belong to one another, every person matters, and we will keep working at being community no matter what. Yes, it gets hard and complicated. But we don’t call each other names. We don’t take our marbles and go home. We stay with it because we believe in miracles and know that whenever we practice love and forgiveness, that indeed is what Christmas is all about.
What I am convinced of is that the world needs this message of hope and this kind of community more than ever. So let’s not leave it just to Hallmark to tell the story. Church, this is our mission. Let’s claim it for the sake of the world that God so loves that God sent Jesus, that we might not die, but have life—full, abundant, joyful life.
Rev. Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church