Text: Psalm 121
Caring Community, by Pastor Kinsey
We only know Aaron’s name because of Nathan. Nathan is the site director for our Space Sharing partner who was here that day, Tuesday August 8th. Nathan readily and naturally included Aaron in the outdoor chalking activity the RefugeeONE youth were doing. These kids – who are from all over the world – met Aaron and they all chalked together on our front sidewalk.
When Aaron had his turn, what he wrote was, “We Await Heaven.” And also, he drew right under that: a star of David, a cross, and the crescent and star, symbols of the three Abrahamic faiths. He also drew a Smiley Face.
Nathan offered Aaron bread and water, before he and the RefugeeONE kids headed back inside for their next summer program activity.
We didn’t know Aaron for long. Aaron was not even on this earth all that long, at 19, which of course, is the tragedy and sadness we have all been feeling and experiencing, together.
But Aaron came to, this church, on his final day. It could have been any church, probably. But he came here to us. And our space sharing partner, through its Site Director, didn’t fail him. Nathan and the refugee kids were friend and fellow travelers with Aaron, in his last hours.
Later, we found out, it was not Aaron’s first attempt on his life. And Nathan had no idea of Aaron’s intentions – which is why Nathan felt so down after he found out.
We are, whether we like to admit it or not, “our brothers and sisters keepers.” In fact, I’d say, that’s what ‘community’ is all about. ‘None of us is an island,’ as John Donne said, or at least, we shouldn’t be. The level of alienation we experience in today’s world, varies from person to person, community to community.
And the thing I’ve come to know is the ‘degree of separation’ we experience, in whatever circles we travel, is at its base, created by us, whether barriers by race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or economic status – divisions and fissures that continue to twist and distort us, in ways we can barely perceive, until the darkness surfaces as pain, injury or death. And, save for natural disasters, we – humans – make them – just like we can also un-do them. We, tacitly agree and daily accept living in their world – we can also fight them and consciously organize to alleviate or abolish them.
But when they are so oppressive, so stigmatizing as to make us a community of ‘one,’ the pressure can be too great. Mental illness, especially depression, can increase the feeling, to make the most lonely decision there is.
As individuals, none of us knew what Aaron was feeling inside or what he was planning. As a community, we failed Aaron by not knowing, as communities do. So, none of us are guilty – all of us are guilty. We are seemingly left with this contradiction as the only answer to this tragic situation. Unless, of course, we go home from here, transformed by “the power of love” that comes from bravely and collectively looking evil squarely in the eye, and still deciding to ‘live for our neighbor,’ and thereby overcome the divisions and the forces that seek to pit us against each other.
Whatever higher power or God you pray to, I pray it is a power that is forgiving – for yourself, and for Aaron.
Aaron came to this church – and when he did, he already had, ‘going to God’ on his mind. I believe he found sanctuary here, and that he was ministered to, though I wish all the more we could share the tomorrows, we have, with him as well. So, for us who are left in the wake of sadness and mourning, I realize, and offer to you, what a great blessing it is that our lives continue on, that God gives us a brand new day every morning, and the opportunity to live life with purpose.
I guess, for me, the phrase that Aaron wrote, “we await heaven” has especially torn at me. But I finally found, what I think may have been the passage in the Christian scriptures that Aaron was thinking of. It’s from the letter to the Philippians, where Paul says, “… our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we [await] a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory,” (Philippians 3:20-21)
We have not always gotten this right in the church, but this passage is really about God’s power and goodness coming down to us, here on earth, not the other way around – so that our failings and humiliations might be transformed, and we might come together as a community of people who care for one another, and where no one is an island, but that we all have a small taste of heaven, right now.
We, are created for community. We are not perfect, but we are a whole lot better, when we lift one another up, and bear one another’s burdens, than when we divide and conquer.
I believe the power of a caring community comes from the one whom the Psalmist said, “watches over our going out and our coming in from this time forth, forevermore.”
Whatever you believe, I’m glad you’re here – thank you for showing you care.
Let’s continue to be our sister’s and brother’s keepers. Let’s work, and organize, and love one another, that we may be blessed with a little taste of heaven, together, here on earth.