No life without community

Homily 556– 11 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
August 20, 2023
Epistle – (141) 1 Corinthians 9:2-12
Gospel – (77) Matthew 18:23-35

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

The basic story in today’s Gospel reading is pretty simple to understand.  A slave, released from an unthinkable debt is released, and refuses to forgive the small debt he is owed by another slave.

Because we don’t appreciate how much we are forgiven, we – humanity – forgets to continue that forgiveness toward other humans.  Rather, this slave demonstrates selfishness toward other humans.

You’d think we’d learn.  We reject God, our Creator, we reject His guidance and His wisdom, and we determine that, on the advice of a serpent, we, the created, are better equipped for our own self-interest than the Creator.

We decide to abandon God’s love – because after all, God created us out of love, out of His Love, to be with and to love Him.

And God knew, from the very beginning of creation, that we, humanity, the one’s declared “very good” by the Creator, needed companionship.  So God in His wisdom, didn’t create one – he created two.

Now, the unit is no longer the individual, but it is the family.  And the family has children.  Now, in addition to family, there is community.

Let’s consider that the most heinous punishment that humans ever came up with for one another wasn’t the death penalty – it was exile.  To be sent away, to be sent to live alone.

This is a blow to modern American sensibilities.  We Americans, unlike pretty much every culture that has existed up to now, believe in individualism.  We don’t accept the idea that we need community.

Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, we tell God, thanks, but no thanks.  We can do it ourselves.  We sound like a petulant toddler when we say it, but nevertheless, it is the ethos and mythology that we’ve created for ourselves.

Because, truth be told, nobody ever really does it alone.  Nobody lives a life without help.  The closest I’ve seen is a guy who went to Alaksa and built a cabin homestead for himself.  That guy was Richard Proenneke.

He built himself a cabin, using primarily tools he made himself, from local timber.  But even Dick Proenneke had help.  First of all, he lived in a friend’s cabin while he built his own.  He had food and some supplies brought in by air.  There were neighbors on the lake where his cabin was, and he would visit them, and they would provide support for one another.  Sure, he was more isolated that most, and lived a solitary life for the most part.  Still, he needed others around him.  He needed community.

And so do we.  How many of the people who settled and still work this land as farmers rely completely on themselves?  Neighbors were important to the folks who settled the Midwest.  And frankly, even before that, the native American community was important to the initial settlers.  They helped each other.  The initial explorers from the east – Lewis and Clark – needed native American guides.

Des Moines – which is French for “the monks” – was founded based on those monks fur trading with the Native population.  In community.

Of course, later, we North Americans from Northern Europe also breached our community links, and tried our best to destroy the native American culture.  For a variety of reasons that all seemed good to us at the time.  But we only did so when the population of other northern European immigrants was high enough to form communities that way.

Once that happened, the native populations were – shall we say – “invited” to leave the community, and leave the land, and be forced onto confinement, because their ways were not our ways.  We sought to segregate ourselves, mostly out of fear, and retreat into the illusion of safety of community that was only like us.

Humans rejected the companionship of other humans.  Continuing the defiance that began in the Garden.  And it didn’t stop there, as we are all well aware.  We, at least some of us, still reject from our community those humans whose ways and beliefs and cultures are different from our own.

We haven’t yet learned that family, and community, are in my opinion the most important things we have, given to us by God, because we aren’t designed to be alone, we aren’t designed to live alone – and in fact, we can’t create a life alone, for ourselves, much less the future generations.

Even God doesn’t exist in individuality – God exists in three persons, not one individual.  One nature, three persons.  Humanity is a model, an image, of this as well – one nature, billions of persons.

So somehow, this relates to this morning’s gospel.  I promise, there is a direct relationship.  One of the critical aspects of living in community, in my view the most critical aspect to living in community, is forgiveness.  Even if we don’t recognize the debt and transgression we have been forgiven.

It seems intuitive that if community is important – and it is essential to human life, as we have shown – if community is important then forgiveness is critical to the restoration of community when it fractures.

The dynamic is that when we forgive, we can then – and only then – work on the remainder of the relationship.  We can begin to rebuild trust.  We can begin to re-establish responsibilities.

In other words, we can begin to repent.  That is what forgiveness offers.  Forgiveness doesn’t automatically restore everything to the way it was before the breech.

You may be forgiven for drunk driving, but you will still not be allowed to drive without demonstrating and re-establishing trust that you can drive responsibly.  In other words, we forgive, but you still have to demonstrate repentance – change of heart and mind – before restoration to the way it was can even be contemplated.

Ultimately, the forgiven slave determined that money was more important than community and relationship.  And in the end, he ended up with neither.

The advice to me – to us – is that we need to always, always think first of the relationship.  Because if we harm the relationship, we harm ourselves in the process.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!