Saturday, January 23, 2010

Experiencing Community: Luke 4

You could almost get the idea that it was a church, the Irvington Farmers Market (note the absence of the apostrophe, sigh....). "Services" are on Sundays from 11:00-3:00. Church hours, sorta. Long-time Portland residents may even see something familiar in the Irvington artwork. It evokes the style of the marquee of the once-popular Irvington Theater on NE Broadway. Movie houses were once community gathering places where we cheered on the troops and leaders as the black-and-white newsreels brought news of Allied successes against fascists in Europe and Imperial Japan in the Pacific.

Theaters once had ushers. They wore uniforms like bellhops and carried glowing flashlights while directing movie-goers to seats. Kinda like in church. We knew who these high school kids were. And their parents. A bag of popcorn might have been 5 or 10 cents, the movie a quarter. Hard not to have a community around that affordability even considering the low wages of the day.

Lots of churches don't call themselves churches these days. "Community" has been the title of choice on a wide scale. "Church" has carried negative baggage that has sent mission-minded pastors and leaders scrambling for other images, looking to respond to what people lack, to real or perceived needs: community. Many of these communities now have branding slogans ("heart of the King", for example) and logos. Gotta have a logo so people recognize you.

Increasingly, our "community" these days seems to glow at us from little flat screens we carry in the palms of our hands. We can stay "in touch" 24/7--without actually touching.

Some years back, local folks won one of those Guinness Brewing contests. They actually won a pub in Ireland and moved there. They noticed something different about the Irish: community. Groups of Irish could get together and begin to sing songs. And everybody in the room would know the lyrics to all 25 verses. They had never experienced that kind of cultural common property in America. The Irish hadn't downloaded these lyrics from a music ap and turned them into ring tones. They had learned them by singing them multi-generationally with other people.

I wonder what we Americans share today with one another as cultural common property? Maybe it has mostly to do with who is wowing us with 90-second song condensations on American Idol.

How many people know the Star Spangled Banner by heart? The Apostles' Creed? The Lord's Prayer? Their state song? Who their Governor is?

Luke chapter 4 is jam-packed. After a 40-day ordeal in the wilderness following his baptism, Jesus goes to church at the synagogue in hometown Nazareth. An articulate local boy, he is honored by being asked to read from Isaiah 61. Hearers burst with pride at his articulate and proper reading of the text. "Yep, we done good raisin' him," some say. Others wonder, "Hey, he's day-laborer Joe's kid. How'd he suddenly get such an authority act? Maybe gettin' a little too big for his britches here."

Jesus could have simply let it lie and come away with a mostly positive review in the local papers. Instead, he throws out a Molotov cocktail by predicting that he will be judged, misjudged and rejected by people who will not actually see or hear what he brings because it will trouble and unsettle their prejudgments. Community "unity" nearly results in a lynching from which Jesus is able to call their bluff and not be tossed over the bluff.

And God's new things are left lying there in the dirt at the feet of the hometown crowd. You can't always go home and expect to find community. It may be out there somewhere else where God leads. May we recognize and build it wherever we are.



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