As we read the Gospel of Luke scholars tell us that the writer of this portion of the Good News of Jesus had discipleship on the mind. When this gospel was written challenges were being leveled at the disciples of Jesus, challenges that became intense, even deadly, as the era following the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem was marked by religious boundaries and animosities.
One cannot be associated with our Jesus Our Shepherd community for long before curious friends, skeptical family members, or challenging religious types ask the question, "What are you?" I have been giving this question a lot of thought. It's one of those that just when you think you have an answer, you find yourself confronting the question all over again.
This question, "What are you?" is not ours alone : others face it also. Sometimes it comes as a challenge : as in "Just What are You, anyway?", sometimes as a curiosity : as in "Well, What are you, I wonder?", and sometimes it is just a self-directed lead : as in, "What am I after all?"
Last year at a time of considering this I came across a priest of the Church of England who loved the Quaker movement. He has come to refer to himself as a Quaker-Anglican. This year as Frank and I spent a few days with the monks of St. Meinrad Abbey, I came across a Catholic writer who has come to appreciate the Amish beliefs of absolute nonviolence and community solidarity. He says he thinks he has become a Mennonite-Catholic.
Beneath the labels : even doing away with them, I look at us and am convinced that we are a Community based, Eucharist centered gathering of Christ's disciples. We are community based. We have come together in community and believe that we will find in that coming together the Christ. And once we find Christ in each other we will necessarily look for Christ and listen for the Word in all others.
How have we become community based? By showing up : over and over and over again. Just by showing up we give each other the gift or ourselves. We have become community by participating fully in prayer and in decisions, in discussions and in considerations of others' needs. We have come to know each other : mostly for the better, I would say. And we have come to know our joys, our sorrows, our happinesses and our griefs, our loves present and our loves lost. Our prayer reaches more depth with that knowledge and these experiences.
The discipline that we hear of in the Letter to the Hebrews : that those whom God loves, God disciplines : seems more clearly understood the longer and deeper we form this community. Discipline, after all, is based on that word: disciple. And that word means one who follows and becomes like the leader.
I recently rediscovered Jurgen Moltmann. He is known for his Theology of the Cross and the pattern of our life based in Christ who is the crucified, abandoned, and godforsaken one. How we have seen the Cross among us. His latest writing is of the Crucified Christ as the Tortured One. No other religion, Moltmann points out, has at its center a leader who is tortured. How we must be clear that torture is godforsaken.
Our community is based on the life of Christ among us and our ability to form this community from the hope, the joy, the love, the promise of this center.
People who ask "What are you?" may not know it, but they are also asking about what feeds the life of this community they ask about. What gives you life? What gives life to this community is the Eucharist. A community centered on the Eucharist does what Jesus does. What is Eucharist? Is it a certain ritual? Is it a set of prescribed prayers? Is it the domain of the worthy? Is it for only the righteousness?
This is Eucharist. We are told that Jesus took bread and wine, blessed it, broke it, and gave it. It is that simple, and uncomplicated. It is grounded in reality of community.
It is not virtual reality. Second Life is virtual reality. It exists in cyberspace and has attracted 30 million resident users. At any given time over 40 thousand people are roaming through and living in Second Life. Last month the New York Times had an extensive article about a man who has created an entirely other life for himself in Second Life. He is an entrepreneur : owner of a Mall of boutique shops. He has 25 employees who work in other businesses he owns and operates. He owns a seaside home with a magnificent view and a garage full of sports cars. In Second Life the currency is the Linden. And this man is worth 1.5 million Linden in his virtual life. This man is also married to another woman : not his wife in real life. And he often spends 6-10 hours a day (that's real time) in Second Life reality.
I have also read of a woman who has started a congregation in Second Life. She has over 300 members who regularly gather in Second Life to pray and share faith. This woman is Jewish and her congregation is Jewish. She lives, in real life, on the West Coast. Her mother, who lives on the East Coast, is one of her members. They take some comfort in their ability to both light the candles for Shabat on Friday evening by means of both being on-line in Second Life.
Here is why I do not believe that a community in virtual reality is a full celebration of faith. And for us it lies in the simple act of Jesus. We bless, break, and give Eucharist. This gift we receive we must quite literally give as a gift. This is the symbol and the reality of Christ among us. No virtual reality celebrates this gift-giving as we do every Sunday together. And this simple exchange is what feeds us in our faith and in our lives.
The reading from the Gospel of Luke talks about who's first and who's last. Many of the least expected, Jesus says, will join him in eternal life. I wonder if that's because those who keep life difficult and burdensome miss out on the simple gifts of showing up for each other and giving blessed bread and wine to each other.
We are community based, Eucharist centered. When you search in the world of Google and write in the little box these four words, "community centered, Eucharist based" Number 2 on your results list is Jesus Our Shepherd Community of Nenno, Wisconsin. And when you go to that JOS webpage you will see that the question to respond to that is better than "What are you?" is "Who are We?"