Reflection by Ed Rea

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Cape Elizabeth
August 20, 2023

From the first reading: 
“I tell you this to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.”

When your heart is broken open to the rest of the world, what do you do then?  

Several weeks ago I started thinking about this time of sharing with you.  I wanted to tell you about an organization that I serve as treasurer – the Maine Council of Churches.  I wanted to tell you why I deeply care about it, and why you might also.

And then two weeks ago my life was interrupted by a small stroke – small in retrospect but all-consuming at the time.  Josh visited me in the hospital the day after, and I know that he told you of my plight at that evening’s service.  I am very grateful for his support and for your prayers and offers of help.  That is what community is all about – mutual caring and support, in words and deeds. 

My stroke, which manifested itself by overwhelming vertigo, woke me at 5 in the morning in our cottage on Long Island, here in the Casco Bay. Karen immediately called 911.  Long Island is a very small town and a tight-knit community.  The EMTs are all volunteers, all middle-aged or older.  They are people I know and work with.  They carried me down the narrow, twisty stairs of the cottage in a stair chair, to the town dock by ambulance, and by the town’s rescue boat to Falmouth, where a Falmouth ambulance was waiting to take me to the hospital. 

I want to tell you that having 8 friends and neighbors jump out of bed at 5 in the morning to care for you when you are helpless is deeply humbling, and deeply uplifting.  It is true community.  It is true love of neighbor.

What does this have to do with being broken open to the world?  What does this have to do with the Maine Council of Churches?

With your heart broken open, what do you do?  How do you deal with the despair of feeling helpless?  How do you deal with all who claim to be Christian, who call Jesus their savior, but by their words and actions make clear that they have neither heard nor understood his teachings?

The answer to despair is commitment and action.

In just a short while, in the prayers of the people, we will ask this:  “God still our minds, calm our hearts, breathe fresh life into us, and make us instruments of peace, justice and compassion.”

May God make us – not other people, you and me – instruments of peace, justice, and compassion.  In other words, you and I are called to be the active means to work for peace, justice, and compassion.

Peace, justice and compassion are core concerns of faith as understood by this church, by the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, and by the National Episcopal Church.  St. Albans embraces these concerns by being open and welcoming to all people, and through our outreach efforts, both as a church and as individuals encouraged and supported by our church community.

The slogan of my church in Arlington, Virginia for many years was “From this Place”.  The church stove to be a community that supported and encouraged its members to go forth from the church, from this place, into the world to be instruments of Jesus’ teachings, to be instruments of peace, justice, and compassion.  It is by working together, supporting each other in community that we amplify what we can do as individuals.  It is by working in community that we encourage others to work with us.

Let me tell you about the community called the Maine Council of Churches.  The Council  is a coalition of seven Protestant denominations in the state, including the Episcopal Diocese of Maine.  Together, they encompasses 437 congregations with 55,000 members who live out their faith in towns from Kittery to Fort Kent, from Rumford to Eastport.  The Council works closely with our denominations and with our secular partner organizations.  Our own Episcopal Bishop Thomas Brown, and his Director of Public Advocacy, John Hennessy, are particularly active supporters, and we consult with them on major issues before the Council.

The Council’s mission is “To speak with a prophetic voice of faith, connecting people within, through, and beyond the church to create a more just, compassionate, and peaceful world.”  To do that we:

  • Connect people across denominations, faith and wisdom traditions, organizations, races, ages, classes, countries of origin, abilities, sexual orientations, and gender identities.
  • We equip people to take action so that our collective impact can be more powerful.
  • We provide educational opportunities where we can teach and learn from one another.
  • We advocate for statewide public policies that create a more just, equitable, compassionate, sustainable, and inclusive community in Maine.

Connecting people, building community, amplifying the voices of individuals, churches, and denominations – that’s what the Maine Council of Churches is all about.  At a time when church membership is declining nationally, when unchurched spiritual individuals look for a supportive community, the Council holds up an example of what a community of faith can be. 

A community of denominations.  We connect denominations by providing opportunities for busy leaders to share with and support one another, and speak with a united voice in the public sphere. 

A community of churches.  Here’s what a pastor recently told us:  “Being stranded theologically in far northern Maine, I appreciate having contact with people who are more open-minded theologically and socially.  I live with an awareness that individual churches and denominations are facing significant diminishment, so it’s really important we come together and work together for some of the things that are so desperately needed to bring about the beloved community.”

A community of individuals.  One of our secular environmental advocacy partners said this:  “Having MCC in the room adds a different dynamic to the way we do our work.  Our MCC liaison, with her gentle way, is a pastor to all of us in the Coalition.”

Another secular partner said, “MCC says what we, as secular organizations, can’t.  MCC can speak with authority about the moral imperative of why something is the right thing to do.”

We are meant to exist in community, especially within the church, both at the local level, and in the broader, wider church,  which we are through the Maine Council of Churches.  

We, are meant to love and help our neighbors.  As Paul taught the Corinthians, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” 

Science has learned in recent years that trees are communities,  connected through vast root systems.  Like trees, we can share what nourishes us.  We can send distress signals when someone among us is in danger or under attack so that all of us can rally around and take action.  We can look out for our young ones and our elders, and we can learn from each other. 

It doesn’t make evolutionary sense for us to be resource-grabbing individualists.  Like trees we live longest and reproduce most often in a healthy, stable “forest”—a community, what some of us call “the body of Christ.” That’s why we, like the trees, have evolved to help our neighbors.  That’s why Jesus taught that we must love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

So this evening, let us give thanks for the communities that connect us to each other, to the wider church, including the Maine Council of Churches, and to creation.  Let us celebrate how we thrive in a network of trust and deeply interdependent relationships that are shaped by faith, hope and love,   justice, compassion and peace.