Despite the heated language in our polarized world, justice and peace are Gospel values. People too often use such words like a weapon for their political agenda (conservative or liberal, believer or non-believer) rather than listen to them with a holy fear. These words are powerful, spoken from the mouth of God to our hearts. Lived out, they change us and the world. We are to love the poor, the oppressed, the widow and the orphan. We are even to love or enemy. We should never let ourselves be led away from these words and who first spoke them just because they are sometimes misused. Instead, we should seek their depths in the wellspring which is Christ and his community, the church. We should strive to live them out every day, so we and the world can be transformed by love.
One of the most powerful ways to grow into love is to experience it in the real world. Recognizing our own need for love, we must allow ourselves to be rooted into the gospel message as the Spirit moves. Through situations, people, and places, as well as our own weakness, the Spirit intends to drive us into the wilderness. The Spirit calls us to experience new life there. I believe Gospel stories become Gospel realities as we seek to live them out concretely in our lives; sometimes in places where we are not so comfortable. Through sacred but small moments, our relationship to the world and each other will be transformed.
As a community of faith over the last few seasons of Lent, Messiah has been examining the Christian life and witness of well known figures of the last century. We do so hoping to grow as individuals and a community. As pastor, I have tried to identify people who shared different yet compatible visions of community: Dietrich Bonheoffer, Brother Roger of Taizé, and this year, Jean Vanier and the community members of L’Arche. Each has been given a vision by God of what community can be. Through their lives, they exemplified what Br. Roger so often described as a “parable of community” that teaches us and the world new possibilities.
L’Arche literature and websites proclaim that community isn’t an ideal but you and I. Despite our differences in politics, theology, or ability; we are called to be one with each other and with God. A local L’Arche community describes their shared life in this way:
L’Arche Blue Ridge Mountains mission is to create fully-accessible homes where people with and without disabilities share life in a spiritually based community. We strive to make these homes places of caring and faith, where individuals’ unique callings and abilities are brought out.
Through their words, I can hear an invitation of what “church” can become in a real and too often difficult world. I first became fully aware of L’Arche while volunteering with the Community of Taizé. (I had heard of them and a famous member of their community, Henri Nouwen, but I hadn’t gotten to know them well.) A group from the original home at Trosly-Breuil came to visit, and a young man proudly and joyfully told me about his life there. Pasquel (I still remember his name, a name which means Easter) ended his witness by offering me a new beginning. He invited me to live with them. I was unable to accept the invitation at the time, but I remain deeply touched by his testimony and openness. Somehow, I still feel in communion with him and his hope and vision for tomorrow, even as I feel called in the here and now to be at Messiah Lutheran in Mechanicsville. Who knows what tomorrow might bring? Yet, I believe we all can live that hope out no matter where we are.
Personally, I know his vision can be a reality. Long before I knew Pasquel, I knew the love of my grandmother. Her firstborn, my aunt, was born with a serious mental disability. At the time (the 1930s), people encouraged her to put my Aunt Theresa into an institution. She wouldn’t hear of it. Instead, she chose to respond to her call to love. With time, patience and effort, Aunt Theresa grew to be a beautiful lady with much love to share. She held a job, learned to drive, and even helped care for my grandparents as they grew older. I believe my grandmother, my aunt, and my family were transformed by grace; a grace that saw past the dark realities and allowed us to live in the light of hope. I never saw my aunt as disabled although I couldn’t avoid her disability. Only love stands out when she comes to mind.
With these varied experiences now part of me, I hope to nurture that similar love which is already active at Messiah by sharing in an exploration of the Christian life and witness of Jean Vanier and L’Arche. During Lent, we’ll read Jean Vanier’s writings, watch some videos, discuss our impressions, but most importantly (if things go as planed), we will worship and fellowship with members of L’Arche Blue Ridge Mountains to help celebrate the season of Easter. Both communities have much love to share and much more to learn about love. Together, I think our Lenten journey will be a true adventure; an adventure more deeply into the love which is Christ. We will be blessed to share in the resurrection more concretely through a new life with God and each other.
To learn more about L’Arche, visit:
L’Arche International http://www.larche.org/
L’Arche USA http://www.larcheusa.org
L’Arche Blue Ridge Mountains http://www.larchebrm.com
Or, listen to “Jean Vanier: The wisdom of tenderness” (radio interview, American Public Media): http://being.publicradio.org/programs/wisdomoftenderness/
© 2011 The Rev. Louis Florio. All contents not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.