13 Pentecost – August 23, 2015
Last Saturday in the courtyard of the Griffin Park apartments, the first St. Michaels Unity Day Picnic kicked off promptly at 11AM as scheduled. The mouthwatering aroma of barbecuing hamburgers and hot dogs and squeals of childish delight were evident for at least a two-block radius. I arrived at five past 11. The bounce house was already filled to capacity, and Rev. William Wallace, pastor of Union United Methodist Church, was getting the drip hose positioned for maximum water flow in the water slide. Children of all ages waited impatiently in line. It was hot and they wanted to get into that cool water as quickly as possible.
Under the picnic tent and scattered around the central lawn area were people from throughout the St. Michaels community – getting to know you conversations abounded. The Town Manager and two County Commissioners mingled with guests, and the Director of the Housing Authority was on hand to discuss the challenges of affordable housing in Talbot County. DJ Randy had set up his audio system under a small tent and Christian Rock blasted through the air proclaiming the greatness of Jesus. At the very fringes of all of this activity a few residents sat in chairs just outside their doorways observing the festivities with wide grins on their faces. When I asked one lady what she thought of all that was going on, she said, “it is fine…most fine.”
At the center of the day’s activities was St. Michaels Police Chief Anthony Smith. Unity Day was Chief Smith’s idea, and it was Chief Smith who was the glue that held the day together…Truly, we could not have done it without Chief Smith.
The “Chief” is one of the forerunners in national law enforcement efforts to build and reinforce trust between communities and their police departments. Chief Smith’s key goal is the building of trust and mutual respect between all of the various community groups in St Michaels.
Community policing is a philosophy that promotes organized strategies to support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques. Techniques that proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and disention among community groups. Community policing has three key components: Community partnerships; organizational transformation; and problem solving. The intelligent and resourceful use of all of these assets culminates in a process of proactively identifying and prioritizing problems; researching what is known about the problem; developing solutions to bring about lasting reductions in the number and extent of the problems; and evaluating the success of the responses.
In essence community policing strives to integrate the police department into the community in a partnership that, at all levels, is dedicated to furthering the “good of the neighborhood” – or, the common good.
I sat in Griffin Park last Saturday and observed Chief Smith as he orchestrated all of the activities of the day, and I was truly humbled. He knew everyone and everyone knew him. He respected everyone and everyone respected him. He had time for everyone and everyone wanted time with him.
The Chief was hot, mopping his brow continually without ever pausing in his unceasing activity of orchestrating the days’ events. He was probably tired, and most certainly he must have had lots of other situations on his mind. Maybe he even had some aches and pains like most of us. Whatever was going on in the private world of Chief Smith, he never let it show. There was no doubt that without the Chief Unity Day would not have been just that – a glorious day when members of so many different community groups came together to have fun, to eat hotdogs and hamburgers, and to learn a little about each other. A day in which there was unity in the community.
Soon after Reverend Wallace started up the water slide and children were plunging through screaming with joy and excitement, Chief Smith called the crowd to silence and asked us all to have a seat. In a brief introductory ceremony the Chief asked all of the local clergy and the Director of the Community Center to stand beside him and to affirm their commitment to an interdependent partnership. A partnership in which we are all bound together as key community resources for safety, compassion, healing, and love. He asked us all to be his partners in community building, and we all said, “yes.” We all made the commitment to follow his lead in the task of furthering the good of the neighborhood – the common good.
“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it? (John 6:60)
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus’ disciples continue to scratch their heads, still confused about the significance of the bread of life and mystified by what eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus means. Over the past five weeks, Jesus’ focus on bread has moved from the feeding of the 5,000 with five loaves of barley bread and two fishes to a long discourse in which Jesus defines himself as the Bread of Life without which one cannot attain eternal life.
The disciples are puzzled by this. After all, Jesus is a carpenter’s son, a common man, and yet he performs miracles and implies that he is God’s spokesperson – the one through whom they must pass if they are to enter God’s Kingdom. How can this be – who is this man?
The disciples want answers that they can understand. They want answers that will tell them who Jesus really is. They want straightforward answers and easy solutions to entering God’s Eternal Kingdom – they want the whole story and in plain language.
But Jesus tells them that there are no easy answers. In fact, he challenges them even further when he says, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe…For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the father.”
Jesus challenges the disciples and confronts them with the hard truth, “this teaching is difficult.” There are no easy answers – there is no quick fix. It takes faith – faith in what cannot be seen – faith in what cannot be explained in everyday terms – faith in the act of giving oneself up to be one with Jesus – to follow him both literally and figuratively. Giving oneself over to being with and in Jesus, in every way, is the only way – the only way to freedom; the only way to peace; the only way to eternal life.
In this passage from John, the gauntlet has been thrown down – the message is a hard one to hear - and because of this, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” Simon Peter and a few others elected to stay, but even they encountered severe misgivings and challenges as they followed their lord on the remainder of his journey to the cross.
The gauntlet has been thrown down…who will meet the challenge? I believe that this is how Chief Smith experiences his work in establishing a community policing program. I believe that the Chief has picked up that gauntlet, and I believe that he is going forward, just like Simon Peter and the others, in faith, knowing that if he follows in the footsteps of Jesus – if he keeps going forward despite challenges and hardships – despite the setbacks – if he follows in the footsteps of Jesus, he, in concert with those who choose to partner with him, will make a difference. The neighborhood will be more peaceful, more loving. The common good will be served and we will all be closer to living in a world that pleases God and is therefore pleasing to us.
A gauntlet has also been thrown down for us here at Christ Church.
Just about this time last year, under the leadership of the Renewal Works Committee, Christ Church committed to focusing on spiritual growth and spiritual vitality. Christ Church committed to rediscovering who Jesus is, and what it means to follow him. Christ Church intentionally picked up the gauntlet and embarked on a journey of spiritual growth and identifying ways that God is calling us to grow.
The journey is in progress. Classes, conversations, forums, and sermons have helped in focusing our hearts and minds on spiritual issues – our relationship with Jesus. Talk is bubbling up around potential social justice conversations and mission activities. Involvement with community service organizations has increased. We are sitting - just as the disciples sat listening carefully to their Lord - we are sitting – listening to words in the classes, conversations, forums, and sermons – the words - that bring us as close as possible to the Jesus of 2000 years ago. Sitting and listening, scratching our heads about what does it mean for us to follow Jesus.
As we listen – if we listen with open hearts and with open minds – or, as Paul would say, with the eyes of our hearts – as we listen to Jesus, as we grow spiritually, and draw ever so close to him – what do we hear him say to us? What is the gauntlet that he has thrown down for us, both personally and as members of Christ Church?
Will the teaching be too difficult to accept? Or, like Simon Peter, will we say, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Will we, like Chief Smith, pick up our gauntlet and meet the challenge?
As we follow Jesus, weathering the hardships and the challenges – the setbacks, will the neighborhood of our personal, parish and community lives grow to be a more peaceful, more loving place? Will the common good be served? Will we be closer to living in a world that pleases God and is therefore pleasing to us?
Will we “…be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power?” Will we “put on the whole armor of God” and follow Jesus – all the way, down that long road that the challenge takes us and into God’s Eternal Kingdom. AMEN