The tools of community building
Updated: Nov 21, 2022
All semester long we have been in our season of arts&crafts at The House with our college students and young adults. It started as my hypothesis that folks are so worn out from school and from work, that we don’t have the brain cells left to treat church like more lectures, more class time, more homework, more 9-5. So I wondered: what’s the most different thing we can be doing? and the answer was something with our hands and with our imaginations. So thus began the semester of arts&crafts.
I thought that it was going to remain at the level of crayons and paper and paint and paintbrushes until we just got it all out of our systems but arts&crafts escalated, and paintbrushes were not enough to do the kinds of crafts we were imagining. We started raiding Michael’s and Hobby Lobby for more supplies. One day a glue gun showed up at The House, I found earrings made from resin moulds, we’ve dug giant bags of beads and more and more canvases out of cabinets that hadn't been opened in years, and the moment where I knew that we were in deep, is when I had poured out these little sequin pumpkin confettis and was trying to place them on dots of glue with my fat fingers and I sighed “we need craft tweezers” and one of our young adults reached into his bag and handed me a pair of tweezers and said “these have never been used” and now we have craft tweezers at The House. Craft tweezers are now a tool for ministry at The House.
It is so, so funny to look back on the last eighteen months of my ministry at The House and think about all the tools that have helped us build what this ministry is becoming. Craft tweezers. Paint & paint brushes. Adirondack chairs in the front yard. A phone app named Slice from which we order Primavera pizza every week. Blankets. A couch. Masks. Hand sanitizer. A refrigerator. A pumpkin patch. Index cards. Mechanical pencils. Zoom. The bible.
I think it's worth asking: How do you build a ministry? How do you build a community? With what tools do you build friendships? With what tools do you give care? You see, because these things are the work of being Christians, these are the work of being members of Christ Lutheran. I think about the ministry of Jesus and it was not complex stuff he was using—water, wine, oil, spit, dirt. The hem of his robe. Stories. His hands. Fish. Bread. Open space. People’s homes. Time. The sandals on his feet and the shirt on his back, and not a lot more.
In this passage from the prophet Isaiah, we hear the threat of the Assyrians against the people of God, which of course echo the threats throughout all time of nation against nation, people against people, race against race—and the prophet Isaiah comforts them with his prophesying of God: Do not be afraid at the threats made against your people, I will put a spirit within him that he will not come to attack your people.
But the prophesy from Isaiah speaking the words of God is so much bigger than nation1 will not attack nation2, he says that, in the days to come, the Lord’s house will be established on the highest mountain and the nations will stream to it,,, God will judge between nations, and the nations will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks / nation shall not lift up sword again nation and neither shall they learn war any more.
And it is in the hinge of this statement -- swords into plowshares -- that we hear the concise message that is echoed throughout all of scripture, from the law, the prophets, the Gospel. Swords into plowshares. God has always wanted to build God's kingdom among us -- a way of living together in harmony where everyone is cared for, where our neighbors are loved as ourselves, where the poor and the sick are cared for and members of the community. And God through Isaiah is holding up a mirror to God's people -- what do you think you are building with swords? What do you think you are building with spears?
It's as if God is saying, I see the destruction rampant among you, and I’ve had enough of it. It's time for building, instead. And the work of building up my people is the work of a plow-share, the work of a pruning-hook. The work of building up the people of God is the work of planting, cultivating, watering, tending, pruning, harvesting, washing, preparing, cooking, and sharing, and eating.
They say that if you've got a hammer in your hand, that everything looks like a nail. I wonder with a sword in our hand, what we see in the world around us. With a plow-share in our hand, I wonder what we would see in the world around us.
I wonder what the tools are in this place for building up the Body of Christ.
I wonder what other tools you need at your disposal to reach the people of Fredericksburg who have no found us yet.
as you look out in the world, I wonder where you see folks trying to plant gardens with swords,
I wonder where you see folks trying to build community but doing so with the implements of violence?
This passage from Isaiah was written over 2000 years ago and the problem of violence -- violence of all kinds: physical, emotional, social, and political -- is still present among us. It's easy to get down about it and to look around and wonder, how did we get into this mess? I think the answer is that we have always been in this mess, and now we are in it for this generation. But as Christians, we get to be people of hope, and the work of every generation is to wonder what it would be like to shift this sword and spear culture to a plow-share and pruning-hook culture, to imagine what kind of a world that could be. And the work is to take an honest assessment of our own lives, to take stock of the swords and the spears we cleave too, and to wonder what it would take to beat them into plow-shares instead, or perhaps, a soup pot, or a crochet hook, or,, some crafting tweezers.