The second place we met as All Saints was a portion of the Dougherty house along Van Dyke Road. They gladly sold a piece of land on which to build the church. Occasionally, our leadership would meet with the Doughertys in their sun room which had a huge Christmas cactus that seemed to always be in bloom. Pastor always admired the beautiful plant. A number of years ago, after both Ward and Jean Dougherty had passed away, one of their daughters brought us a clipping from the Christmas cactus which has gone from a small clipping to the nice size plant that was in full bloom on the altar through some patient nurturing by the Carlsons. The plant got its name from the fact that it seems to always bloom around Christmas time. Sometimes it doesn’t always bloom when we expect it to. One needs to be patient and wait for the cactus and its own schedule.
People have this idea that church is supposed to be a perfect place where everything is perfect and there is no dissension or disagreements in other words a utopia. Pastor told the joke about how people complain that only hypocrites go to church with the punch line that there is always room for one more. People have different ideas on what makes something perfect. In “The Republic,” by Plato, he describes the structure of a perfect government and the perfect society. Thomas More wrote in “Utopia” about the political system of an ideal and imaginary island nation. Utopia means good place but if only one letter is added, a word is created that’s pronounced the same but with an entirely different meeting. Eutopia means no place. The good place we seek seems to be no place. We all have different ideas and perspectives on how things should be done. We are all human and tend to think about ourselves first rather than others.
Now for the pinch of a “perfect place”. In order for people to live in a utopian community, they should be patient with one another. This is evident in the reading from the second lesson today. James was telling his congregation that they must not grumble against one another. He also said they must be patient with each other. When Pastor was completing his application for seminary, he was asked to identify his strengths. Well that was easy. But when he got to the question that asked him to name three things he thought he might need to improve, he was a little stuck. So, he asked Molly and she said his answers should be Patience. Patience. And, patience!
Patience really is impossible, for try as we might we still put our own interests first, we are human. Think about sitting in a traffic jam or just trying to get out of the church parking lot on Sunday. Or the person with a cart full in the 10 items or less line while you hold your few items balanced in your hands. We cannot do this patience thing on our own. In Matthew, John sends word to Jesus, “are you the one or are we to wait for another?”. Even John, who saw the heavens opened and heard from God that this was his chosen, wasn’t sure if he had “prepared the way” for the right “one”.
Humans have an incapacity to be completely patient all the time. Patience means we have to think of the other first. We are in Christ through our Baptism. Therefore, community building is not about our agenda; it is about His. God is at the center of our lives. We cannot build Utopia around ourselves. Love, thinking of others first, can only come through Jesus.
Growing up in the Malivuk family in Akron, Ohio, the Christmas tradition began at Thanksgiving after watching Detroit beat Green Bay in the Thanksgiving Day game. They would enjoy their thanksgiving meal and then at 6 pm they would go see the two department stores that would open up their window Christmas displays. It was a wonderful tradition and ignited the spirit of the season. But those two department stores are gone. The family has moved all over the country and some have passed away. The traditions had to change and new traditions were made. Things change and we transform. Jesus is the center of our traditions. It isn’t Utopia but it is close!
Let Christ be the center your celebration, not only at Christmas time but throughout the whole year.