This morning, we continue to reflect on our church goals and specifically on the second goal – Led by the Spirit, we will build an inclusive, caring community.

And it was really interesting (and really wonderful) to hear Meryl, David and Megan speak last week on our first goal – Led by the Spirit we will explore together what it means to follow Jesus today – and to hear how many times the importance of being together in community, journeying together in community, was mentioned.

Meryl saying she was sure that if she didn’t have Jesus in her life as well as this church and the Thursday study group (big shout out to the Thursday study group!) she would not have been motivated to live the life she has. (And in today’s bulletin you will find the link she mentioned to Sister Jane Keogh’s vigil outside Parliament House (happening right now) to the plight of the men from Manus now in Port Moresby – that incredible vulnerability of refugees that Meryl and Glenn have been doing something about for so many years.)

David saying that his Christian journey would not have been sustained or as enriched without being able to explore – with all of you – what it means to follow Jesus today. His thanks for the wealth of different experiences of journeying in faith found in this church – and his passionate defence of Baptist identity: that what it means to be Baptist is to allow freedom of conscience. (A link to the article by David’s grandfather -Rev Merlyn Holly – Baptists dare to be free, is also found in our bulletin.)

And Megan showing that beautiful icon of the Transfiguration and describing how each time her small group meets, she feels that in the honest exploration of what it means to follow Jesus, she has witnessed something holy; that her gut instinct about the promise of Transfiguration and the promise of following Jesus together is that even when – and perhaps especially when – we do not understand we are brought into the light of Christ and utterly transformed by it.

It was wonderful to hear you all speak. So yeah, Megan, it did seem like a good idea at the time – because it was a good idea!

We need to journey in faith with others. Not just because the community will support us in our individual faith journeys. Though that is true. But because the journey of faith is a gathered journey! God gathers us together, binds us together, sets us on the road together, in community – because community and community with us (as our two readings illustrate) – is God’s greatest desire.

Our Genesis reading is the ancient story of the aftermath of the great flood, and it is a fascinating story, because despite God – God who is holy, God who had created a perfectly balanced and beautiful world – despite God knowing, Genesis 8:21, that the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth, God makes a treaty, or covenant, with Noah and his sons, and their descendants – and with all living things (God’s concept of community is wider and wilder than anything we imagine) that “the waters (that was there before creation and during the flood) shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” God makes a treaty with us knowing who we are – not because God has made the world perfect.

And the fascinating thing about this treaty or covenant is that it is incredibly one-sided! When you read it, all the obligations rest on one party. All the obligations rest on God. Knowing our frailty and our failures, knowing our frailty and our failures, God still desires community with us, and so much so that God takes on all the obligations – all the risks – of this covenant – with us.

In our Mark reading we see the heavens torn open and the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus, and a voice saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” But God doesn’t rest there. Jesus doesn’t rest there. The Spirit, we’re told, immediately (remember Mark’s emphasis on the urgency of God’s saving work) immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness – into the wilderness of our messy human existence and messed up creation. There’s a little phrase here that links this passage back to the story of Noah, as well as all the references to water and creation, and that is, verse 13; “He was with the wild beasts.” He was with the wild beasts maintaining that covenant with all flesh; continuing to build wild and wide, inclusive, caring community; “proclaiming the good news… [that] the kingdom of God has come near.” The good news that such is God’s desire for community with us – and with all living things – that God takes on all the obligations – all the risks – of this covenant in Jesus.

What we quickly discover, however, as we journey in community is that community is not a short-cut to Paradise but a long journey with Jesus through the wilderness.

A few years ago, the women’s book group read the story of Nadia Bolz-Weber and the LGBTIQA+ inclusive church, the House for All Sinners and Saints, she established in Denver, Colorado. She describes how they ask new people why the church is important to them – and how people respond with comments similar to Meryl and David and Megan, that it’s a place that motivates us to live our faith, where we enjoy freedom in following Jesus, where we can express our unknowing, “where difficult truths can be spoken and everyone is welcome, and where we pray for each other.”

And when everyone’s spoken, Nadia gets up and says what I’d say, that it’s wonderful to hear these things being said about our church and that I, too, love being part of a community where I am witnessing something good and holy growing.

But at this point Pastor Nadia goes on. She says, “You also need to know that, sooner or later, this community will disappoint you. You will be let down. Someone will hurt your feelings. And you need to decide what you will do when that happens. Because if you choose to leave when the church doesn’t meet your expectations, you will miss out on seeing how the grace of God comes in and fill the holes left by this community’s failure, and that it is just too beautiful and real to miss.” So, welcome to community. We will disappoint you!

Because the reality of being messy human beings in a messed-up creation is that community will disappoint us. Community will not be made up of people we agree with all the time, or who meet our needs all the time, or who we even like – all the time!

In his short, but beautiful book on how Christian community should function, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer also states that community will disappoint us. But that this “great disillusionment,” he says, “with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves,” is an important part of how God leads us from the wish dreams, the lofty ideas, of being an ideal community to experiencing genuine Christian community.

We are not bound together because we look the same or act the same, or think the same or vote the same, or do things the same way, but we are bound together, “through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ… We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.” In this way, Bonhoeffer writes, “the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together – the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.”

We need help as I said in Sunday to Sunday this week. We need help because we cannot build community ourselves – with our own words and deeds. We are all too flawed and frail and full of failure. We need help. We need the help of Jesus – the one whose Word and Deed is the only thing which really binds us together – the one who took on all the obligations – all the risk – of being in community with us – the one who does not rest, but is immediately driven out by the Spirit into our messy human wilderness to forgive us and reconcile us to God and each other.

We need help to build community and we need to wait, as Nadia Bolz-Weber says, wait in our moments to disillusion with community to see “how the grace of God comes in and fill the holes left by this community’s failure, [because] that it is just too beautiful and real to miss.

There is a wonderful Jewish story about a man who had become unhappy with his life, with his family and his town – so much so that he decided to leave everything behind to search for Paradise where everything would be different, new, full and rewarding. So, he left.

On his journey he found himself in a forest. So, he settled down for the night, took out his sack and had a bit to eat. Before he went to sleep, however, he was careful to take off his shoes and point them in the new direction in which he had been going.

However, during the night, unknown to him, somehow his shoes got turned around. Perhaps it was a mischievous passer-by, or a wild beast, or perhaps an angel. But the man’s shoes got turned around and when he awoke the next morning he carefully stepped into his shoes and continued his journey to Paradise.

After another long day of walking, he came to a town. Not quite as large as he imagined Paradise would be. In fact, it looked somewhat familiar. He found a street in that town that looked familiar. And a house. And a family. And he lived happy ever after and not a single person could ever convince him that it was not truly Paradise.

Can I invite you to look at your shoes and your feet, to think about your path and your direction, and to pray for our community as we journey in faith together.