The Common Good

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16(NRSV)

Last week, as I was preparing my communion Sunday homily, I stumbled upon a column in the New York Times written by David Brooks, “How Would Jesus Drive?” Brooks began that column with this paragraph:

Over the past several years we have done an outstanding job of putting total sleazoids at the top of our society: Trump, Bannon, Ailes, Weinstein, Cosby, etc. So it was good to get a reminder, from Pope Francis in his New Year’s Eve homily, that the people who have the most influence on society are actually the normal folks, through their normal, everyday gestures being kind in public places, attentive to the elderly. The pope called such people, in a beautiful phrase, “the artisans of the common good.”

I agree with Brooks on the Pope’s phrase being a beautiful one. And useful.

Although I mostly take for granted the ways of my little congregation in Hallowell, Maine, it’s a good thing, from time to time, to step back and take a different sort of look at what we do, just being who we are. In our gathering, we don’t need to say much about being attentive to the common good. It’s something that we do. Sure, there’s always room for improvement, but we are artisans of the common good—and not just in terms of our gestures of kindness.

Old South may be an older church and predominantly white, but in one area we are not homogenous: politics. We are a mixed bag in terms of how we vote, and why. We have Democrats and Republicans. We also have people who are rather stridently Independent. And, we likely have a few Libertarians. And, perhaps still more of which I am unaware.

We don’t exactly have regular political debates, but most people who attend Old South know that not everyone in the congregation votes the same way. Occasionally, someone will express a bit of consternation that we cannot speak clearly as one voice in matters of a political nature. But, the folks who make up the Old South community generally find it a more significant value to be respectful of our political diversity. We remain a mixed group, yet one that is able to worship and work together. An increasingly rare thing.

For myself, I’m a Democrat, married to a Republican. Years ago, this wasn’t such a big deal, but now I get the sense that it’s not only a bigger deal, but even alarming to some people. My daughter, a junior at a college in New York, has told me that she has learned to be careful about letting people know that she comes from a politically mixed family. Some friends have not only expressed some surprise at her upbringing in such a household, but a sense of disbelief (and even outrage) that such a thing is even possible.

In so many aspects of our public life, people now gather only with those with whom they agree. At Old South, what we do, and who we are, is increasingly rare. In this way, it is even more important that we don’t just keep our “lamp under a bushel basket,” only for ourselves.  We are artisans of the common good, attentive to what lies beyond our differences: our common humanity.

We are called to cast our artisan ways out and beyond, with a sort of stealthy, reckless abandon, furtively interrupting the efforts to keep people apart, and mistrustful of those who are different.  May our artisan light so shine, that it may offer light and hope to others.



About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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