I learned seen some of the most beautiful lessons on community from having a big, crazy, close, messy extended family. My favorite memories are of cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandparents, great grandparents, parents, and siblings regularly gathered around card tables, picnic tables, coffee tables, or dinner tables. Plates piled high with savory snacks and delicious desserts sat next to steaming cups of sweet, milky coffee as we laughed over card games, talked through troubles, cried over losses, supported in hard times, and built a foundation of love into the core of our family.
Now, please don’t misunderstand this to mean that things are always perfect. My family, just like any other community isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s often messy, but deep in the core of who we are, there is love, togetherness, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and steadfastness. I can look to each member of my extended family and think of a lesson that they taught me about how real, healthy community should be.
My Grammy was a lover of people. No matter how many mistakes you made or how badly you had behaved, her soft arms and her big heart were always open to you. She forgave easily, always saw the good in people, and loved big. My Grammy taught me that love in community should be always see the best in people and should be undeniable.
My Aunt Beth Ann and my Uncle Shorty open their home for our family Thanksgiving each year, and have for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure what “capacity” would be in their home, but I’m sure we far exceed it. We pile onto couches, line the rooms with chairs, sit cross legged on the floor, and overflow into the basement, front yard, and back deck. Regardless of the tight quarters and the chaos that so many people create, their love teaches me that community should intentionally create space for togetherness.
My Aunt Susie and my Uncle Donnie host our family Christmas gathering. We play a rob your neighbor game every year and nearly everyone participates. We drag all of the chairs into a huge circle to play. Inevitably, as soon as we all get settled and finish listening to the rules, someone new wants to join in. The circle is widened and a new chair is added. There is always room. Their love teaches me that community is inclusive.
My Aunt Sandra, my Aunt Sharon, and my Uncle Richard almost never miss a birthday party or family holiday. It doesn’t matter how far of a drive it is or how busy they are, they show up. They are always there for their people. They are dependable and faithful. Their love teaches me that community should be present.
My Uncle Clarence and my Uncle Chris are the behind the scene do-ers. They are the ones who will work on your car, help with the yard work, grill the burgers at the family barbecue, and demonstrate their love with a smile and selfless serving. Their love teaches me that community is helpful and serves sacrificially.
These little lessons on community may not seem ground breaking, but I’ve learned that the gifts that we offer in community don’t always seem monumental. The gifts my family gives one another in community aren’t expensive or extravagant. In fact, they aren’t things at all. My family has taught me that the gifts we offer in community to help it grow are the unique talents, skills, and gifts that God has instilled in each one of us.
My Grammy gave the gift of unconditional love. My Aunt Beth Ann and Uncle Shorty give hospitality and a space to gather. My Aunt Susie and Uncle Donnie give inclusion while my Aunt Sandra, Aunt Sharon, and Uncle Richard give time. My Uncle Clarence and Uncle Chris give their service.
These are all God given gifts and abilities that they use to love well in the community that is my family. They aren’t perfect people, but they use what they have to love the community that God has given them.
1 Peter 4:10 NIV says this and I believe my family demonstrates it well.
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
The way that they love reminds me of the love that God calls me to show to others. Our Father has gifted us with skills, characteristics, abilities, talents, and gifts that we get to use to love others well. No gift that we have is too small or to insignificant for God to use to plant seeds of love, and just maybe the love that we show others will remind them of the love of their Heavenly Father.
He asks us to be His hands and feet here on earth and to love others as He has loved us. He did that for a reason. The counter unconditional, hospitable, inclusive, intentional, self-sacrificial way that we love has the ability to point people to Jesus when they see that the love that we give. Is an overflow of the love that Jesus has given us. We get the privilege of partnering with Him to spread the gospel message to those people that He has strategically placed into our lives to be our community.
Each time we love the unlovable, choose to open our hearts or homes to all, each time we pull up a chair to include the left out, or invest our time and talent serving others, we love the community He has given. He takes the most simple acts of love that you do and He uses them to build a foundation of love into the very core of His body here on earth.
Sisters, let’s use the gifts we’ve been given to our communities and point them to Jesus.
Thank you for the people that you have intentionally placed into our lives. Thank you for the specific gifts, talents, traits, skills, and abilities that you have given to each one of us. Help us to use those gifts to love our community well. Help us to love them the way that you do.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.