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Partnering for the Common Good

It is not good that a person should be alone. A man named Paul O’Sullivan sensed that this was true, so he went on Facebook and searched for his own name. What popped up was a seemingly endless list of Paul O’Sullivan profiles. Clearly, Paul was not alone! As it turned out, there were many Paul O’Sullivans living all around the world.

Paul decided to reach out to three of the strangers who shared his name, and they all responded. Although the other Pauls were skeptical at first, a bond was quickly formed. Then things got interesting. Beyond their shared names, the four had a common love for music. “We should start a band,” said the first Paul. The others agreed, even though they lived in Pennsylvania, Maryland, England and The Netherlands.

In 2016, they began to rehearse and make music together virtually. And what did they call themselves? You guessed it: “The Paul O’Sullivan Band.” When the pandemic hit, band practice became really important to the four Pauls. Together, they recorded an album called Internet Famous, containing six cover songs and one original. The four began to identify themselves by their homes: Baltimore, Pennsylvania, Manchester and Rotterdam.

“We’ve been social distancing since 2016,” said Baltimore Paul to The Washington Post. “We perfected the system of remote collaboration before it was even relevant.” Their music is intended to make you smile and make you dance. “If it does both,” says Pennsylvania Paul, “it’s the Paul O’Sullivan Band.”

These four Pauls have discovered a foundational biblical truth: “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). In the garden of Eden, God realizes that the first man will not be able to thrive on his own, so God decides to “make him a helper as his partner” (v. 18).

First, God creates animals of the field and birds of the air, but none of these creatures is found to be a suitable helper and partner. Then God causes a deep sleep to fall on the man, removes one of his ribs, and forms a woman to be his helper and partner. The man wakes up and says, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (v. 23).

The two are made equally in the image and likeness of God, and the term “helper” is in no way intended to communicate subservience. In fact, the Hebrew word for helper, ezer, is most often used to describe God as being a helper of human beings. Such a helper is always strong, working to save and to rescue. In the Bible, the word is used twice to describe women, three times in reference to military support, and 16 times to describe God. When the woman is created to be a helper and a partner to the man, she is not made to be a second-class citizen. Quite the opposite. God seems to be saying in this verse, “Man, here is your savior and your rescuer!”

Clearly, God has created us for community, to help and support each other so that we do not face the challenges of life alone. Each of us is a creation of God, equally made in the image and likeness of God, with more in common than we think. So, what would it take to model our church and community after the “Paul O’Sullivan Band”?

First, we are to be true helpers, saving and rescuing each other. In the Christian community, we are supposed to be strong and bold, not weak and timid, in our support for one another. “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ,” says the apostle Paul to the Galatians. “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith” (Galatians 6:2, 10).

Second, we bear one another’s burdens. We do this when we offer a listening ear … provide a ride to a medical appointment … give an afternoon of childcare … pay a month’s rent or a utility bill for a family in need – just to name a few.

Third, we work for the good of all. This means, for example, working to expand the stock of affordable housing in the community … paying workers a living wage … supporting community health clinics.

Fourth, we convey love, hospitality and care, especially for those of our own faith family. We do this when we make sure that children are welcomed fully in worship … when we create small groups for every member of the congregation, even those with special needs … when we provide tangible help to church members facing financial difficulties, marital problems, and illnesses in body, mind or spirit.

Each of us is challenged to answer the question posed by James, the brother of Jesus: “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” Great question. The answer, of course, is, “It’s no good.” James concludes by saying, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:15-17).

We are true helpers when we do the work of saving and rescuing, boldly bearing one another’s burdens and supplying the bodily needs of our brothers and sisters.

Once we engage in this kind of helping, we become full partners with one another. Together, we are so much stronger than we are as isolated individuals. As Paul says to the Corinthians, “we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). This one Spirit-filled body is made up of many members, acting as full partners.

In the novel City of Peace, a Methodist pastor named Harley Camden makes a discovery about the power of community after a rock is thrown through the window of a local bakery owned by Muslim immigrants.

“Here is what I challenge us to do today,” he said to his congregation in his Sunday sermon. “After worship, let’s walk as a group to the Riverview Bakery. Let’s walk as one body, as the body of Christ, as the physical presence of our Lord in the world today. Let’s line up and support this business as a manifestation of the Spirit, as an act that shows the reality of our love.”

Looking out over the congregation during the closing hymn, Harley felt strongly that he was being led by the Spirit of God, with the support of many of his church members. In fact, when he gathered with the congregation in the parking lot after the service, he was shocked by the number of people who were interested in walking to the Riverview Bakery. There had been close to a hundred people in worship, and Harley guessed that about 75 were ready to march.

The members of Harley’s church were partners – full partners – in showing love and support for their immigrant neighbors. Like members of the Paul O’Sullivan Band, they crossed the barriers of country and culture to establish supportive friendships.

As people devoted to partnership, we can reach beyond the Christian community to work with others for the common good. We do this because God has created all the people of the world in God’s image and likeness, and because Jesus challenges us to take such action in the world.

In the parable of the good Samaritan, a Jewish man is attacked by robbers, who strip him and beat him. A Jewish priest sees him and passes by on the other side. Then a Levite spots the beaten man and walks around him. But then a Samaritan comes across this Jewish man, and he is moved with pity – even though the bloody man is not a member of his faith or nationality. The Samaritan bandages the man’s wounds, brings him to an inn, cares for him, and then pays the innkeeper to continue his care.

When the Jewish leaders around Jesus admit that the Samaritan was a true neighbor and helper, one who crossed boundaries to save and rescue others, Jesus gives them a simple command, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

This is the command of Jesus to us as well. He wants us to go and be helpers to people around us, working in partnership with others to advance the common good. Sometimes we will do this within the church, the body of Christ. Other times, we will work with people of other faiths, or with people of no faith, to rescue and save the most vulnerable members of our communities.

In every situation, we are challenged to join the Paul O’Sullivan Band and work in harmony. This means understanding that we are not meant to live alone, but to create partnerships in which we help one another. The musical Paul O’Sullivans come from different areas, from different cultures, and from different generations. “But with us,” says Baltimore Paul, “it never mattered. Music really does bring people together.” So does partnering together to help others and work for the common good.

Today is World Communion Sunday, when we gather to celebrate Holy Communion with Christian churches and faith communities around the world. In celebrating this holy sacrament, we are sharing in the body and blood of Jesus Christ, which gives us the spiritual nourishment we need to partner with one another for the common good and to fulfill Christ’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Therefore, as one body of Christ, in unity with Christians and Churches around the world, let’s celebrate Holy Communion. Then, having been fed here at the Lord’s Table, let us go out into the world that is our mission field to be true helpers, to bear one another’s burdens, to work for the good of all and to show love, hospitality and care especially for members of our faith family. Amen and amen!