Salvation through Community – Rev. Kayla Parker, guest minister

For so many of us,

the last year has been one of isolation.

Boundaries, distances necessarily held firmly

for life.

And yet, other parts of us,

of our life, our being

have suffered

for we are beings wired for connection.

We need one another to survive.

Some of us have spent perhaps too much time

with a small number of others

and the reality of needing a community to raise our children

needing friends to sustain our partnerships 

has become so vividly, strikingly true.

This virus has made so clear our need for one another

and the deep interdependence we have

that sometimes requires us to create space

And other times requires us to reach out.

I hope that these realizations of our interdependence

change us and who we are post-pandemic.

That we are freed, liberated

by this acceptance of our need for one another.

And our capacity to both reach out

and create space.

I hope that the power of community

can continue to change us, shift our very beings.

It has for so many throughout all time.

I want to share with you now

the story of one from around now.

Brooke is a friend and fellow good trouble maker of mine

in Charleston, WV.

She is a social worker and an organizer,

a daughter and a runner.

I met Brooke when I was a volunteer for a grassroots group 

she leads with a few others

that does harm reduction, addiction and recovery work.

One night, I was on a zoom meeting with a city council member

along with Brooke and other leaders in the group,

just answering this politicians questions and talking

about the importance of what we do.

As the Pastor,

I am there for the moral points

so I talk about how the work we do

is about medical health and safety, yes,

but it is also about treating humans like humans.

That the people we serve,

the poor and homeless folks who use drugs,

most everywhere else they go they are not treated as humans.

Not met with caring eyes

or a “how are you”.

That this is an important part of our work, too.

I tell them how scientists and social workers who say

opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is community.

They know that it’s community that can save us. 

And that’s the work we’re doing.

Brooke responds, that this was true for her.

That it was community that saved her,

that brought her into recovery.

After the meeting, I ask her about this.

She told me that

again and again throughout her life

she has been saved by others.

As a kid,

a teenager,

as an adult finding recovery

and again, as an adult,

finding a way to be out about being in recovery.

This most recent saving

has just occurred for her in the last couple of years

when she met organizers and social workers

medical and helping professionals

who were out about being in recovery!

A thing she thought she could never do

because of stigma and discrimination she’d experienced.

When she first saw them share their stories, outing themselves

She was amazed and overwhelmed,

and a little frightened for them.

Didn’t they know?

They could lose their jobs?

Or would at least get harassed, constantly judged and doubted??

And slowly she saw, they didn’t.

Their speaking out,

living out loud

They made space for her to heal

from the isolation and stigma she’d experienced.

One day at a work meeting,

she was sitting across the table

from a woman she thought she could trust.

And the need to share this part of herself

kept growing up inside her.

She whispered

across the table, “I am in Recovery”

And she didn’t combust.

Nothing bad happened.

This important part of who she was

that she felt she had to hide.

Here she was, now able to whisper it.

She was able to do all this thanks to the recovery community

who were out,

loud and proud.

Because of them

Brooke could heal

and become these things too.

Brooke is now able to do a lot more than whisper these realities.

She openly speaks out about her own recovery

while advocating for others who use drugs or are also in recovery

Hearing others share their stories and realities

made space for her own healing

and eventually her own sharing.

No longer having to separate and hide aspects of herself.

She experienced her own shift,

into being more fully herself, more freely herself.

Brooke reunited with herself,

was saved

Thanks to community.


Salvation is found in community

And sin is separation.

These are maybe different-than-you’ve-heard

descriptions and definitions

of familiar concepts.

Sin in popular context often comes to mean

acts that are defined as not good or right.

Christian theologians, however, from Orthodox to so progressive-they’re-not-really-Christian-anymore agree that sin is separation.

That the reason why these acts defined as sin,

are that they are acts that separate.

To speak to us, we’ll turn to Paul Tillich,

who’s in that so-very-progressive category.

Tillich writes,

“Sin is separation.

To be in the state of sin is to be in the state of separation.

And separation is threefold:

there is separation among individual lives,

separation of a man from himself,

and separation of all men from the Ground of Being.”

Separation from others

separation from self,

and separation from the “Ground of Being”,

Tillich’s name for the ultimate, whether divine or not.

This definition, I think, works for addiction

The sin of the disease of addiction

is that it separates.

It separates humans from ourselves, one another

the ground of being.

The opposite if addiction is not sobriety,

it is connection.

The opposite of Addiction is Connection.

This brings us to our working definition of salvation.

Now Salvation in Christianity is being reunited with God.

The opposite of the sin of separation,

it is the reunion.

Back to Tillich’s concept,

and theological concepts that speak more fully

to Unitarian Universalists and religious progressives:

Salvation is then our reuniting

with ourselves, one another and our Ground of Being.

We are saved when we are reconnected

when we reunite with parts of ourselves

and our communities

that our ties had been severed with,

perhaps that had been severed since the beginning of our lives.

Salvation then is a continual process.

Always becoming more saved

more reunited with ourselves

who we are

and who we are in community. 

Now how does this salvation happen?

We saw it happen to Brooke when she heard others in recovery

sharing their stories openly.

Their stories made space for her healing,

which continued with her own sharing.

She was able to reunite with herself

and with her community and God, too.

This lines up with what Rita and Rebecca wrote:

“Salvation begins

with the courage of witnesses whose gaze is steady.

Steady witnesses neither flee in horror to hide their eyes,

nor console with sweet words.

Steady witnesses end the hidden life of violence

by bringing it to public attention.

They help to restore souls fragmented

They accompany the journey to healing…”

Salvation begins with the courage of

Witnesses whose gaze is steady.

Who do not use trite platitudes

who are next to us, week in and week out

holding our joys and sorrows in love.

They bring to public attention the hidden life of violence.

They speak out about being in recovery

about the stigmas and oppressions that bear down on us

that cause violence and isolation.

And in this, these steady witnesses are saving themselves, too.

They are reuniting with themselves

and their connections with others.

And creating the space for us to do the same.

Creating the healing space for others to move to being saved

being reunited.

This connection, this space making, comes

from bonds of love

Back to Rebecca and Rita..

Salvation requires love…

Love is neither transcendence nor undifferentiated union.

Love is the wisdom of life that knows when connection can heal

and when separation will make life flourish.

Love is the capacity to use the powers of holding on and letting go

in the service of life.

Love is capable of detachment as well as empathy,

differentiation as well as union,

hierarchy as well as mutuality.

Love is the guardian of powers. 

Love directs the use of specific powers,

in response to particular circumstances,

for the sake of creating, sustaining, or healing life.

In every situation, love asks, 

“What will serve life?” 

We have learned something, this past year,

about love as choosing life.

About love asking us what will serve life

and how sometimes we have to separate from one another

and other times we have to reach out.

Love is both

the holding of the boundaries of connection

and tightening those bonds.

Love is both

because love is choosing life.

Again and again.

And community is the space we do this

the place where love lives, within and between us

that interdependent web of life and love.

Rebecca and Rita again,

“We have experienced life-giving communities

that foster knowledge of spirit, awareness of presence.

We know that, at their best,

communities practice the right use of the powers of life

and lead people to experience wholeness, right relationship, and beauty. When this happens, such communities teach us to know

ourselves and the world as sacred

and sustain an ethic of appreciative care for life.”

Communities teach us again and again how to say yes to life.

How to love

Communities create the spaces for us to heal

to be healed by steady witness

to be saved and to save.

The opposite of addiction is community.

The opposite of sin is community.

The opposite of isolation is community.

We find our salvation in community

It is what will save us, again and again.

May it be the love that leads us to

an ever-deepening reunion

with ourselves

one another

and the ground of our being,

the web of all being.