The following homily was offered by Deacon Ed Solomon on the Sixth Sunday of Easter at The Church of Saint Peter in Saratoga Springs on May 22.

Some years ago, I facilitated a meeting of a diverse group of parents and community leaders to address the scarcity of services for people with developmental disabilities in minority communities. When members of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe arrived for the meeting, they expressed concern about the seating arrangement. The room was arranged in typical classroom style with chairs in rows and a front table for the speakers. They explained that in Native American culture it was customary to gather in a circle so each person would know that what they had to say was as valuable as every other person. The tribal leaders believed the collective wisdom of many would yield better decisions. It was an eye-opening moment! We quickly rearranged the chairs into a big circle and soon discovered the wisdom of that arrangement. 

That memory surfaced while reflecting on our First Reading. As the early Church grapples with thorny issues like whether circumcision and dietary restrictions practiced by Jewish Christians should apply to Gentile converts, we are told “the apostles and elders, in agreement with the whole Church and inspired by the Holy Spirit, made decisions with one accord.” It is not easy to decide anything in a large group but when everyone has a seat at the table, the decisions tend to be more wise and just. The decision-making pro­cess used by the early Church offers us insight into how our Church and our country might grapple with the divisive issues we face today. 

Throughout the Easter Season, our First Reading has been from the Acts of the Apostles, a book about how the Church grew after Jesus’ death. It is the story of how a small band of fear-filled women and men energized by the Holy Spirit formed a community united in a common mission to spread the good news of God’s love throughout the world. The Acts of the Apostles offers a glimpse of an infant Church; a Church radically different from the highly organized hierarchical structure of today’s Church.

While the young Church appointed people to leadership roles, in the first few centuries of Christianity, the word church does not mean a building or a place but rather a community of baptized people each of whom brings their gifts, their talents, their wisdom to share with others. The early Church looks much like the vision the St. Regis Tribe shared: a circle, a community of people gathered together to build God’s reign of peace and justice. Christianity is not a me-and-God religion. It is a communal faith. Jesus came to save everyone and, like it or not, we are in this messy life together as sisters and brothers.

I was 14 when the Second Vatican Council convened in 1962. If someone had asked me to define church then I would have said: The church is St. Patrick’s in Troy. Monsignor Hunt is the pastor and the priests and nuns who work with him are the church. If someone asked what was my role, I would have said I go to church on Sunday, listen to the priest and try to do what he tells us. (And then go to confession for all the times I did not do what I was told!) It was that simple for me and I suspect for many of you.But the Second Vatican Council turned that thinking on its head.

The Council not only turned the altar to face the people and required that Mass be said in the native language of the people, but recaptured the early Church’s understanding that the Church is the people of God where each and every baptized person has an important role. Church is really more a verb than a noun. Odd as it may seem, God wants you and me to become church to work together to turn this crazy, violent and fractured world around.

Maybe that is one reason Pope Francis has called the Synod on Synodality. It’s a mouthful but its meaning is quite simple. Pope Francis recognizes that the Church, the people of God, need an opportunity to shape the future together. He has asked that people around the world gather; ordinary people, parishioners, community members, ex-Catholics, people of other faith traditions and clergy to encounter each other, to listen to each other, to dream together and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to imagine how we, the Church, can better address the many spiritual and corporal needs of the human family. In his homily opening the synod, Pope Francis said: “Dear brothers and sisters, let us listen to one another; let us have a good journey together! May we be pilgrims in love with the Gospel and open to the surprises of the Holy Spirit.” The reading from the Book of Revelation paints a picture of what the reign of God might look like: “It gleamed with the splendor of God; there was no temple for the Lord God almighty was its temple; the glory of God gave it light and its lamp was the Lamb of God.” That is God’s vision. That all of the human community might one day reside in the new Jerusalem, the holy City of God.

How will we get there? We will journey together as church and brick by brick, one act of love by one act of love, person by person, we will build the reign of God. The question is how will you and I use the life we have been gifted with to add a brick to the City of God?