When I was concerned that our small church congregation didn't seem to have many resources to help our community, I realized I needed to have a more spiritual outlook on the whole scene. In praying daily for our community, I thought of a little town that's mentioned a number of times in the Bible: Bethlehem. Was there a sense of community there that might bear more consideration?
I found five occasions in the Bible where Bethlehem stood out to me as particularly special. The first was in Ruth (2:1–23), where, as a stranger accompanying her widowed mother-in-law, Ruth was welcomed and treated respectfully in the new homeland near Bethlehem. This symbolized to me a community with hospitality.
Second, Bethlehem is mentioned in First Samuel 16:1–13. The prophet Samuel is looking for a successor to King Saul. God promises Samuel that He will show him what to do, and in Bethlehem David is identified as the successor. This community helped prepare a leader in whom good and even holy qualities were apparent. So I began to associate Bethlehem with an appreciation of that which is holy.
Third, Bethlehem is mentioned in Second Samuel 23:13–17. David has three men, dedicated to him, who at great risk to themselves break through an armed encampment to bring him water from Bethlehem's well. These actions signaled to me devotion and loyalty.
Fourth, Micah (5:2) prophesies Christ Jesus' coming in Bethlehem. For me that meant it was a community with the blessed quality of hope.
Fifth is the Bethlehem with which we are most familiar: the bustling town, filled with people paying their taxes, where Jesus was born. Here was a community in which the Christ was revealed, even though people's daily affairs seemed all-consuming. And some people—wise men and shepherds—were led to Bethlehem for the very purpose of recognizing and acknowledging this appearing.
I could see that the qualities I associated with Bethlehem are valuable in any community. They show an openness to gaining a new vision of God and His Christ, to listening and acting with love. We see more of these qualities expressed as we gain a more spiritual view of community rather than considering it to be made up simply of buildings, shops, climate, various ethnic influences.
What more can we do to encourage these valuable qualities in our community? We can learn from John the Baptist, who was sent to prepare the way of the Lord. John preached repentance. He addressed conditions of thought that would make the appearance of the Christ difficult, such as pride, fear, hate, apathy. By filling our thoughts with qualities that welcome Truth—including hospitality, an appreciation of that which is holy, devotion and loyalty, hope—we are helping clear the way for native Christliness to appear. Mary Baker Eddy says in Science and Health: "Christian Science despoils the kingdom of evil, and pre-eminently promotes affection and virtue in families and therefore in the community." Science and Health, p. 102.
We are all one in Christ. No one is outside of the reach of Truth, without the ability to see and feel its healing message. Truth comes to each individual in a form that's comprehensible, having a healing and renewing effect. No one is beyond understanding and feeling divine Love in his or her life.
Praying about my community has brought an appreciation for the blessings already occurring there daily through the activity of our church and its members. We helped sponsor a talk on Mary Baker Eddy in conjunction with a traveling exhibit about her life. The exhibit was located at a large downtown library. Our Sunday School visited the exhibit, and later one of the pupils wrote a biographical paper on Mrs. Eddy for school. This led an engaging discussion in her classroom with many students who had never heard of Mrs. Eddy or even of Christian Science.
I was grateful, too, that our church has an active, healing Sunday School with visitors each week. We keep a notebook with pupils' accounts of healing in their own words. In addition, a large percentage of our church members are in the public ministry of Christian Science healing. My list went on and on, too many to mention. And there are always more opportunities to respond to our community.
The Christ is present here and now in every community. And simply realizing, and acting on this, has great effect.
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