Romans 12:1-5 (CEB)
So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.
Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other.
November 5-6, 2016
Hope Is Our Future Campaign
“One Body in Christ”
Our sermon Scripture comes from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans. In this letter, Paul is writing to a newly formed community of Christians. He is appealing to these new followers of Christ to stay focused on God and be unified as a body of believers in the work of Jesus Christ in the world.
In this passage, Paul is addressing how this new group of people will live together and how they will relate to world.
There are many things in life that fascinate me and many things that simply leave me in awe. I’m fascinated every Fall by how tree leaves turn color…every year I say that I want to watch it happen, and then, of course, it just does. I have the same fascination in the spring watching tulip bulbs come to bloom after being tucked in the ground all winter.
I’m fascinated by how a tadpole turns into a frog; how an itsy, bitsy spider can spin such a complex web…and my list goes on and on…things from nature to technology to medical science…fascinating stuff.
One of my longstanding fascinations on the nature side of life is the California Redwood trees. You may know that California Redwoods are one of the oldest types of trees in existence. Some are hundreds of years old and grow hundreds of feet straight up in the air.
In addition to their longevity and their phenomenal size, I’m fascinated by their secrets to survival. Scientists have studied reasons for the longevity of the California Redwoods and have discovered that below the surface of the Redwoods is a huge and intricate root system.
The roots are strong and durable, but they are very shallow roots; not going deep into the ground. Instead, the roots of Redwoods interlock with other Redwoods nearby for support and strength. They literally wrap themselves around each other. And so if you were to grab a hold of the root of one Redwood, you are actually holding onto a whole forest.
And in their interconnection they share nutrients with one another. If one tree is near water it will give some of its water to the other trees through its roots so they can be strong together.
California Redwood trees have obviously learned about the importance of working together so that their supporting network of roots can help bear the burden of their size.
That is a wonderful image of how the body of Christ, as the church, is to function.
As the Apostle Paul says in our Scripture today, “…though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other.”
Paul is writing about life in community with strong emphasis on belonging to each other. It is the difference between being related and being a family; between being a group and being a community.
We often use the word ‘community’ quite freely, but that is the concept the Apostle Paul is trying to get across in our scripture from Romans.
Yet, building any kind of community is hard work, and building community within the life of the church is no exception.
In these post-World Series days and the Chicago Cubs victory, I was thinking of the movie from several years ago called A League of Their Own. It was a film based on the female major-league baseball teams of the 1940s. In one scene in the movie, the starting catcher for the Rockford Peaches, played by Geena Davis, threatens to quit. She’s tired; she’s worn out; she’s worried about her husband, who has been sent to fight in the war; and in a low moment she is ready to ‘throw in the towel.’
This star catcher, by far the best player in the league, complains that the game is just “too hard.”
The manager of the Rockford Peaches, played by Tom Hanks, tries to talk her out of quitting. When she says, “It’s too hard,” he replies, “Well, baseball’s supposed to be hard…If it weren’t hard, everybody would do it.” And then he says, “Hard is what makes it great!”
I believe the same thing can be said about finding community within the life of the church and stepping up together to meet the challenge of our Hope Is Our Future building and annual stewardship campaign.
Meeting the goals of our campaign will in many ways free us up to continue ministry and grow new ministry, which has been what this church has been about for the 171 years of our existence. Achieving our goals will be hard, but, “Hard is what makes it great!”
I truly believe that there is no other community…no other organization that can do what the church can do. When the church functions the way it should function…the way it is supposed to function; it is a powerful example of living and working together in community; a powerful example of relationship with God and one another through love and welcome and vision and hope.
So what is it that the world is supposed to see when it looks at us as the body of Christ…as the church? What are others supposed to see that will have an impact on the world?
Two things…Paul writes about them both – transformation and holiness. Now, transformation and holiness are pretty ‘churchy’ words. But when the world looks at us in the church they have to see transformation and holiness working together, they have to see a community of people not conformed to this world, but transformed…changed…renewed.
This transformation-thinking requires a different way of looking at things. It is a way of thinking and living that requires a spiritual vision nurtured by worship and prayer and study and service; and guided by gratitude and hope.
The second thing the Apostle Paul writes about that will have an impact on the world is holiness. Paul says, “I encourage you to present” yourselves as living sacrifices that are “holy and pleasing to God.”
To give us a better understanding of this holiness, let’s turn back to John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, who often declared that “There is no holiness but social holiness,” meaning that our way of being in the world must work for the common good of all people and not simply conform to the ways of the world.
Wesley proclaimed this social holiness in the 1700’s by saying something that has become known as Wesley’s Rule. He said, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
That mantra is framed and in my office here at church and also influences my stewardship.
When our stewardship is based on the belief and understanding that everything we have is a gift of God and that God is the owner and we are the stewards, then we live in such a way that we can more freely yield or surrender what God has blessed us with when it comes to our time and talents and resources.
And when that kind of yielding and surrender is multiplied as it can be in a faith community like ours, then trust becomes our strength to do amazing things.
It truly does take all of us working in relationship, to build a community of faith.
When we think about the course of time since we were formed as a faith community in 1845, what if at any given point, the people of this church decided to give up; that it was just too hard…too hard to pay down debt; too hard to maintain the building; too hard to grow ministries; too hard to reach out beyond themselves. If at any point that had happened, we wouldn’t be where we are today—Literally, we would not be worshipping here right now.
In her sharing in worship last week, Pat Harington gave a wonderful and practical image. She said this faith community is her family and we do things, like pay down debt and care for and grow the church, to make the family stronger.
Think about your own immediate and extended family…think of the vision and dreams and hopes you have for your family. Think of the prayers you pray for your family; think of what you would surrender or sacrifice for your family and think of how you celebrate when wonderful things happen in your family.
As one body in Christ, we are called to live in such a way that the hope of this faith community is our future.
And to think with a Hope Is Our Future mindset, requires our connection as members of the body of Christ. And our connectedness is a gift based on God’s presence and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Like the California Redwood trees, we are connected by design, which will lead us in doing “all the good we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can , in all the places we can, at all the times we can, to all the people we can, as long as ever we can.”
May it be so for each of us.
Thanks be to God.