This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached this morning. We’re in the midst of our annual Stewardship Campaign, and today’s theme was “Giving God our Worship Changes Everything.” The theme scripture reading was 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.
Once upon a time, there was a group of people who wanted to identify who they were, and how they would act together. These people wanted to see themselves not as individuals, but as a group. Now they weren’t all the same. Some were conservative, some were liberal. Some were young, some were old. Some were women, some were men. Some were loud and boisterous, some were quiet and shy. But they all wanted to work together and act like they were one. They believed that that they were brought together for a purpose, and they wanted to live that way.
This was really brave of them! These people lived at a time and in a place where the individual was glorified, where everyone was expected to make it on their own. Where individual freedom was lifted high, and taking responsibility for others was low. Yet this group wanted to take care of each other. They wanted to hold each other when one suffered. They wanted to rejoice with each other when one rejoiced. And they didn’t want to just keep this good feeling for themselves. In a time and a place where you were told to take care of your own first, they wanted to share their union with others, and help their community in any way they could.
Can you imagine? Can you imagine such a group of people? “It will never work!” people told them. “You’re all a bunch of hypocrites!” people told them. Nevertheless, they tried. And this group of people identified a purpose statement they would follow together. They said, “We will actively seek and serve Christ in all people.” And together they identified guiding principles, “rules of the road” that they would follow. Those rules said this:
- We actively seek to devote ourselves to Christ through worship, prayer and scripture.
- We actively seek to nurture respectful relationships, by speaking, listening, and responding honestly and without judgment.
- We actively seek to gracefully forgive.
- We actively seek to live united as one body in Christ.
- We actively seek to encourage growth of faith while serving God.
Note: By this point in the sermon, many people in attendance realized I was talking about this congregation itself.
Really courageous stuff! This group lived at a time and in a place where these things were not honored. Yet this group wanted to try it. They wanted to be what these principles promised.
Over time, this group started to forget those guiding principles. They kind of followed them, but didn’t really work on them in any serious way. Over time, conflict arose, unexpected deaths occurred, and surprising expenses were incurred. All these things, as well as the cares of daily life, distracted the members of the group. Sometimes they even forgot that they were a group, that they were trying to be unified and one.
But every now and then they were reminded. One day, they were gathered together, and heard a reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Paul wrote this: “Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.” They remembered that yes, they are one body. Yes, they were brought together to be this one body.
And they remembered how they got here in the first place. They remembered that each of them had once been a solitary individual, independent, self-contained, but then they came to the water of baptism. And when that water touched them, they were transformed from solitaries into one part of the body of Christ. As Paul wrote, “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
And they remembered how they were renewed each week. They remembered the old proverb that “you are what you eat.” And when they gathered each week, they ate something they called “the body of Christ,” and drank something they called, “Christ’s blood.” And they remembered that as they shared this tiny meal together, they were truly made into that body. Truly refreshed and renewed by that blood. They remembered that it was right there in the word they used for the meal: Communion. A community in union.
And they noticed something. Despite the fact that they had forgotten, over and over again, how to live in community, they noticed that they nonetheless still were a community. They still were Christ’s body in that place. They weren’t perfect, sometimes they weren’t even a healthy body. Some of them were missing. But they were together. They were united.
Paul wrote, “God has so arranged the body, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”
And they remembered that they hadn’t done this themselves. God had arranged this body. It was the Holy Spirit who brought them together. The Holy Spirit who had inspired them to write a purpose statement and guiding principles. The Holy Spirit who had, through baptism, made them into one body. Made them into a church. The Holy Spirit who nourished them regularly at Christ’s table. And who called them together to send them out to make more disciples.
Every now and then, I hear somebody say, “I don’t need the church. I worship by myself in nature. The woods are my church.” I’m sorry, but that’s just not true. Now, being alone in nature can absolutely be a powerful way to connect with God. But it is not worship. Not Christian worship, anyway. There is no such thing as a solitary Christian, because following Christ means following him together. The Holy Spirit gathers us together. Making time alone with God is a great spiritual practice, but our lives as Christians are not complete without being brought together for communal worship as well. Our very life as Christians is one of being in mystical union with Christ, and with one another.
And so I invite you today to think about the way you worship. Consider the question: “How will you change the way you share your worship?” Maybe it’s increasing your frequency here. Maybe it’s taking on a new role in worship. Maybe it’s inviting someone to join you. Maybe it’s something completely different. Take a few minutes, and jot down an answer.
God has blessed you with union. May you be blessed to experience that union, and be blessed to worship together in union, and be blessed to expand that union to others.