January 27, 2013
“Here, in this space where we gather,
My hope is that each is touched by the Sacred — Not by my words
But through the compassion shared
May THE Light of life be yours.”
FIRST READING: An Excerpt from: Awakening the Spirit, Inspiring the Soul: 30 Stories of Interspiritual Discovery in the Community of Faiths co-edited by: Wayne Teasdale and Martha Howard.
“Up the road of history … extremism will dissipate, but not through violent reactions to it. Through patient dialogue and the careful building of consensus, a way forward will emerge. Such dialogue and consensus building is the practical side of interreligious work. This work has as its long-term task the envisioning and development of a new global polity: a civilization of love; a new universal society with a heart, one conceived in wisdom; compassion; an ethics of kindness; and the full awakening of all humanity, as well as other sentient beings, to their ultimate potential for spiritual maturity.”
SECOND READING: 1 Corinthians 12:25 – 31a (from Eugene Peterson’s The Message)
The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance. You are Christ’s body – that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything. You’re familiar with some of the parts that God has formed in his church, which is his “body”: apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, helpers, organizers, those who pray in tongues. But it’s obvious by now, isn’t it, that Christ’s church is a complete Body and not a gigantic, uni-dimensional Part? It’s not all Apostle, not all Prophet, not all Miracle Worker, not all Healer, not all Prayer in Tongues, not all Interpreter of Tongues. And yet some of you keep competing for so-called “important” parts.
In high school, I played a little bit of football. I mean really – a little bit. Because of my size, they recruited me to go out for the team, perhaps hoping, I think, that I was big enough to get in the way and prevent things from happening just by being there. That did not happen often enough to suit the coach so I spent the bulk of my time, while on the team, watching the game from the sidelines. It seems I did not have that “killer instinct” that the coach wanted. I remember one of the things the coach said though, and that is, that he was not interested in just going out and finding a good quarterback or a good tackle. He wanted to find the best all-around athletes and then he would make good football players out of them.
Here in the church, it is similar. We are not out in the community recruiting people to join who might become a good Trustee or a great Deacon. We are opening our arms to people, all people, who appreciate our message.
In that context there are two things I’d like to talk about today – one is biological regeneration and the second is individuation. And then, of course, I want to try to tie those things together and apply them to us as a faith community here in Sturgeon Bay.
Biological regeneration is the process by which an animal has the capability to regenerate a part of its body that it has lost due to an attack, or any kind of unfortunate incident in which it loses part of itself. Starfish regenerate arms. Geckos regenerate tails, and worms regenerate parts of themselves cut off for whatever reason. Other than a few isolated incidents where people claim to have regrown a fingertip, humans do not have the capacity to regrow limbs.
Neither do we, as a church, have the ability to re-create a new member to replace one that we lose. When we lose part of our body, when we lose you, we have lost that part for ever. When we lose a member, we have lost that distinct member permanently. When Jeff and Michael leave in June, we will not be able to regenerate a brand new chair of the Deacons like Jeff has been for us. Assuredly, there will be a new Deacon but the unique gifts that each person brings cannot be replaced or regenerated or regrown. While we may be constantly trying to generate new interest in this place called Hope, and while we are always welcoming new members, it is not to replace the image of members who are leaving, but it is to share, with still more people, the joy of who we are as a congregation of people committed to making the message of Hope Church come alive for yet another new group of people who will keep Hope alive for yet another generation of people. The dynamic of who this group called Hope Church is, is constantly changing.
The second item I mentioned that I wanted to try to pull into this discussion is “individuation.” That is, the process of determining the general idea of how a single thing is identified as being an individual thing, able to be identified as not being something else. We are human, not trees. I am Richard, not Mark. As a global institutional Christian church, we do way too good a job of doing this. In fact, we have done such a good job of doing this that we have created over thirty thousand separate and distinct Protestant denominations around the world. We so badly want to identify ourselves as different, that each element of Christianity has divided itself off as if to create a separate body.
This is not what Paul had in mind as he spread the word as a follower of The Way. Paul clearly points out that “some keep competing for ‘so-called’ important parts.” Within each individual congregation, and as a whole, the body of people who follow the teachings of Jesus are being encouraged to see themselves as a single entity. Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi who simply wanted to correct some of the things that had gone wrong in Judaism. He did not set out to create a new religion at all.
We are one body — and it is only as we accept that we are part of one body that our part gains significance. Globally, the entire Christian community would serve itself well to see itself as one body, respecting the differences and with each part complimenting the other. As would we here in this place called Hope.
As a congregation, we have come a long way. It has been a long time since anyone has compared the situation here to herding cats, but we have a long way to go to truly see ourselves as one, respecting the differences and moving forward towards a goal of sharing the great image of Hope as playing a unique and special part in all of the Christian community.
While we, as humans, do not have the ability to regrow limbs, we do, as human institutions, have the ability to merge damaged bodies to become one whole and unifying force in the world. In the 1930’s four distinct Christian denominations merged to form two. In the late 1950’s those two denominations merged to create what is today the United Church of Christ. Diverse in its views, united in its desire to be one body working together for the sake of justice in a society where injustices are still very prevalent.
We need to recognize, as Gandhi did, that each is “part and parcel of the whole and we cannot find God apart from the rest of humanity.”
We need to see here locally and as a global people, aware of the sanctity of all life, that a common goal strengthens the whole body.
We need to recognize as Bede Griffithsert Muller wrote that, “When the Jew, the Christian, the Muslim, the Hindu, and the Buddhist open themselves in prayer, in meditation, to the transcendent mystery, going beyond the word, beyond thought, simply opening themselves to the light, to the truth, to reality, then the meeting takes place. That is where humanity will be united. Only through transcendence can we find unity.”
We need to see that as people, on a journey wandering through sometimes difficult landscapes, we are stronger when we work together sharing the ideas and encouraging one another to yet higher levels of unity.
We can do better. We can recognize that we no longer need more and more individuation but that we can seek, through reason and intelligence, to bring together people of differing beliefs who long to make the world a better place. We can do that. We can accept one another in love and move forward together including all. We can set the example because we have done that here. Here we are not looking for the perfect Christian to fit in – we are accepting all so all will be strengthened.