So sorry for the horrible eclipse joke that didn’t even make any sense! I think the sleep deprivation is starting to get to me. Regardless, this is one of my favorite passages to preach on – I love thinking about how the Body of Christ comes alive in local churches!
Here’s my sermon … enjoy!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
August 27, 2017
Total Eclipse Of Our Faith
Did anybody watch the eclipse this week?
I have to admit, initially I was not sure what the big deal was – I told Bruce I was going to go out and look, “just to say that I did” – but as the day went on, I could not help but get sucked into the whole thing.
First of all, the eclipse itself – even though we only experienced a partial eclipse here in New England – was amazing. I cannot even imagine how spectacular it must have been to witness totality!
But even more than that, there was a united buzz in the air throughout the entire country on Monday. I was watching the live feed on NASA’s Facebook page and the energy was palpable as everyone completely geeked out seeing something most had only ever read about.
As the day went on, more and more selfies of my friends wearing their solar glasses appeared in my Facebook and Instagram feeds. It was fun to see everyone collectively stop what they were doing throughout the day – whether they were home, at work, running errands or had traveled to a viewing party – don some silly-looking (but completely necessary) eye protection and collectively look up at the sun.
I do not know about the rest of you all, but it felt good to see everyone united over something in our country.
It has been a challenging year for our country. And while I believe there is still so much work that needs to be done, it was nice that we could all come together, at least for one day, put on our eclipse glasses and enjoy something that we do not get to see very often.
This whole experience reminded me very much of the image of the Body of Christ.
This morning we heard a reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. In this letter, he talked about what it meant to be an active participant in this new Christian church. Paul knew everyone would have a different role, purpose and identity; but he believed they could all come together, despite their differences, in faithful service to Christ’s church.
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function.
In saying this, Paul was affirming this truth that the Body of Christ is not made up of all like-minded people, but of different individuals with different gifts, different strengths, different opinions, different beliefs.
Those last two are kind of tricky, though, aren’t they? We all know what it is like to be in families, communities and churches with people who have different opinions and beliefs and it is not easy.
But Paul said these differences are not bad things, rather they are things God inspires within us. He wrote in his letter:
We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us
Then Paul listed gifts such as prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading and showing compassion as examples of ways that everyone in Rome could contribute to the Body of Christ in different ways.
Here is the part I want us to focus on today: Paul was not saying that we are all different like this because we are human and imperfect and cannot, for the life of us, figure out how to all get on the same page.
No; Paul is saying that we are all different because of God’s grace.
We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.
This is a God thing! This diversity exists among us is there because God created us that way. God created us to have different gifts, passions, talents and even beliefs because this rich diversity is needed to create the Body of Christ.
Last year, I was talking to someone about joining the church and they asked me what the requirements were if they became a member. The question caused me to pause, because I did not want to make it seem like joining the church was not something that was important. It is!
But the truth is, we really do not have any requirements to becoming and being a member of the Rehoboth Congregational Church. I believe, in a very real way, that everyone that walks through our doors has something different to offer this church. Some people are regulars in worship, some people serve on our various boards and committees, some people sing in the choir, some people arrange the flowers, some people fix things when they break around our properties, some people help us with our finances, answer legal questions and set up our technology.
There is a place for everyone here at this church. We often refer to one of the sayings of the United Church of Christ that “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here” – and I think this is something we have really tried to live into here.
As a pastor, I want this church to be for you what you need it to be in this moment in time. If this is a place of refuge where you seek wisdom and prayer on Sunday mornings, then that is what it can be for you. It this is a place where you can stay busy by serving on a committee, then we have plenty of opportunities for that! If this is a place where, at various points throughout the year – the perfect example is the Bazaar – then make sure you save those important dates every year and we will welcome you with open arms when we see you at these events. If this is a place where you want to work with children, we are always looking for Church School teachers. If this is a place where you want to make a joyful noise, choir rehearsals will start up again in a few weeks. If this is a place where you want to do some sort of missions project, the Missions Committee works year round to make that happen.
No one’s function at the church is the same. No one’s role at the church will look the same. Everyone’s involvement at the church can and will be different and this is not a bad thing, Paul said this is a grace-inspired thing!
We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.
Many of you might remember that last spring I sent an email inviting everyone in the church to a meeting with a friend of mine who consults in church governance and restructuring. In the months leading up to this meeting, our church leaders had been looking at ways to streamline and simplify our structure so it would be easier for our members to “do” church in this very busy world we are living in. This meeting was our opportunity to learn about and brainstorm some of our options moving forward. At a congregational meeting in May, a task force was created and voted on to research and create a proposal for the congregation. They have been hard at work all summer.
I attended a meeting of the task force this week and one of the big themes that came out of every conversation was, “How can people be involved in our church if they don’t want to be on a formal committee?”
In other words, if someone loves this church and wants to participate in its life somehow, but does not want that responsibility of a committee that meets monthly and has two pages worth of responsibility in the bylaws, then what is their role? If someone wants to get involved in the church, but is not always able to make it to worship every Sunday morning, how can we create a culture of ministry where this is possible?
Paul said, “But be transformed by the renewing of your minds,” and we all want this to happen here at our church. We want people to be transformed! We want this church to be a place where lives are changed.
And I believe it can be.
Friends, grace has been given to us and it is by this grace that we are able to not only be part of the Body of Christ, but also part of this church, the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ. As a church, we are a microcosm of this Body of Christ that Paul wrote about in this letter to the church in Rome and, nearly 2,000 years later, is both a privilege and a responsibility to take part in the writing of this church’s story. We all have different, but equally important roles to play as we write this story together and I believe that our differences are a strength of this church, not a weakness.
At their meeting, the task force has asked me to not only talk about their work from the pulpit, but also to ask for prayers as they continue to look at the mission of our church and how we can create a structure that will fuel our ministry in new, exciting and grace-filled ways. I do not think it was a coincidence that I was already scheduled to preach on the Body of Christ when they made this request. Because I do believe in the work they are doing – not only in looking at the structure of our church, but also prayerfully discerning how we can all live into the mission of our church – is the same work Paul called the church in Rome to do.
Friends, we are all here, not by accident, but because God has called us to this time and place. Grace has been bestowed upon us and it is by that grace that we all have gifts within us that this church needs.
And in the same way that so many of my friends paused and posted eclipse photos from various parts of their lives on Monday, we, too, come to this church from various parts of our lives united in one common purpose. We want this church to not only survive, but to thrive. We want to live out the Gospel and share it with others. We want to strengthen our faith and feel God’s presence within our lives. We want the spirit to move within us and, as Paul wrote, “present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,” so that, within this church, God can use us and our gifts, our strengths, our opinions and our beliefs.
We want lives to be changed. We want to be transformed.
Today I want to celebrate the Body of Christ. I want to celebrate every single person in this sanctuary this morning and also those who have joined us in spirit. I want to celebrate the different ways we are all called to serve this church, both big and small. I want to celebrate the grace that is the beautiful diversity within community, especially ours.
And I want to encourage all of us to rise up to the call to be part of the Body of Christ. This is not only a privilege, it is a responsibility. Listen to what God is calling you to do here and be confident in knowing that what you are doing here at this church matters.
And the good news is that we do not need to wait until 2024 for another solar eclipse to be united over something again. We can be united here at this church. Here we can experience a total eclipse of our faith.
And we will be transformed.
Thanks be to God!