When someone asks me how my family is doing, I do not say, “Six.” Nevertheless, that is how we sometimes answer questions about the health of the church. “How is Glenwood doing these days?” “Oh, we're up to about 600 people.” There are better ways to determine the health of a church than by counting people in the seats. Over the last several weeks, we have been discussing new ways to measure the health of this church. So far, we've offered 3 questions we can ask that will help us determine whether or not we are on the right track toward fulfilling the mission God has given to us.
Are you seeking God in a quiet place?
Are you taking God into your living rooms?
Are you aligning your giving with the heart of God?
I believe that if we are growing in these areas we are moving in the right direction. These are questions we need to be asking ourselves. This morning, I want to add another question to our list, but first, a memory…
Just over 11 years ago, on September 11, at 8:46 am, our world changed forever. I remember exactly what I was doing at that moment. Probably most of you do as well. I was getting ready for work, and Kim ran into our room and told me to come to the TV. I watched long enough to see the second plane hit the 2nd Tower. I watched long enough to hear about another plane hitting the Pentagon. I watched long enough to hear about a plane that was missing, which eventually turned up in a field in Pennsylvania. To be honest, I became transfixed to my television for about 72 hours. I couldn’t do anything else. I didn’t want to do anything else. The fact is, I was scared. The world I knew had changed!
I just kept seeing images of all those people in New York City. Not the ones who died, but the ones looking for their friends and family. Pictures of missing persons littered the New York streets. In times like this, I am reminded of something of vital importance: we as human being are created to live in community. We are designed to live and work together. We are designed to be in relationship with one another. And if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit when we are alone, something is missing! We need each other…that’s the way God designed us!
That is why I offer one more way to measure the spiritual health of this church. Here is another question we need to be asking each other. Are we nourishing our relationships in the Body of Christ? Paul provides some background for this question in his first letter to the Corinthians…
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 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. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. I Corinthians 12:12-14 (NRSV)
To really understand what Paul is getting at, it might help to understand a little about whom he was writing to. Corinth was a very popular port city of the first century; an urban culture, a place of great affluence, but also desperate poverty, a place of great sophistication, yet also the uneducated, Corinth was a very diverse city. And the church that existed in Corinth in the first century mirrored that diversity. Especially evident in chapters 11-14, we see examples of that diversity. In communion, some are getting drunk, others are not getting to participate at all. Do you understand what is taking place here? Some people worked at occupations wherein it did not matter when they left. They could arrive early and stay late. Others had jobs that restricted their calendars and clocks and bit more. Some of them arrived just in time. But, by the time they arrived, the feast was already gone. The church in Corinth was filled with both rich and poor, Jew and Greek, slave and free. They had to deal with things we cannot even imagine! Can a slave sit next to his master during worship as an equal? Can a slave lead his master in prayer?
Sometimes I read the letters to these early Christians and I think, how did they do it? How did they exist as one church in the midst of their diversity? How could a Jew and a Greek sit next to one another at the service? How could a slave and a master meet at the communion table and break bread with one another? The answer is really very simple—and Paul gives it to us—what seems impossible to humankind is possible with the Spirit of God! Paul says these diverse people were given the same Spirit to drink. Most likely using an early baptismal formula, Paul says when these people submitted to baptism, when they were buried with Christ, God enacted a transformation of these individuals into something special. They were no longer Jew, no longer Greek, and no longer slave, no longer free. Now, these diverse people become one body, The Body of Christ!
What looks ordinarily like chaos becomes order with the Spirit. What usually seems like tragedy becomes blessing with the Spirit. What would otherwise be a group of estranged individuals becomes the Body of Christ when the Spirit gets involved.
Sometimes the power of this Spirit to unite staggers the mind. Some of you who are students of history will recall the tumultuous times of the mid-twentieth century. During World War II, Hitler commanded all religious groups to unite, no longer any differences between religions. A state church was instituted. This way, he could control them. Among the Brethren assemblies, half complied and half refused. Those who went along with the order had a much easier time. Those who did not faced harsh persecution. In almost every family of those who resisted, someone died in a concentration camp. When the war was over, feelings of bitterness ran deep. These two groups had a difficult time reuniting. Imagine being one of the families whose son had died trying to sit next to someone in church the next week that took the easy way out. There was a lot of tension, as you might expect. Finally they decided that the situation had to be healed. Leaders from each group met at a quiet retreat. For several days, each person spent time in prayer. They examined their hearts. They prayed alone and together. They ate with each other. They worshipped with each other. Eventually, over time, these breaches were healed. They came to call one another “brother” and “sister” once again. It took some time, but they became united. Years later one of the leaders who was at this retreat was asked how they came back together. His answer was simple. "We were just one," he replied. We confessed to one another, we cried with one another, and then we yielded to the Spirit. Our hatred was dissolved and we become One Body again. The Spirit has the power to turn enemies into brothers and sisters! And more subtly, church, the Spirit has the power to turn diverse peoples into the Body of Christ!
So, here we sit this morning, young and old, rich and poor, white, black and Hispanic, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. Those who are desperately in love with God and those who are so angry with God they cannot even talk about it, the blessed and the suffering, Glenwood Church of Christ. And more importantly…we are all members of one body. I guess I do not have to tell you: We have many things in our chaotic world competing for our attention. Between our jobs, our hobbies, the hobbies of our children, the stress of family life, vacations, conferences, and football we have many things competing for our attention.
I don't know how to say this any more plainly. Church, in order to grow and mature in Christ, we need to grow and nourish our relationships with each other. Brothers and sisters in Christ need to spend time together. Not just here; in our homes, at restaurants, on vacations, in service together. In order to mature and grow more and more into the image of God, we need to do life with other followers of Christ. The “togetherness” of Christ’s Body is so important, so special, that God has protected it from the enemy for over 2000 years! Brothers and sisters, are you nourishing your relationships in the Body of Christ? If you are…great! If not, let me encourage you to take steps to grow in that area of your spiritual life. We are indeed blessed to be part of a special family here at Glenwood. My prayer is that we will always treat each other as brothers and sisters. My prayer is that God will protect our relationships with each other. My prayer is that through our relationships with each other, God will help us to change this world.