O gracious and holy God, give us diligence to seek you, wisdom to perceive you, and patience to wait for you. Grant us O God, a mind to meditate on you, eyes to behold you; ears to listen for your word; a heart to love you and a life to proclaim you; through the power of the spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord.
CALL TO WORSHIP
O day of rest and gladness, O day of joy and light. O balm for care and sadness, most beautiful and bright. On you, the high and lowly, through ages joined in tune, sing holy, holy, holy, to the great God triune.
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the scriptures are read and your word proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today.
SCRIPTURE READING ROMANS 12:1-8
SERMON WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER
Fifty years ago, I was sitting in a campsite half way up a mountain in southern Alaska, with David Stein, Richard Morton and Solomon Neal; the other 3 members of my infantry unit assigned to build a helicopter landing pad near the top of the mountain. Our stint was to be two to three weeks if all went well. Our mail had just been dropped from a chopper, so it was a little break before we had to climb up to our construction site. It was a good morning except for the fact that I had just received a Dear John letter from the girl I had been dating back home; and I came to realize that it was a morning that even got worse when we realized an 8 foot black bear had been stalking our camp looking for food.
To make a long story short, we knew he was going to charge at some point, so being the sergeant in charge I deployed Stein and Morton to each flank with shovels, and Solomon and I stood at center ground. Since he had been a prison guard in Florida and was the best shot, he manned the shotgun as they wouldn’t let us use our high powered m16s and I had a hunting knife. My instructions to Stein and Morton were pretty simple – if something goes wrong with the shotgun, you need to start beating on the bear with your portable shovel. As we awaited, I said to the guys, it’s going to be ok, remember, we’re all in this together. I’m not sure I calmed anybody down but suffice it to say, I’m here starting a sermon with this story, so despite my earlier letter, I had a better day than the bear.
When we hear that saying, “we’re all in this together”, it often doesn’t apply to a positive or joyful experience, but instead, seems tied to a time of anxiety, or stress or possible conflict. But, even if that is so, I would like us to start thinking more about how positive this truly can be – to be in any situation, where you are part of a group, a family, an organization, or something much larger than yourself.
Today’s scripture addresses this in many ways. The first being that as a follower of Christ, we have a commitment to make, and that is to sacrifice ourselves to God. Now, this was much different than the sacrifices spoken of in the Old Testament where animals were cut in pieces and placed on the altar, and that was important in the original covenant. But, even in the Old Testament, God made it clear that obedience from the heart was much more important.
God wants us to offer ourselves, not animals, as living sacrifices — daily laying aside our own wishes and desires to follow him, trusting him to guide us on the right path, and doing this giving thanks and gratitude that our sins have been forgiven.
Making this kind of sacrifice is much more difficult. It is a total commitment from us to God. Not one related to the offering of an animal as some kind of third party; a total commitment in this time we live in , replete with all the trappings of a culture constantly tugging at us, and trying to pull us farther and farther away from He, who has given us everything.
As followers of Christ, we are called to not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but our actions cannot simply be staying away from certain customs and practices. No, to do what God is asking us to do is to be totally transformed by the renewing of our mind. For we can avoid many of the temptations and the drawing power of the world’s customs; and yet still be proud, covetous, selfish, stubborn and arrogant. Only when the holy spirit renews and reeducates our mind can we be fully transformed.
Here is where today’s scripture and Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs share an intersection with the development of self-esteem. A positive self-esteem is vital. The problem is that on either side of that desired balance is a possible pitfall. We may encounter a negative one, where we lack any confidence or trust in not only how we see ourselves, but also in how we perceive that others see us. And the flip side is the over-exaggerated self-esteem, where we have totally overestimated our gifts, talents or abilities, and worse yet, we actually feel we are the one responsible for all these gifts.
The key is balance – and we need to always remember that having Christ in our life, and welcoming the holy spirit as our advocate and guide is the essence of a balanced approach to all aspect of our lives. And just as important is recognizing that not only has God given each of us gifts to provide the framework for our lives, but that God has put in our lives so many other people to be with us, work with us, pray with us, laugh and cry with us – people who will all play their role in our lives and we in theirs. We are all part of the body of Christ. We are all in this together.
If we were to take the time to notice many of the creatures of God’s creation, who we have authoritatively stated are nowhere as intelligent as we are, how they work together so often to do that which they must do. Ants, bees, the fish that eat the algae off of whales, squirrels (okay, Judy Platt if you are out there today) maybe they don’t count, but look at what so many of these so called lower life forms can accomplish, working together as one body.
Our gifts, those talents and skills and energies that we have been given from God are given to us to build up his church. To do that, we have to realize that all those gifts and abilities come from God, that not all are given the same gift, that we are not to use them for personal gain but for the betterment of God’s mission on earth and for the raising up of all of God’s children and the more different types of people we invite into our body of our church or to the outside ministry of our church, the greater the return to the wishes of our Lord.
We are all in this together.
I don’t know if you have ever witnessed a barn raising in the Amish community, but it is an experience to behold. Whether it is a barn, a corral, a shed or even a house, it is the epitome of many people all with different talents coming together to love and serve their neighbor – carpenters, plumbers, brick layers, painters, people to cook and feed all who gather in to build the body of Christ.
Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,
A place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and vision, rock of faith and vault of grace
Here the love of Christ shall end division. All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.
We are all in this together.
So, as if you needed a reminder, we are living in a time where we need to seek help and offer help. We need to recognize our strengths and our weaknesses. We need to be aware of our disappointments, our setbacks, indeed also our losses and tragedies. But we need also to take notice of all the blessings around us, the family, neighbors and friends there for us, even noticing that faint burst of light from a sun setting on what was a day filled with storms. For that little bit of light can be the glimmer of hope that we can use to guide our way through the night and into all the tomorrows ahead. Tomorrows mean opportunities, to grow as individuals, and as members of a family, or indeed a church – Gods church, and reaffirming our relationship with him.
Now, I know that it is much more difficult, especially over these past number of months for us to reconnect to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, in person, face to face. We have had our zoom gatherings, and phone calls, texts and emails, as well as hand written notes and cards and this has been a wonderful opportunity embraced by so many.
But there is another way to connect. A few weeks back someone joked that maybe we should put some cardboard faces in the pews and film it to send out to those watching online, sort of like the fans at the Phillies games; but I would like to offer another idea.
Take some quiet time or prayer time in your home or your yard or at a park. Sit quietly and picture sitting in the sanctuary and looking up at the cross. Now imagine yourself standing at the pulpit and look out and visualize all the faces you can, even if you don’t remember everyone’s name. Visualize them in worship, those who sat near you and shared the Peace of Christ with you. And then, start to add in all the saints who have moved on. The saints who sang in our choir, the saints who served on the deacon or trustee board or session with you, the saints who served pancakes, or helped you bag items at the food pantry, or served communion next to you. The saints, now with the Lord who prayed with you after worship. The ones who sent you a get-well card or thanked you for a note or phone call. Then think of the saints who were faithful in their attendance, even when you knew they were struggling or in pain, or even in the last month of their lives.
And in seeing them, even hearing them, you are reminded that even we, still here, trying to live in Christ, trying to follow their example, trying to be a good neighbor, we realize that we shall never be alone. For God put these people in our lives for a purpose and that purpose lives today enriched by the talents we have been blessed to receive, enriched by those we worship and study and minister with now and enriched by all those saints, who from their labor rest, who thee by faith before the world confess, thy name O Jesus be forever blessed. Alleluia Alleluia.
So let us not fear the future, let us not doubt our mission, let us not wallow in the negative and let us never dismiss the promise of Christ to be with us until the very end of age. We are never alone. We have Christ. We have each other, and we have the tools, talents, and the gifts of compassion and love. So let us be to our task and in the spirit truly live so God can use us, anywhere, any time.
No challenge shall ever be too great to overcome for in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King in his final sermon: We are tied together with the single garment of destiny.
A Destiny that God has willed for all His people.
And we are all in this together. Thank be to God. Amen.
BENEDICTION AND SENDING
May the beauty of God be reflected in your eyes; the love of God be reflected in your hands, the
wisdom of God be reflected in your words; and the knowledge of God flow from your heart, that all
might see and in seeing, believe.