Seward United Methodist Church
Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Community Service at Trinity Presbyterian

1st Corinthians 12:1-30

 Right now the folks who are here from my congregation in Seward are probably thinking to themselves, “Hey!  We already heard this.”  You see, I preached on this same passage this morning.  Maybe some of you also heard it this morning, since this is one of the Lectionary texts for today.  And probably some of you are sitting there wondering, “What’s a Lectionary?”  All part of the wondrous diversity within the Body of Christ.

 Well, have no fear, Seward United Methodists, while I did already preach on this text once today, this morning the focus was on the diversity of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Tonight the focus will be, appropriately, the unity of the Body of Christ. 

 The Body of Christ is Paul’s best known and most beloved picture of the Church.  It’s not the only picture he used, but it is the one that best represents the ideas of diversity and unity within the Church.  Just think about the human body and the diversity of its parts.  We have eyes, ears, hearts, brains, stomachs, hands, and feet, and they are all about as different from each other as any two things could be.  And yet, they are all part of the one body.  None of them could serve a useful function on their own, and while the body can survive without some of them, it cannot function at its fullest capacity without all of them.  

 So it is with the Church.  The Church is diverse, made up of young and old, male and female, all races, tongues, personalities, and opinions.  And yet it is also united together for a grand purpose.  As Paul says, we have many gifts, but only one Spirit gives them to us.  We have many ways of serving, but we all serve one Lord.  Diversity is real and present in the Church, but the diversity exists to serve the unity.

 The unity of the Church is that we exist for a common purpose.  We exist to give glory to God.  We exist to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and the salvation he offers.  We exist to bring healing and restoration to all the various kinds of brokenness in this world.  And in order to serve that unified purpose, we have a variety of gifts, a variety of ways of serving.  

 There’s nothing new there.  Hopefully, you know this already.  You’ve heard it before.  But tonight, I want to challenge us to think about this image of the Body of Christ in a new way.  

 I am accustomed to thinking of the Body of Christ being the church, small c, the congregation of which I am a part.  And therefore the parts of the Body are the members of the congregation.  But recently I have been come to understand that this is an incomplete picture of the Body of Christ.  Instead, the Body of Christ is the Church, capital C, to which we

all belong.  The parts of the Body are not just individuals in the Church, but also the congregations, the churches, small c, that make it up.  

 I think we are wrong if we expect every congregation, church, small c, to have every gift of the Spirit that the Church, capital C, needs.  

 I had a former District Superintendent that said something relevant to this point.  For those of you who are not in the Methodist tradition, we have bishops, but we also have District Superintendents who serve below the Bishop and above the local pastor.  They’re the bishop’s posse, his entourage.  Well, my former Superintendent said, “Small churches especially cannot do everything well, and they shouldn’t try to.  If the congregation down the road does something really well, maybe they have a really awesome youth group, don’t feel that you have to do the same thing well.  If you don’t have the gifts to do it, don’t try.  Instead, find the things that you are gifted to do well, and do those.  God has gifted your congregation to do some things awesomely, too, and they’re probably not the same things as the congregation down the road.”  

 If another congregation does something really well, instead of thinking you need to compete with them, cooperate with them.  If they have a really good youth program, then find a way to support it, and ask them to support you in what you do really well.  

 I know that’s a radical thought.  We’re always tempted to think that we are in competition with other congregations.  But we shouldn’t be.  Our real competition is not other congregations.  Our real competition is the world.  The world tells people, “You can be happy and satisfied and have everything you want without God.”  That’s our real competition.  It’s not the Baptists or the Lutherans or the Presbyterians or the Methodists; we are competing against greed and lust and materialism and secularism and entertainment.  That’s our real competition, not the church down the road.

 But we’re territorial.  We want to protect our turf.  We want to keep the members we already have, and by golly, if someone new is going to go to church, we want them to come to ours.  So we’d better do a better job of X, Y, or Z than the church down the road!

 Too often our competition takes the form of imitation.  If another congregation is doing X, Y, or Z, then we’d better do it, too!  But that’s not a good strategy.  For one thing, we may lack the gifts to imitate another congregation. But also, in the big picture, it’s not good if every church does the same thing in the same way at the same time.  Because then there’s no place for people who “don’t fit.”  If every church jumps on the bandwagon and does “contemporary

worship,” where do the people go who long for the church they grew up in?  “What a strange body it would be if it only had one part!”  

 Diversity of opinion can be good, as well.  We don’t all have to agree about how everything should be or how everything should be done.  We can have different opinions about worship style or church program or, even, social issues!  We don’t all have to agree about everything as long as we can keep our focus on our purpose as the Church, capital C, and not focus on our differences.  The world needs “evangelical” churches and “contemporary” churches and “traditional” churches and “social gospel” churches and every other kind of church, small c.

 That leads me to another point.  Let’s talk about pride.  It’s real, and it’s harmful to the Body of Christ when one person or one congregation or one group within a congregation says, “We do it the right way.”  

 It happened in Corinth with the “tongues speaking crowd.”  And I don’t mean to over-generalize, but I often see that repeating.  I see the “charismatic” congregations or groups tending to have that same spirit of pride that lifts self above other believers.  It makes me sad.  I hope it makes you sad too to know that there are congregations in this area who will not participate in community worship because they don’t agree with this or that or they think they’re the only ones doing it “the right way.”  “The eye can’t say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you.’”  We do need each other.  The Body of Christ is incomplete and lacks its full potential when any one part goes off on its own.

 Let’s talk about one more thing.  Let’s talk about sheep shuffling.  If you’ve never heard that term before, it’s when a person or a group of people pick up and leave one church and go to another or go off to start their own church.  

 Sheep shuffling is not Church growth.  Our focus as Christians should be on the unchurched.  On any given Sunday, about 80% of the American population is unchurched.  On average, across America, only about 1 person in 5 goes to worship weekly.  If we were to change that statistic around, and 80% of Americans were churched on any given Sunday, we’d all have to build bigger sanctuaries.  The fields are ripe with the harvest.

 But I think it’s important to talk about sheep shuffling, people moving from church to church.  If for no other reason than this:  It creates hard feelings.  People get upset when someone leaves their congregation to go to another.

 I’ve always been a “church loyalty” proponent.  But I’m starting to moderate my opinions.  I’ve heard people say, “I left such and such church and went elsewhere because it just wasn’t the right church for me anymore.”  And maybe that’s true.

 We change as people.  Our passions and our interests and our opinions change.  Our life situation changes.  And maybe our congregation should change as well at some of those points.  

  Now there are sinful reasons why people leave a church.  And I’m not going to baptize them and say, “It’s okay.”  And I think that personal conflicts are the most common reason people leave churches.  And that’s not right.  If we can’t forgive each other and live together, then we don’t really believe in a gospel of reconciliation.    

 But sometimes I think people leave a congregation for a good reason.  And when they do, they are not leaving the Church, capital C.  They are only leaving a part of it.  

 On the other hand, there are some congregations that intentionally try to shuffle away sheep from other congregations.  Several years ago, I was at a community worship service.  After the service I was with a member of my congregation, and they said, “Boy that was really good music tonight.”  And a member of another congregation standing nearby said, “Well our church has good music every Sunday.  You should come to our church!”  I didn’t appreciate that.  And I don’t think congregations should do it.  If someone is active and involved in their congregation, don’t try to “shuffle” them away.  If God leads them to it, so be it.  But leave it to God.

 On the other hand, if someone is a “member” at a congregation but they don’t attend.  Please feel free to invite them to your congregation.  I would much rather that a “member” of my congregation attend worship at your church than not attend at mine.  And I hope you feel the same way about that.  

 Why?  Because that’s building up the Body of Christ.  When a person who is not actively part of the Church becomes part of the Church, the Body of Christ is built up.  And that’s what I hope all of us are about.  Our focus as believers should be this:  To see the Kingdom of God come, to see hearts and minds turned back to God, to see lives changed by the grace of God.  It’s not about me and “my church.”  It’s not about you and “your church.”  It is about Jesus Christ and his Church.

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