I heard a story from an Archdeacon in the Diocese of Caledonia about a young woman who was driving through a lonely area in northern British Columbia on her way to the Yukon. She spent a night in one of the rare motels in the area. The next morning in the breakfast area she was seated near two truckers. They asked where she was going. She said “Whitehorse.”
“In that little car?” they asked. “It’s dangerous this time of year in this kind of weather.” The woman replied, “Well, I’m determined to try.”
“In that case,” one of the truckers said, “we’re just going to have to hug you.” The young woman drew back and said, “You’re not going to touch me.”
The truckers laughed and said, “Not like that. We’ll put one truck in front of you and one in the rear. In that way, we’ll get you through the mountains.” And so they did.
Most of us need to be hugged along life’s pathway. We need people up front who can guide us on the way and others behind, who gently encourage us, so we can pass through life’s challenges.
One thing I have learned as a priest over the years is that no Rector can do the work of ministry alone. The priest and people have to work together if the parish is to thrive. Ministry is always a team effort.
In our lesson today, St. Paul tells us that all the members of a church are important to the work of God. All of us belong. We need one another. And that’s good to know.
A newspaper carried the following help wanted ad: “Need co-author for a book on self- reliance.” (1) Don’t you think that’s a bit odd: a co-author for a book on self-reliance? Doesn’t that contradiction describe so many of us? Self-reliance is a high virtue in our culture, but I think an even greater need of ours is belonging. God made us to be incomplete on our own. That’s part of God’s design for humanity. God made us with a profound need for communion with God and with other people. Remember the song Barbara Streisand made famous: “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” The song should actually say, “People who admit they need people are the luckiest people in the world.”
Nobody can make it in this world by themselves. Why even a brash entrepreneur like Donald Trump admitted he got his start because his father gave him a million dollars to begin a business. No one succeeds in life by himself.
The amazing thing is, when we recognize our need for one another, great things happen. Take the world of music, for example. I love the music of Gilbert and Sullivan. My favorite is The Pirates of Penzance – you probably have yours. Gilbert and Sullivan were incredibly successful together, but they were two very different men with different personalities and talents. Gilbert was a master of lyrics and verse, Sullivan was a composer of music. Put them together and you got some of the most popular musicals of the 19th century, which still resonate with audiences today.
One of the buzz words in business is the word “synergy.” According to the principle of synergy, when two or more people work together, the total effect of their work is greater than if they have been working independently. For example, one horse can pull about 2 tons by itself. That means two horses working separately will be able to pull 4 tons, 2 tons per horse. But when two horses are teamed together, we are told they can pull up to 18 tons. That’s synergy.
Synergy allows us to accomplish with the help of others much more than all of us would have accomplished working on our own. Synergy is what happens in the church when every member does their part. Think of the ministries that make this church possible – from the counters on Tuesday to all the ministries on Sunday: altar guild, acolytes, coffee and fellowship ministers, choir, ushers, greeters, wardens, Sunday school workers, and on and on. Think about the outreach ministries from refugee support and anti-poverty initiatives to the community and school breakfast programs. Think of our environmental ministry to insure our church is a responsible steward of the planet. Think of our youth workers who spend countless hours preparing our teens for the Taize pilgrimage. Think of our staff, our sextons, our music director, our parish life coordinator, our administrative assistant, our clergy and all the dedicated volunteers who make ministry possible. No one person could do everything but when we work together miracles happen. The church witnesses that it:
- Cares for the whole person
- Cares for the whole world
- Cares for the whole of creation
- Cares passionately, deeply and authentically.
Our need for one another is not weakness but strength. In fact, it is the basis for the church. St. Paul describes the perfect church as a body, something that is only strong and healthy if all the parts are closely connected and moving in the same direction. The strongest muscle or the toughest bone, when separated from the rest of the body, becomes weak and useless. This is one reason God created the church: we draw strength from one another.
If you have been watching the NFL playoffs, you know that winning in football is a team effort. Yes, the quarterback is the star player – think of Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, for example. But it’s the whole team – offense and defence – working together that produce a winning season. The quarterback can throw the ball but other players have to catch it. You need runners, linebackers, tight ends, and players able to play solid defense. Winning is a team effort.
And that’s the way it is in the church. Rectors, clergy, music directors, parish life coordinators and wardens can do so much, but they can’t do everything. But when everyone does their part, synergy occurs and the church begins to realize its potential. God gives each of us unique and multifaceted gifts so that together we create a dynamic, interdependent, effective community. We all have something to offer. Each of us has our gifts. Everyone is important.
But there is another reason God created the church. We are called to carry out God’s mission in the world. Do you ever get a sinking feeling when you hear or read the news of the day? Another suicide bombing, another terrorist attack, refugees roaming desperate for countries to accept them, aboriginal women abused, raped and murdered all across the highways of Canada, gun violence that slaughters the innocent, homeless and hungry people here in London, a growing number of people in North America who are not baptized, know little or nothing about the Christian faith, and rarely if ever attend any church. I could go on.
What a vast divide there is between the Eden God created and the world as we know it! We don’t have to look farther than our own neighborhood and city to see the results of sin, self- centeredness and destruction. Where do you start if you want to make a difference? There are so many needs, so much brokenness, and you are just one person. It’s enough to overwhelm even the most gung-ho among us.
But God made the church to answer that need. The body of Christ was created to do the work that Christ did in the world: To go where his feet went, to the lost and poor and hurting of the world. To teach as Christ’s mouth taught, about God’s unconditional love for every human being. To see as Christ’s eyes saw, finding beauty and redemption and grace in the people around us. To touch as Jesus touched, with gentleness and love and healing power. God didn’t call on Superman to come and save the day. God called on you and me – ordinary, humble, average folks to preach and teach and heal and restore a broken world. And the only way we are ever going to accomplish that task is to rely on God’s Spirit and one another’s talents.
I suspect that many of us, when we hear the word “church,” think of a building. That, of course, is understandable, but it would not be the New Testament understanding of church. The church is so much more than bricks and mortar, organ and chancel, classrooms and meeting rooms, pews and parlors. The church is about people becoming alive together in Jesus Christ, finding faith, having fun and being fruitful in the world by reaching out beyond our membership.
A sign over an Italian hotel which once served as a hospital states it this way: “To heal sometimes, to comfort often, to care always.” I can’t think of a better description of the church, one that characterizes St. James.
May I remind you that every Sunday in our worship bulletin are these words: “Whoever you are and wherever you are on your journey of faith, you are welcome.” We take those words very seriously here at St. James. We are an open and inclusive church, a house of prayer for all people, a church with a warm embrace for everyone, an Anglican church committed to serving our community.
Yes, I know…Canadian culture is not as friendly to the church as it once was. But the truth is: whether people are “spiritual but not religious” or “spiritual but secular,” every human being yearns for some kind of spiritual experience or higher power to help them find meaning, significance and purpose to living. As Diana Butler Bass put it in her new book Grounded, the church will be relevant to people’s lives as it helps people encounter God, get to know Jesus, and feel empowered by the Holy Spirit to live as human beings fully alive in the world.
I believe that with God’s help the best days of the church are yet to come. There is no mission project we can’t complete or building project we cannot fund or ministry in which we cannot succeed. How can I say this? Because we are the body of Christ, in which the sum is greater than the individual parts. We are not simply another human institution like the Rotary Club or Kiwanis. They are great organizations but they are different from the church. The church relies not only on the commitment of its members, but on the Spirit of the living God. And because the church relies on the Spirit of the living God, we accomplish far more than human institutions can ever hope for.
Several years ago Bruce Wilkerson wrote a little book titled The Prayer of Jabez, which became enormously popular. In a chapter titled, “Living Beyond our Limits,” he asked: “When was the last time God worked through you in such a way that you knew beyond doubt that God had done it?” (2)
Look at St. James and ask: What is happening in our life together which cannot be explained by our own energy, our own strength, our own efforts, but only by the power of God? Then look to yourself and ask: What small act which I offered to someone else, almost unconsciously, made all the difference to that person? Do we really believe God can do more through us than we have yet imagined? In the words of Jabez, do we believe God can expand our territory, broaden our reach, and enliven our ministry with a vision which can only be fulfilled by God’s power at work in us?
Will we be a church that ventures to do the impossible because we believe in the supernatural? Will we be the people of God who come alive together in Christ and find joy in our church where we live boldly, grow deeply and care passionately, all of which can only be explained by the power of God at work in us?
O Lord, expand our territory, enlarge our imagination, open our hearts with a dream of what you would like to do through us for the sake of Jesus Christ…then do it…not by our strength, but by your power. Amen.
Dr. Gary Nicolosi
January 24, 2016
Text – I Corinthians 12: 12-31a
Epiphany 3, C (Vestry Sunday)
1. Laughter, the Best Medicine,” Reader’s Digest, April 1994, 84
2. Bruce Wilkerson, The Prayer of Jabez (Multnomah Books, 2005) 15