A Future with Hope: Community

First United Presbyterian Church
“A Future with Hope: Community”
Rev. Amy Morgan
October 8, 2017
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Jeremiah 29:11
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

Ephesians 4:1-16
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,
 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
 7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift.
 8 Therefore it is said, "When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people."
 9 (When it says, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth?
 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)
 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.
 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.

I have kind of a love/hate relationship with exercise. Okay, I will admit that I hate exercise. It is difficult and boring and awkward – and did I mention difficult? I’d much rather be doing almost anything else.

But I love the benefits of exercise. Those endorphins that make you happy, and the feeling of being strong and healthy. Exercise is unconditionally virtuous.

I hear this same kind of love/hate relationship when people talk about church. It’s difficult to get out of bed and get fancied up and make it to church on time. Sometimes it’s boring. We do awkward things like sing songs with “thee” and “thine” and read in unison, confessing things we’re not sure we actually did. Then people ask us to do more difficult things like serve on committees or commit to helping with Sunday School or fellowship hour. Or pledge to the annual stewardship campaign.

But we do love the benefits of church. We talk about feeling spiritually fed or refreshed. We talk about deepening our relationship with God and others, growing in faith. Church is most certainly unconditionally virtuous.

Still and all, many folks feel like they can do faith or spirituality, or whatever you want to call it, on their own. Hiking, meditating, serving the poor – all of these things they can do on their own and feel close to God. Their expression of faith need not be dictated by any religious institution or order.

And perhaps they are not wrong, as the letter to the Ephesians states that God is above all and through all and in all, and Jesus descended to earth and ascended to heaven so that he might fill all things. Everything is infused with the divine. The sacredness of hiking, breathing, and acts of compassion is acknowledged by the author of this letter.

In like manner, I prefer to exercise on my own. I can do whatever feels good and right for me each day – run, lift weights, do some yoga. I don’t need a class or a running group or even a gym membership to exercise. It’s all the same. It’s exercise, and it’s good for me.

But I must admit that when I’m trying to exercise on my own, much as I might prefer it, I’m not getting the most benefit out of it. I don’t push myself. I don’t have anyone to correct me when I’m doing an exercise in a way that is unhealthy. There’s no one to help me discern what type of exercise my body needs most right now. When I do join a class or a group, when I exercise in community, I get healthier.

There are many good and wonderful, deeply spiritual people who say they have no need of a faith community. Not everybody feels like church helps them grow spiritually. So, as I’m preaching to the choir here of people who DO attend church, it’s worth asking why we bother.
The great writer and preacher Frederick Buechner wrote in one of his memoirs, You can survive on your own; you can grow strong on your own; you can prevail on your own; but you cannot become human on your own.”

Last Sunday, our country witnessed, once again, an act of utter inhumanity. Law enforcement has called the shooter a “lone wolf.” Separated from the pack, on his own, he survived, he grew strong, he prevailed in his plans. But he lost his humanity. We don’t need to know his motive or argue about his guns to agree that he lost his humanity.

This church values community, not because we like each other so much or because we can’t find anywhere else to speak in unison. On our own, perhaps we could survive, grow strong, even prevail in our spiritual quest. But we could not become more human. We value community because it makes us human.

But we have to exercise our community. As Ephesians says, the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love. We are joined and knit together in community. Each one of us is a ligament, connecting one part to another. Nell is connecting Judy to John. And Kellie is connecting Jeanette to Chad. And as we exercise community, these ligaments and muscles work better, grow stronger. We are body building, building the body of Christ.

This week, our nation demonstrated our need for a stronger body, a stronger community. Every online article about the tragedy in Las Vegas was followed by hundreds of comments filled with argument, accusation and anger. My Facebook feed is filled with comments and articles straining the frail ligaments holding our society together. And into our exhausted ears, we hear the writer of Ephesians begging us to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called. Begging us to be a community that operates with humility and gentleness and patience. A community that bears with one another in love. A community that makes every effort to maintain unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. In the aftermath of last Sunday’s events, the weakness of our nation’s body has been exposed.

But we also saw many examples of incredible strength. So many people leading a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called. Humility was an attribute of a slave in the first century, and people have been slaving away in hospitals and blood banks, in police departments and on disaster response teams, humbling themselves in service to others in the past week. Gentleness prevailed in those who held the hands of the dying, giving them peace at the last, and in those who responded to the victims, offering comfort and care. Thousands of people waited patiently in lines to donate blood. Thousands more lightened the burden of the victims’ families with loving donations of money, airline miles, and lodging. Many leaders have called for unity in the face of this tragedy and are advocating for peace in the face of this violence. Dawn-Marie Gray, who used her skills as a paramedic to immediately respond to her injured fellow concert-goers, said that her brave actions “had nothing to do with being a hero. That’s being a human being.” In the face of inhumanity, the strength of our body, the depth of our humanity, was revealed.

Syndicated columnist Eugene Robinson cynically asserts that “We will never know why. We already know how, but we don't care about that. And we know, beyond the slightest doubt, that it will happen again.” There are tremendous efforts and resources dedicated to making his prediction false, but the fact is that we will experience tragedy and grief again, though hopefully not of this kind or on this scale. Inhumanity will rear its ugly head in other forms. Violence will claim the innocent. As Jesus said, “there will be wars and rumors of wars.”

On our own, we can survive these things. We can grow strong. We can prevail. But we cannot become human. I don’t know about you, but that’s all I really want. Our humanity.

And to get that, we need a strong body, we need healthy ligaments and muscles to connect us to each other and hold one another up through the darkest of times.

And so, we must exercise community. That’s what we’re doing here at 1st on 4th. We’re not a social club or a service organization. We’re exercising community so the body can grow strong. When we drive someone to church or take Communion to someone at home. When we share our joys and struggles over glasses of half-priced wine and open our homes to one another. When we walk together to end hunger and when we gather for prayer. In all these things, and many more, we are exercising community so the body can grow strong. We are becoming human together.

The letter to the Ephesians says that Christ gave us gifts, of different sorts. All of us have been given these gifts, mind you, not just the professionally religious. In this community, we have prophets who call us to recognize the reign of God on earth, evangelists who proclaim the good news that Jesus Christ has come to make all things new, pastors who shepherd God’s flock and teachers who share wisdom. And these gifts, the letter says, were given to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.

Now, this word, “equip,” in Greek, is also the word used to mean “setting a bone.” It might be better translated as reconcile, or restore, even create or prepare. The body is broken, and needs repair. We are called to set broken bones, reconcile folks with God and one another, restore each other to health and wholeness, create a community that makes us human.

And it will take each and every one of us, using our God-given gifts, to do this. We are a connected body. If one part isn’t working, isn’t exercising, if one part is weak or disconnected, the whole body suffers. There are no lone wolves here. None of us can do this on our own. Every single part of this body matters. Every single one of us makes this body strong and whole.  
Loveland needs us at 1st on 4th to be a community, a body, that is strong and healthy. Loveland needs us to draw people into community, to make sure there are no lone wolves. Loveland needs us to become human. Because Loveland, and Colorado, and our nation and our world, are broken and hurting. As we search for answers, as we argue about solutions, we need to exercise community to maintain our humanity. That is really the only answer, the only solution.

In Jesus Christ, God showed us what true humanity looks like. The image of God, in human form. Humble, gentle, patient, loving, peaceful. In community, we are his body. Like him, our strength is in our brokenness. In our vulnerability is our humanity.

We have lost a lot this week. But in exercising community, all is not lost. As the body of Christ, let us repair what is broken and strengthen what is weak. Let us exercise community for the sake of a hurting world. Through the power of the Holy Spirit and to the Glory of God, Amen. 


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