A Sense of Community

(Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Romans 10:8b-13) – J G White
11 am, Sun, March 10, 2019 – UBC Digby

Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you got
Taking a break from all your worries
It sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
The troubles are all the same
You want to be where everybody knows your name
You want to go where people know
people are all the same
You want to be where everybody knows your name
(Gary Portnoy / Judy Hart-Angelo © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KtAgAMzaeg

That old, television theme still resonates with people.  That sense of community is a powerful thing. Religion researcher, George Barna, said, “A church that fosters true community is indeed something special.”  Fellowship is a gift from God for us.

A sense of community in religious groups comes from a few main building blocks. Things like beliefs – our shared view of the world.  What we do together – worship and gatherings and activities to do good together. Also who we are – this group of people – and our story, our history that got us to this point.

We Believe.  We have facts about the universe we believe in, or that we try to, or that we are supposed to believe.  Our Baptist tradition has not insisted that people believe in any ‘creed.’ We claim the whole Bible as our basis of belief.  But sometimes we do shorten and simplify the things we believe together.

For instance, we sang a version today of the Apostle’s Creed.  An early Church statement of the basic beliefs about God. Most Baptists have lost the habit of reciting such things. The composer of this version, Barry Morrison, said: One of the great benefits in retrieving it [the Apostles’ Creed] is for the way it can connect us to the larger Christian Church where it can serve as a unifying statement of faith which bridges the historic, cultural, and theological divisions that have separated us into such a variety of denominations.

Do we all believe what we sang? And is our sense of community rooted in things we all believe as facts?  We believe this, we don’t believe that – so this is why we belong together?

I think if I took a secret ballot poll of thing things we each believe in and don’t believe, we would find a wide variety of views of the world.  We would have to look for the main things, the basic beliefs we share. Even then, not everyone in the pews in on the same page.

In our branch of Christianity, scriptural pieces like Romans 10 have been historically our strong foundation.  Our focus upon personal salvation has been very important.

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you shall be saved. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  

Baptist Churches have always claimed that membership is based upon this stuff, based upon personal decisions and a change of heart brought about by God.  The technical term is ‘regenerate church membership;’ the requirement is to be saved, to be re-generated or re-born, be a new creation. This, along with baptism in water in the the name of the Triune God.  

It could be good – and important – for us to talk and share more with one another about what we do understand and believe.  We might be surprised at the variety of beliefs and God-experiences we have here!

What else binds us together?  We have a history, a story to tell, that has brought us to today.

In Deuteronomy 26 we have one of the classic Hebrew recitations of their shared story. In the Promised land, as an act of worship, they were to recite together: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien…’ and so on.  

I wonder what it would be like for us, in this congregation, to write our own story.  What would we say? How could we recite our history with God in two hundred words or less?  The telling of our story builds community. Not that we can live in the past. But to build on the past we must know and celebrate it.  We must learn from the past. We must be grateful. Perhaps, before our anniversary service in June, I will stretch out a long roll of paper for us to fill in the important moments in our life together, and our story will write itself.  

When we have a shared history, a story, we have a sense of belonging. Some of us have this strong sense of our Church as a family, a large, loving, spiritual family.  Some of you have a story about the wonderful welcome you found here. But that is not everyone’s experience. The Spirit of Christ always would have us pay attention to how we welcome and include people.

For example… say, I’m here one Sunday morning, and I see some stranger here in the pews with us.  I get to talk to him.

“Hi! Welcome.  Where are you from?”
“What’s your name?”
“What are you doing here?”
“So, you’re not from here?”
“Oh, this must be your wife: she’s a lovely singer; what’s it like being married to a Lady Pastor?”

Why are you here?  Do you know someone?”

Well, maybe you get my point. I’ve just embarrassed the life out of this fellow, and I certainly told him nothing about me.  Thanks for playing along, Hudson!

Truly welcoming people is real, spiritual work.  Some of it comes naturally and beautifully out of us, some of it takes some training improvement.

Author Ron Crandall says: Welcoming new people is not easy, and it uses up psychological energy…  One reason for the difficulty is that church visitors and new members in small churches are not merely “company” or “guests,” as it is sometimes put in megachurches. Rather, they are potential or actual new family members waiting to be adopted.  Making company feel welcome is a much different and less threatening task than adopting new family members.  (in Dennis Bickers, The Healthy Small Church, 2005, p. 85)

Remember, for a normal-sized church like ours to welcome new people in, we will be changed because of these new family members.  

Our sense of community also comes out of who we are right now. The people we are, and what we are doing.   We have our particular ways of doing things and of worshipping and socializing, ministry work we are doing, and visions for our future.  

Romans 10 and Deut 26 both have the roots of purposeful mission.  Our mission to confess our faith to others. Our work to tell the story we know of God in our lives – how we found light to guide our journey.  

We are one for a variety of reasons.

Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot.  Some of us are here because we value the comfort & safety & solid ground we find in church.

Sometimes you want to go Where everybody knows your name And they’re always glad you came.  Some of us are here because we find friendship and intimacy in the fellowship.  It’s social, personal.

You want to be where you can see The troubles are all the same.  Some of us come for the grace and forgiveness and help we need for our troubles.  

There is a network of beliefs that connect many of us here.  There is a network of shared experience and story that binds many of us here.  There is a network of shared life and activity that is important to many of us here.  It is not just one piece of the pie that Jesus uses to make us a community. It is expressed in all of this, together.  

Shared beliefs, shared story, shared activity:
Let us examine what we do share.
Let us see the Source of these things.
Let us draw closer to the One who gives it all.

Overboard

(Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33) J G White
Sunday, Aug 13, 2017, UBC Digby

calmsea

One of the classic New Testament stories is Matthew’s telling of Jesus, and Peter, walking on the water.  During a storm, no less!  I brought out one of the late Wanda Handspiker’s paintings for this theme.  Notice, in the events, that the stormy sea is not calmed until after Jesus walks, and Peter walks, and Peter sinks, and is rescued.  

Like the glory of Yahweh passing by Moses, hid in a rock, so Jesus is showing a glorious moment to the disciples. Passing by on the water. And a stunning oppor- tunity for Peter, when he feels compelled to go out to Jesus on the sea, and Jesus agrees and says to Peter, “come.”

There is something to be said for a step of faith into rough waters, when the call that invites us is trustworthy and true.  There are times in our lives when we see Christ offering us the chance to step out and do something amazing, good, beautiful, or profound.  “Come to me,” Jesus says, and invites us somewhere we did not think we could get to; but we get lifted up, by God.

Max Lucado tells the story about the time Napoleon’s steed got away from him.  An alert private jumped on his own horse and chased down the general’s horse.  When he presented the reins of the animal to Napoleon, the ruler took them, smiled at this willing private, and said, “Thank you, Captain.”  

The soldier’s eyes widened at what he had heard.  He then straightened. Saluted. And snapped, “Thank you, sir!”

He immediately went to the barracks.  Got his bags.  Moved into the officers’ quarters.  Took his old uniform to the quartermaster and exchanged it for that of a captain.  By the general’s word, he had become a private-turned- commissioned officer.  He didn’t argue.  He didn’t shrug.  He didn’t doubt.  He knew that the one who had the power to do it had done it.  And he accepted that.  

(Max Lucado, In the Eye of the Storm, 1991, p. 217)

When the voice of the Master gives you a new name, you live up to it.  When you are given a new mission, you accept it.  When you are given new freedom, you use it. And it is often on the stormy seas of life that we can answer the call to do amazing things with God.  So it is important to recognize the call, see the opportunity, consider if it is the right next step, and answer with our actions.  

We continued our readings from the Bible book of Romans with those phrases about people being sent to proclaim so others can hear, and believe, and answer the call.  One bit starts by quoting the prophet Joel: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? (Romans 10:13-15)

It is our mission, of course, to be part of this team.  To share hope with others in the storms of life.  You may be a sender of others. You may be a proclaimer, with words and actions, of the life of Jesus.  You may simply be a believer, who stands with faith as a light for others.  

I am looking forward to September and the fall here.  With the deacons I have been planning on having several open meetings with you all to think about our local mission, the work we do as a church in our town.  Brainstorming session, prayer times, little workshops to see what we might do next.
We don’t have any activities for children or youth, though we remember some of what we used to do.  Might there be some wonderful little next step to begin again?
We have many retired people in our fellowship, and much of what we do suits us. Maybe there is some good new thing we can do for other retirees in our area.
We put a lot of time and energy into our musical life.  There could be some different way to touch people of Digby with our musical ministry.
We are situated in a town of every generation and variety of people.  Do some of our members have a vision and a heart to reach out and bless some segment of our community?
I will schedule a series of get-togethers for us to sit down and explore what next steps we can take.  Some may even be out into the midst of wind and waves, so to speak.  Into the hard places where people are hurting.  We have healing and hope to bring to others, don’t we? 🙂

We each have such different roles, different goals, and particular gifts and talents.  Not to mention different opportunities.  Where you see Christ leading you is different from where others are led by Jesus.  It’s all good.

Back on the boat… Peter could have not spoken to Jesus who was seen out on the waves, and not stepped overboard.  The other disciples did not ask, did not attempt to join Christ on the water.  We can learn from the times we miss out on following the Master.  When we don’t put to use the gift we are given or the opportunity we have.

John Ortberg has a book called, If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat.  Here is one family anecdote he tells…

Sometime after Florence, my paternal grandmother, died, my grandfather called my mother with an unusual offer.
“I was going through some of Florence’s things in the attic when I came across a box of old dishes.  Why don’t you take a look at them”?

So my mother went through the attic, expecting to find some run-of-the-mill dinnerware.  Instead, when she opened the box, she was looking at some of the most exquisite china she had ever seen.  Each plate had been individually painted with a pattern of forget-me-nots.  The cups were inlaid with mother-of-pearl.  The dishes and cups were rimmed with gold.  The plates had been handcrafted in a Bavarian factory that was destroyed during the Second World War, so they were literally irreplaceable.  
Yet my mother had been in the family for twenty years, and she had never seen this china before.  She asked my father about it.  He had never seen it either.

Eventually they found out from some older family members the story of the china.  When Florence was very young, she was given the china over a period of years.  They were not a wealthy family, and the china was quite valuable, so she only got a piece at a time for gifts.  
Whenever Florence received a piece of china — because it was so valuable, because if it was used it might get broken — she would wrap it very carefully in tissue, put it in a box, and store it in the attic for a very special occasion.  No occasion that special ever came along.  So my grandmother went to her grave with the greatest gift of her life unopened and unused.  

Then my mother was given the dishes.  She uses them promiscuously — every chance she has.  They have finally made it out of the box.  (John Ortberg, If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat, 2001, pp. 31-32)

When we miss out on one precious moment, may we have a later opportunity to go ahead and use it!  The story of Peter on the water is so encouraging for us.  Taking a great step of faith can still mean one falters and falls.  It is still glorious, still a moment to learn and be shaped.  Still a time that stands the test of time.  Here we are today, still remembering Jesus and Peter.

I know my own tendencies.  I more often miss an opportunity than take risks and learn from my mistakes.   Sins of omission, rather than commission, as we sometimes pray.  

Gordon Light has been a Canadian songwriter and musician… I don’t mean Gordon Lightfoot, Gordon Light.   Light has served as an Anglican priest and bishop in Canada.  Here are the vivid lyrics of one of his hymns to God, who is the Lover and the Artist:

My love colours outside the lines,
exploring paths that few could ever find;
and takes me into places where I’ve never been before;
and opens doors to worlds outside the lines.

We’ll never walk on water
if we’re not prepared to drown,
body and soul need a soaking from time to time.
And we’ll never move the grave-stones
if we’re not prepared to die,
and realize there are worlds outside the lines.

My Lord colours outside the lines,
turns wounds to blessings, water into wine;
and takes me into places…

My soul longs to colour outside the lines,
tear back the curtains, sun, come in and shine;
I want to walk beyond the boundaries
where I’ve never been before…
(Gordon Light, c 1995 Common Cup Company)

Keep heeding the call, the call of Christ, to colour outside the lines.  To step out onto the stormy waters.  To make the most of your opportunities.