(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)
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.