Sermon given for the unity revival, “Stronger Together” which ran from September 28 to 30th. This given on September 29 at Cornerstone Chapel.
My name is the Rev. Luke Lindon from Medina United Church of Christ, Congregational, and I’m here to convert you. Convert you to WHAT, well… I’ll get to that but first… I’m thankful for this revival. For Pastor Mark Giaimo and his message last night on the 5 Cs found in Mark 2. For Pastor Arthur Ruffin for his vision of this event. For the gracious hosts of the body of Christ here at Cornerstone. And for you, my friends in faith. I’m thankful for you and for this opportunity to speak and ponder out loud.
Let us pray. Holy and Gracious Mystery, may these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.
I’m here to convert you. I would love it by the end of this meditation for you to see yourself as part of the Body of Christ. I would love it if we would convert to be more generous about being members of the Body of Christ. We each a small part of the body of Christ, we’re not the whole body. I want to convert us to being more generous with the other body parts.
The body has been on my mind a lot lately. I’m about to turn 40 and I’m learning all sorts of great things about the body. My mom and dad were not tall, and I’m a giant. 6’4”. I don’t fit well into airplanes, compact cars, and most clothes off the rack don’t fit. Once, after a holiday break in grade school I was dressed and ready to go to school when my mom asked, “Why aren’t you wearing your new pants? Why did you pick the old ones that are too short?” What are you talking about mom, these are the new pants? I had grown 2” over the break.
I’m not growing at all anymore, I can wear clothes from last year. That’s a nice change. Not all changes have been so nice though. Like, I used to have hair. I miss it sometimes. Then I heard a fellow bald guy say, “God made a few heads perfect, and the rest God covered in hair.”
I’m also puzzled why I got this particular combination of looks and height and such. I don’t remember God asking me the options. Maybe I would have chosen the Michael Jordan or LeBron options, but I didn’t get their coordination. I got this Luke Lindon model. Not that this is a bad thing, as I am uniquely and wonderfully made. Just as you are. These bodies are gifts from God.
There are things this body used to do but can’t do anymore. There are new creaks and aches and pains. I have to watch what I eat, my metabolism has slowed. I have to stretch and be more mindful on my warmup and cool downs for exercising. Maybe you have made some similar observations as you have aged. And if you haven’t, just wait. Getting old is not for the weak.
Paul also thought a lot about the body. He uses the metaphor to great effect here in his First Letter to the Corinthians. The church in Corinth is divided. They’re having trouble adjusting to this new life of faith. Folks are being disruptive. Some people show up to worship after working all day, only to find that richer people with cushier jobs had already sung their hymns and eaten all the food. Some like the teachings of one theologian over another. There are questions of what food should be eaten.
Paul reminds them, “Look. You’re one body. Jew, Greek, slave or free. Y’all belong together. It would be foolish for the foot to say, ‘Well, I’m not the hand, so I don’t belong to the body.’ There are many members, yet one body.”
It’s good advice. I think we the body of Christ need the reminder.
Denominational relations aren’t all that great these days. We live in a divided time. Unity is hard to come by. We’re dividing over everything. And the church, a place that should be all about unity, of being a reconciled and reconciling people, is leading the division.
In college, I decided to check out a Christian event. I was leaving the church of my youth, and I was seeking another form. On my first visit, I was cornered by 4 people. “Have you been saved?”
This was a question that my former tradition never asked. My former tradition thought they were the one true church, and had all the doctrines to prove it. This thought never occurred to me. “What does that mean?” I asked.
“How do you know you’re not going to hell?” came the response.
“I dunno… how do you know?”
“Cause we’ve been saved.” This circular thinking wasn’t helping. I was getting nowhere.
“Look, I was raised, baptized, confirmed, and spent the majority of my life in the church. Not going to church but actively being it. I’m sold on what y’all are doing here. I want to learn to become more like Christ but I’m unsure of what you’re asking me.”
“You can still go to hell,” they said.
This type of talk is what led me right out of the church. “You’re going to hell” is not good news. The Good News is the forgiveness of sins. The Good News is that God is with us and for us in Jesus our Christ. The Good News is that Jesus is Lord and Savior not Caesar, not the judgmental religious, nor my own latest opinion. The amazing generosity of God’s grace… it’s so good we should write a song about it like Outstanding Grace or Amazing Mercy or Fantastic Forgiveness how sweet the sound. Someone get on that!
God has converted my thinking. I could think that my tradition is the best. And I do, or I wouldn’t be where I’m at. However, I’ve converted into thinking that maybe that church down the way can reach people I can’t. Maybe Cornerstone can talk to people I don’t get and vice versa. Second Baptist can talk to people I can’t and vice versa. And likewise for your church. I have to think that’s true.
When I was a child, I thought like a child. I thought the church I grew up in was the only way. All the others weren’t good. We had the best pastor. He gave the best sermons, and we did the sacraments the right way. Then I learned about adult, full immersion baptism. Then I learned about dinner church. Then I heard that some churches don’t have 7 sacraments, but 2. Some spoke in tongues. Some danced and had a rock band. Wait a second. Diversity?
God didn’t make one type of tree. God made a whole variety. Sycamores and oaks and pine and spruce and maple. There are 900 thousand species of insects that we know. There are all sorts of different genres and subgenres of music. While I’d like to think that ’90s Alternative Rock is the best, others enjoy other styles.
I’ve started to think of myself as a single cell in the body of Christ. I pastor other cells at the United Church of Christ, Congregational on the Medina Square. There are about 10 quadrillion cells in our bodies. My church is just a small part of the body. Together, we make up an organ in the body of Christ. Maybe we’re the patch of skin on Christ’s knee. We make up but a small section, I don’t know how far Paul intended me to take the metaphor, but the chances that my way is the right way are slim to none. I need to be humble. For now I’m an adult and I have put away childish thinking, but I still see through the glass dimly. I need the mind of Christ.
I have to think each of our churches serve some role in the Body of Christ. Yet I’m noticing how we Christians have spent too little energy on peace and unity and too much time erecting and perfecting denominational walls of separation, suspicion, and hostility. Listen. Have it your way is Burger King not Christ the King.
What did Jesus do? There’s this great story found in Mark 9:38-41 and Luke 9:49-50. John saw this other man casting out demons in Jesus’ name. He tried to stop him because this man doesn’t hang around with them. And Jesus says, “Why would you do that? Whoever is not against us is for us.”
Could we, church learn to do the same? Could we be that generous with one another?
I’m trying to convert myself to this way of thinking. Do I think my tradition is the best? Yes. I found Christ there. I found new and exciting ways to love God and serve my neighbor through my tradition. I’m really impressed with the witness of the United Church of Christ. We have done some really great things throughout our history. I was done with church and religion. I didn’t ever give up on Jesus, I gave up on Christians. But this tradition converted me back to hanging out and trying to be the church. Not go to church… BE the church.
I’m not asking you to give up your tradition. I’m not asking you to water down your love for your tradition. What I am asking is that you trust that the Spirit is moving in other traditions. Don’t look at the worst of another’s tradition, celebrate the best. The foot shouldn’t be judged because it’s not good at holding onto things. The heart should be judged because it can’t digest food. God can use our various traditions for God’s purposes, we don’t need to understand it or even see the appeal.
When someone visits my church for the first time and they say hi to me, I always make sure to invite them back. I hope they found something here with us, but there are plenty of great churches here in Medina. This is a relationship. There’s a vibe each church has and some folks fit one vibe better than another. If this weren’t true, we wouldn’t have so many great churches.
And we have those churches because they each emphasize a different aspect of Jesus. Each provides a path. I mean, if God is infinite, and we aren’t, then we’re only getting a piece of this. There’s still so much to learn about God. Some communities emphasize God’s holiness. Others emphasize God’s justice and mission. Others emphasize praise or piety in their worship. There’s so much to God that our little peanut human brains can’t understand. Our traditions can’t hold all of God for God is too big for any of us. God belongs to no one tradition. We need a reminder of that humility, especially in our relationship with other Christians.
We need other communities to challenge and expand us. For the body is not just all eye, for where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? Whoever is not against us is for us. We are members of one body.
So here’s the altar call: If you’re a pastor, I’m going to ask you to head to a pastor meeting. Or have coffee with another pastor. Establish a relationship with another pastor here in town.
If you’re a church member, I’m going to ask you to ask your pastor out for coffee or lunch. Ask what is on their heart and share what’s on yours. Maybe the Spirit will guide you both somewhere new.
If you don’t have a church, I’m going to ask you to visit a few. There are so many churches who love Jesus and will love you. Visit one. Ask all the questions you have. Find a relationship and a community to walk with you and love you into being. Here’s a great way to tell: you can share your whole story and they won’t flinch. That’s your place. Go find it.
Let us commit to being the body of Christ together, for we’re stronger together. To working how we work. For doing what we do to help establish God’s kingdom and to witness to Christ the king and while you do so, may you be generous just as Christ has been generous with you. Whoever is not against you is for you. And may grace and peace, be yours. Amen.