One, Yet Many

Scripture: I Corinthians 12:12-14, 25-26

When I was growing up, one of the stories we liked to hear my mother tell was the story of how she and my father met. When he was a senior in high school, my father was the President of the Monroe County American Baptist youth fellowship, and my mother’s older sister (my Aunt Jean) was vice-president of the Youth fellowship. My Aunt Jean had a terrible crush on my father, but my father was oblivious to her attentions and oblivious as well to her 16-year-old sister — my mother. One night, however, a microbe intervened to change the course of their lives. Aunt Jean and my mother were attending a Youth Fellowship meeting when my aunt began feeling quite nauseous. It was clear she wasn’t going to make it through the evening, so my father gallantly offered to drive my aunt and her younger sister—my mother—home. Aunt Jean stretched out on the back seat of my father’s car trying not to throw up while my mother sat in the front chatting with my father during the drive home, and the rest, as they say, is history. You might say then that I am the product of a stomach flu, but I would prefer that you didn’t.

What is interesting to me about this story beyond the role it played in the creation of my family is the role that the church played in my parents’ lives and the lives of their friends. My parents’ courtship took place during the late 1940s at a time when young people’s lives revolved around church activities. My father’s church had a large gymnasium in its basement where kids came to play basketball or hold dances. My mother’s church had a Saturday Night Club which spawned scores of matches among the crowds of young people who attended. When my parents’ generation began having babies, they brought their children to packed nurseries during worship or dropped them off at graded Sunday Schools and Junior Church. Children looked forward to these church activities because there they could see friends on a day where everything else was shut down. Those were the days of Blue laws prohibiting shopping on Sundays, and in those times school sports were still little more than an after-school activity. We glamorize those days of large attendance in worship and full church school rosters but for a large majority of people, church was simply the social center of their town and Jesus had very little to do with the church’s popularity.

Those days are long gone. Today, people can see each other every day of the week, including Sundays. We can join gourmet clubs and book groups and Tai Chi. Parents see one another all through the week and into the weekends at track meets and soccer games. Kids’ calendars are teeming with activities and when they do have down time, there are 100 streaming services to watch and video games to play online with friends. And of course, the blue laws have disappeared; even liquor stores are now open on Sundays in New York. Instead of being a place where people come to seek something to do on a Sunday morning, the church now has to convince people to give up their one quiet morning in the week and add worship to an already packed calendar. Like the Buick ad says, “This is not your parent’s church.”  It’s not the church that many of the saints we listed this morning knew when they were younger. It’s not the church that it was when I came 38 years ago. It’s not even the church it was two years ago before the pandemic hit.

It is helpful to remember, however, that it’s also not the church it was 2000 years ago when Paul was writing to the churches of Corinth and yet here we are, still worshiping, still reading Paul’s letters, and still keeping on. In other words, the fundamental nature of the church is change: over the millennia of its life, the church has had to change to adapt to new cultures, new lands, new languages, new circumstances, and new technologies but if the fundamental nature of the church is change, the fundamental nature of the gospel is stability — changelessness. The gospel itself has remained the same for 2000 years. If you could time travel and attend worship in Corinth in the year 54 AD when Paul wrote his letter, the people in that city would seem alien to you and the home in which they worshipped devoid of everything that fills our 21st century sanctuaries, and yet in that strange setting everything would suddenly become familiar when they passed around the bread and cup and you heard them read these words of Paul from his letter to them: “This is my body broken for you; this cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Those words that we say every time we have communion are 2000 years old and they have not lost their power. Granted, the Corinthians said them in Greek not in English, but the meaning was the same: here we are, gathered together in the presence of Christ to receive his word; to be strengthened in our weakness, healed from our brokenness, and made whole by his saving grace. The people of Corinth needed that word as much as we do today; and we today need that word as much as the people of Corinth did. It doesn’t really matter whether we hear the gospel in the courtyard of an ancient Corinthian house or through our Zoom feeds streaming from the sanctuary; the setting and the culture has change but what has not changed in 2000 years is that we all need to be reminded that we are Christ’s people made whole by his grace and called by him to show great love to others so that we all may be healed.

Everything changes, except for our need for Christ’s grace which remains and will always be even until the end of time.

After worship, we will be gathering for our Semi-Annual meeting where we will be discussing budgets and making decisions about programming, but unlike most years, this Semi-Annual meeting will be more than a simple review of the last six months. You will be discussing the many changes that you are facing in the coming year with my retirement and your new ownership of the church building. Change is never easy and it will be tempting to try to hold on to the familiar or hunker down in the past; but remember, change is built into the DNA of the church. Your calling is not to an institution or a program or a budget or a culture, your calling is to the gospel of Christ. The church constantly changes but its purpose remains the same: the church is here to remind us that we are Christ’s people made whole by his grace and called by him to show great love to others so that we all may be healed.

I invite you now to this Table to gather just as Christ’s people have gathered for over 2000 years: to receive from him the bread of life and the gift of his sacrificial love, to know his presence in this fellowship, and to be made whole.