[This sermon was proclaimed for the Perinton Presbyterian Church on 8/23/20. While I was in the sanctuary with two musicians and three people doing the technology, the remainder of the congregation was worshiping in a virtual way. The text is Romans 12:1-8.]
Last week I started to take a bike ride. But before I got on the bike, I could tell something was wasn’t right. It wasn’t the brake system. It wasn’t the gear shifter system. It wasn’t the steering system. By now, you have probably guessed: it was a flat inner tube. That’s about the cheapest part of a bike. It takes a few dollars to buy a new inner tube. Getting it on the rim just right takes some time and patience, but it’s not rocket science. Yet it just takes one flat inner tube to bring everything else on a bike to a grinding halt. To keep a bike running, there are no insignificant, unimportant parts.
On a far greater scale, I am remembering January 28, 1986. I was at a presbytery meeting in Albany, when the announcement came after lunch, interrupting whatever business we were doing. The space shuttle Challenger has exploded 73 seconds after liftoff. The seven astronauts were dead. One was Christa McAuliffe, the first person chosen to be a teacher in space. Her class and her school in New Hampshire were watching a big screen in the school auditorium. President Reagan appointed a blue-ribbon team to investigate. Here is what they found. The right side solid booster rocket failed at liftoff. The right side solid booster rocket failed because a simple O-ring failed because of the temperature on a cold Florida morning. That O-ring was likely the least expensive part in that space shuttle, smaller than an inch in diameter. To send a rocket into space, there are no insignificant, unimportant parts.
To keep a church running in a healthy way, there are no insignificant, unimportant parts. I am concerned that the churches, the local expressions of the body of Christ, are too often crippled in their effectiveness by missing one little thing, one New Testament truth. We find it in Romans 12:1-8, especially in verses 6-8. There is a natural flow in this passage, which I see in three movements. We get there by starting at verse 1.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” All worship is in response to God’s mercy. All Christian living is in response to God’s mercy. We don’t initiate, but we respond to God’s initiative. Our true and proper worship is responsive to what God has initiated in Jesus. At the heart of worship is not what we take away or how worship made us feel. The heart of worship is offering ourselves, body and soul, brokenness and wholeness, as living sacrifices to God. “… to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
That kind of worship puts us in right perspective with God. It should be like going to a chiropractor to get our skeleton in right alignment. “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment…” We learn to think of ourselves with sober judgment. When it comes to assessing ourselves, there are two big errors we tend to make. The first is to think too highly of ourselves and the second is to think too lowly of ourselves. There are some generalizations I observe in self-assessment. Because these are generalizations, there will always be exceptions. Males tend to think more highly of themselves and females tend to think of themselves more lowly. Children raised in wealth tend to think too highly of themselves; children raised in poverty tend to think too lowly of themselves. People in majority status (that would be Whites in our country) tend to think of themselves more highly than people in minority status, like Black and Brown skinned persons.
We see how this has played out in how voting rights expanded in our country.
- In 1789, only White men owning property could vote.
- In 1828, White men not owning property could vote.
- In 1870, after a bloody Civil War, Black men could vote, though Jim Crow laws often prevented them.
- In 1920, women could vote, though most Black women were prohibited by local sanctions, like poll taxes and quizzes.
- In 1924, native Americans could vote, except not in every state.
- In 1962, native Americans could vote in every state.
- In 1965, Congress passed and the president signed the Voting Rights Act, making clear that all American citizens, regardless of gender, skin color, or ethnicity, were eligible to vote.
That timeline evidences why some people tend to think too highly of themselves and why some people tend to think too lowly of themselves. Notice how voting rights gave preference to certain groups. And my group (White male owning property) was at the top of the list from the beginning, which might lead me to have too high a view of my group and myself. I am a product of white privilege. My new six-month old granddaughter, who is Black, will have a different experience in the journey to sober judgment than I have had. She is being raised by loving parents, supported by loving extended family, but she will have a different experience than I had.
The biblical understanding of who we are is based on two realities. First, we are created in God’s image. That is clear from the first chapter of the Bible, where God creates us in his image, male and female. Psalm 139 says that “we are fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 8 tells us that we are created just a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned with glory and honor. The second reality is that we have sinned, marring the image of God, but never eradicating it. Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We are the pinnacle of God’s creative activity and we have fallen short by our sin of God’s glory. A sober view of ourselves will include both realities. We are the at the pinnacle of God’s creative work, bearing the very image of God, and we are flawed beings by our own sin. We are deeply loved and we are deeply in need of redemption, of God’s mercy in Jesus our savior.
That leads us to the one simple truth that we too often miss. To keep a church running in a healthy way, there are no insignificant, unimportant parts. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” Every one of us is gifted for royal service. Not just pastors. Not just church leaders. Not just seminary graduates. Every one of us is gifted. A bike needs inner tubes that hold air. A rocket needs good O-rings that don’t fail in cold temperatures. No part is insignificant. No member is unimportant. In a healthy congregation, no member is insignificant, no person unimportant. Every member of every local church is a vital part. Every member of this Perinton Presbyterian Church is a vital part of this body. Some speaking the word of the Lord, some serving others as deacons, some teaching others, some encouraging those needing encouragement, some giving generously to support the church’s ministries, some leading diligently, and some showing God’s mercy to others.
We are wondering what church life will be like post-pandemic and we don’t know for sure. We do know that precautions we have learned over the last six months will continue. We do know that some of our members that are in vulnerable populations may not be able to come back to in person worship for some time or, in some cases, ever. We do know that streaming of worship services will continue and will serve people in vulnerable populations.
Here is what is on my wish list for post-pandemic church life. Every follower of Jesus will respond to God’s mercy in whole-hearted and whole-bodied worship, whether in a literal sanctuary or a virtual one. Every follower of Jesus will have a healthy self-assessment, based both on bearing God’s image and having sinned. And I hope and strive for the day when all followers of Jesus will take seriously that they are gifted by God for vital service in the body of Christ. Let’s hear that list one more time:
- Some speaking the word of the Lord,
- Some serving others as deacons,
- Some teaching others,
- Some encouraging those needing encouragement,
- Some giving generously to support the church’s ministries,
- Some leading diligently,
- And some showing God’s mercy to others.
Did you identify yourself on that list? In the body of Christ there is no insignificant member, no unimportant part. Every bike needs good inner tubes. Every rocket needs good O-rings. Every church needs you and me doing our parts.