It almost seems too simple to say this… but together we are stronger than we are apart.
Last weekend I was in Sackville for the Annual General Meeting of Maritime Conference. For those that don’t know, the United Church is separated into regions, and ours goes from Bermuda to the Gaspe. So it is Bermuda, Nova Scotia (Cape Breton… they get angry if you think saying NS includes them), Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and the Gaspe region of Quebec.
It is geographically huge… but at the same time, we tend to forget our own size. When you come to church in Whitney and these 20 people are your fellow United Church folks, you forget that we are the largest protestant denomination in the country.
But in a Hockey Rink in Sackville, with some 700 people, the view seems quite different.
Margaret McCain, yes, one of those McCain’s, gave a speech about why she donated money to the United Church. Essentially it was this: Although she goes to another church, she thinks the United Church has done so much for the world, for Canada… we led the way in terms of Women’s rights… Mount Allison was the first university to grant a degree to a woman and we were the first denomination to ordain women… It was a United Church member who went on t politics and created welfare and medicare, we have fought for including and treating as equal everyone, no matter their race, or sex, or ideals…
We, together, have made a difference.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Working Together…. Lego… what can we build, how do we work together more… why?
So when the followers sat around for a while and thought about what Jesus was saying… here is what they came up with… we should work together!
Let’s pool all of our resources, let’s all work together, and live together, and create a new way to be in the world but not part of the world.
If we did that right, there would be no poor people, no one would have to worry about food or housing, everyone would get enough….
It didn’t last too long, partly because Christianity spread too fast… it was located in Jerusalem for a year or two tops, then it spread to all the Roman Sea Ports, and then inland. Hard to all live together when you are talking thousand mile differences…
But the idea stuck… monasteries and convents were the main places of learning and prayer, they were the social agencies and food banks of the middle ages… and followed this same principle that we should all work together and be together and support one another…
The same is true of congregations. We are meant to be a community where we come together, work together, help each other, are there for each other.
It still does not work as well as it should. I have often thought we could figure out a way to do it better. But it is hard. There are a lot of things each of us are involved in… there are a lot of directions pulling us to head out of here…
But in the end, the sentiment is still the same, together we are stronger than when we are on our own.
Hebrews 10:23-25 A Call to Community
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Provoking One Another
There was a story on the CBC this week about an American Spelunker… that is a cave explorer… who went to the Ukraine to explore some cool caves… he just thought they would be fun… but when he got down in them he discovered something he did not expect… shoes…clothes… lots of other things that suggested someone, sometime, had lived in these caves known as Priest’s grotto.
So he started asking questions, and doing the research… what he discovered was amazing. In the 1940’s in the Ukraine, Nazi soldiers had begun to round up the Jews for concentration camps. In fact, in a few weeks they had taken half the town.
One mother sent her son into the forest to find a place to hide, he found a cave. So eventually 38 people ended up spending 344 days in this cave, the lived for over 2 years underground. The cave it huge, the 10th largest in the world, and could be accessed only by a sinkhole the size of a fireplace chimney.
Ok, seriously, how long could you stay in one cave, in the dark? I think any one of us alone for that long would go insane, not to mention it is only 10 degrees in there…
But together, working together, taking turns, caring for each other, telling jokes and stories, those people hid, and lived, for 10 years.
It makes it seem to me, that when we help each other we can do superhuman things; that when we work together we create things and do things that we would never have believed that we can do.
We could all tell stories like this… perhaps some of them less life threatening… but stories of people bringing food after we lose a loved one, or stories of someone helping you to fix a deck, or move… or gong fishing with you when you are sad. Being together changes everything. Working together changes everything.
The author of Hebrews, writing to the early church, says we should meet together and provoke each other to love, and good deeds. We should encourage one another and push one another and help one another. That is what church is all about.
Mark 3:31-34 The Spiritual Family of Jesus
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!
Why are we here?
Every so often I find someone who comes up to me and says that they do not need church, that they find God while walking in the woods, or standing on the seashore… and I say, of course you do, but… that is just God. You don’t go to church to find God, you go to church to find yourself.
I also notice that there are quite a few people who do not go to Presbytery, or to Conference, and I wonder the same thing… why do we go to church? You see, in these passages we are told the answer… we go to church because it is there that we meet people who are like us, who believe like us, who work on the same things as us, who are our spiritual sisters and brothers… and we go to lift them up, and to be lifted up by them.
No matter how many walks in the woods I take, it is not going to challenge me to be a better person. Going to church is. Meeting someone who has a great idea for something and wants to do it is going to challenge me to do something more…
I guess in simple terms, we are here in church for each other.
Jesus was not really a mean person. Later on he arranges for one of the disciples to take care of his mother after Jesus is executed. But he is saying something important… he is saying to the people gathered around him that they are as much his family, as much a part of him, as his own mother and brothers and sisters….
And he is there for them, and they are there for him. That… is the reason we go to church.
So there are two things I want you to remember from today – one is that the United Church is not dead, nor is it going anywhere. We are still the second largest denomination, we are a huge group of committed people, and we are trying to make a difference in Canada and the World so that everyone gets to live the way God intended.
Secondly, being here is important… I don’t mean you have to com every week, I don’t mean you need to do it when you are sick, or anything else. Heck, there are lots of weeks I want to go do something else… but being part of this community, being connected to other believers and worshiping together… that makes a difference… and you need to be a part of it in order to be a better person.
Put those two things together and I believe anything is possible. That old where two are three are gathered God is there adage means a lot to me… I think that when we set our minds to it and work together, we can change the world…
And I think that is what God is calling us to do.