Hymn # 505 Help Us Accept Each Other
Call to Worship
L. By contact with the Crucified, we all are gathered, called and named,
P. In faith, by water ratified, reborn, uplifted and ordained;
L. Yet when, in Christ, we name our needs for guidance, leadership and care,
P. The Spirit's blessing far exceeds what our unaided faith could dare.
L. The Spirit's breath, the church's faith will help us go a second mile
P. And give us unexpected strength to love, resist and reconcile.
-Brian Wren, Piece Together Praise: A Theological Journey (Carol Stream, Ill.: Hope Publishing, 1996), 63
Invocation L. I call upon you in the name of Jesus Christ, who proclaimed to all people a new order of life in the kingdom of God, to give yourself and your spirit to be a vital part of that new direction of time as God's life-affirming, life-supporting, life-renewing people.
P. We go having been called to become more than we now are and to share more fully in God's renewal of all of life. Amen.
Children's Sermon Ephesians 4:1-16
Buy or borrow a Mr. Potato Head figure, brought back into the limelight by the recent Toy Story movies. Make sure you have multiple eyes, hands and feet. Show the children the figure, and begin by covering the body with eyes. Ask them if you have put him together correctly. Then start over and cover the figure with hands. Ask if that will work. Why not? Then try again, covering the figure with feet. Ask if there's a problem with that arrangement. Invite the children to explain to you why it's not good to have all eyes, all hands or all feet. Then tell them that the same is true for another figure called the body of Christ - a body that we are all part of in the church community. In other words, some are eyes, some are hands and some are feet. Finish by saying that the body works best when we all play our special part and when we stick close together - just like the parts of a Mr. Potato Head.
Hymn # 258 There's a Wideness in God's Mercy
Fruit Flies and Biting Midges
The science of binding is called "zygology." It's obscure, but raises the question of what joins together the Christian community.[NOTE: For this sermon idea, you will need a plate broken in two pieces, a jar of honey and a strong epoxy glue like Krazy Glue.]
In other words, the common housefly. The ubiquitous insect that can spread diseases and contaminate food.
Over 700 varieties of diptera exist - horseflies, dump flies, dung flies, the Mediterranean and Oriental fruit flies, sand flies, cluster flies, robber flies, stiletto flies, flesh flies and the biting midges - to name a few.
They don't live long, typically, about 20 days in the adult stage. Adults of many species bite or passively vector pathogens for diseases such as typhoid fever, dysentery, anthrax and African sleeping sickness.
But that's not why scientists at the Marine Science Laboratory in North Wales are studying them. Flies do something else besides mate, contaminate food and irritate us.
They walk on walls and ceilings. These scientists would like to know why and how they do that. What keeps them on the ceiling defying gravity, when they should be spinning off and dropping into our soup? These scholars are the world's most erudite experts in the field of zygology - the science of joining things together, named from the Greek word for "yoke" - and any insights into this field can have very important practical applications.
Think about it. Rivets, nails, screws, welds and threads play a large part in the zygology of our world, keeping roofs over our heads and clothes on our backs. And where would we be without adhesives? Furniture would rattle and shake, tiles would drop from walls, books and shoes would fall apart and we couldn't cap our teeth. Imagine life without wallpaper, stamps, Scotch tape or Post-it notes!
The science of adhesives is obscure, to be sure, but oddly interesting ... and it raises the question of what binds and joins together the Christian community. You gotta wonder: What is the "zygology" of the church? In a world that seems to be coming apart at the seams, what keeps us from becoming unstuck to Christ and one another and falling apart?
These questions are anything but new ones - in fact, they are at the heart of a sticky situation that Paul addressed back at the beginning of the first millennium. Concerned about the unity of churches in Asia Minor, the apostle implores the Ephesians to make "every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (4:3). Paul knows full well that there exists a diversity of spiritual gifts among the Christians of this region and that this diversity can lead to either a splintering of the community - or a binding together of the body of Christ.
Here is where modern zygology comes in. Any investigation of stickiness really has to begin at the microscopic level. It requires us to think small, microscopically small, before we can draw any big conclusions. Research shows that for something to act as an adhesive and bind things together, it must have at least two molecular qualities: mobility and the ability to form strong links.
For starters, an adhesive absolutely must have mobility - its molecules must be able to flow into the nooks and crannies of a broken object such as a plate, bringing molecules close enough to attract one another. [NOTE: Hold up the pieces of the broken plate during this discussion. Then put them down and lift up the honey jar.] Just think of what happens when a little honey is placed between two fingers. You can feel an attraction - it's a sticky mess. It has mobility, as we all know when we spread some on a porous piece of toast. But would honey be a good glue for a broken plate?
Of course not! [Put honey jar aside.]
Mobility alone is not enough. To act as an adhesive, a material not only must flow onto both surfaces, but its molecules also must form strong links to each other so they are not separated as the surfaces are pulled apart. While honey has sugar molecules that are attracted to each other as well as to other molecules, it's not sticky enough to use as an adhesive. For that, we need something like the flour-and-water paste once familiar to schoolchildren.
How does that stuff work, anyway? When wet, the paste is mobile. But as it dries, the long starch molecules in the flour become intertwined with each other and thus very difficult to separate. Protein molecules can also do the job, as can synthetic materials such as polyvinyl alcohol, which can be dissolved in water to make "white glue," a current household favorite.
But what about our broken plate? We still haven't found an adhesive strong enough to bind this break. An even better way to stick things together is to use small, very mobile molecules that, through a chemical reaction, link to form a matrix of giant molecules, or polymers. This is the way epoxy glues and Krazy Glue work. [Hold up a tube, and use it to glue the plate together.]
This stuff is super-sticky. If you doubt this, just ask the patron of an Irish pub who sat on a toilet seat that vandals had coated with Krazy Glue. He had a long time to contemplate the wonder of flies walking up and down the walls before he was transported to a hospital with the seat still attached to his drooping derriére.
But enough high-browed technical talk! What's the significance of all this zygology for ecclesiology - that is to say, what's the link between the science of binding and the science of the church? What do mobility and strong-linkability have to do with the unity of the ChristBody?
Everything. In the person of Jesus Christ, the church has the one "adhesive" that binds the church together. He is highly mobile, the apostle tells us, active in a variety of spiritual nooks and crannies as he gives his followers an entire spectrum of spiritual gifts. "The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers," asserts Paul, "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God" (vv. 11-13). If Jesus were not mobile, not willing to flow into areas of light and darkness, health and brokenness, he would be unable to bind together the many diverse pieces of his sanctified and sinning church.
Jesus Christ is in the church, always moving, exploring, infusing, infiltrating and inspiring his people in new ways. There is not a single soul surface that he cannot reach, nor a single crisis in the community that he cannot cover and correct. If the church needs a prophet, he provides one; if an area lacks an evangelist, he calls one; if people hunger for a pastor, he delivers one; if students are missing a teacher, he empowers one. The spiritual gifts of Jesus Christ are not one size fits all, but instead they flow in various forms into the places they are needed most. Our only challenge is to receive them and to let them stick.
Of course, the mobility of inspiration is not enough. Jesus Christ also forms incredibly strong links within the community of faith. The ChristBody can experience a kind of chemical reaction in the course of its ministry and mission, one that forms an epoxy-style matrix of giant spiritual molecules. This binding reaction is called "speaking the truth in love" (v. 15).
Both truth and love are essential ingredients in this reaction because Christ is committed to both justice and mercy. Truth without love can be harsh and judgmental, while love without truth is often soft and undisciplined, but together these two form an unbreakable bond. When both honesty and compassion are practiced within the church, links develop between surprisingly diverse groups of people, and the ChristBody is strengthened. Speaking the truth in love, predicts Paul, allows us to "grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love" (vv. 15-16).
The church needs to recover a sense of what and who it is that holds it together. It is not the color of our skin, our preferences in music, our socio-economic status, our political affiliation, our gender, our marital status, our clothes, our language, our pastor or even our doctrinal idiosyncrasies that matters.
Until we remember that we are bonded together in the person of Jesus Christ, adhering to one another in a culture of love and truth, we'll be more like floor-bound, embarrassed believers walking around with our flies open rather than wall-walking flies defying the world's conventions of community.
It's a matter of spiritual zygology. Christians have what it takes to stick together.
Joe Schwarcz, "What Makes a Situation Sticky," The Washington Post, December 8, 1999, H1.
Hymn # 525 Face to Face with Christ my Savior
In Ephesians 4:1-16, issues of continuity and development of Paul's ideas of the church as the body of Christ come into focus. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 and Romans 12:3-8, Paul employs the metaphor of the body as a means of exhorting his churches to unity in diversity. The body, like a church, is composed of many members that work together in different ways in a unified organism. No one part of the body, in Paul's metaphor, carries its importance over another - all the parts in their various capacities are necessary for the proper functioning of the whole. In Ephesians 4:1-16 the metaphor is engaged and developed, and cast in the service of proclaiming the proper relation of the church to Christ and the ultimate purposes of the church in God's cosmic plan of salvation.
As the chapter opens, Paul refers to his experience as a prisoner and upholds it as a model for the Ephesians to follow. As a particular kind of prisoner, a prisoner in the Lord, he exhorts the community to postures of humility, gentleness and patience. These characteristics are encouraged precisely because they promote unity in the church. The author grounds this exhortation in the notion of call for the church members, and more specifically in the event of their baptism.These people, formerly Gentiles "alienated from the life of God" (v. 18), now live new lives transformed by the Spirit in the body of Christ. A life devoted to the unity of this body is a life worthy of that original call and baptism.
This devotion to unity of purpose in the church is not simply some pragmatic plea that we might all "get along." Rather, as the author rehearses, the notion of unity is wedded to the very purposes and reality of God. There is one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God who is above all and through all and in all. In this sense, a life lived in service to the unity of the church is a life lived in the Spirit of God.
After this introduction to the theme of unity, the author returns to the people of the church for instruction regarding their gifts and roles within the community. As 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 is preoccupied with the claim that no one ought to uphold the value of her or his gift over others in the church, so, too, this exhortation takes up the theme of gifts and the unity of the church.
For this purpose, the author turns to a Christological exegesis of Psalm 68:18. In this text, the psalmist recounts the Lord's ascension of the holy mountain, and that there the Lord received gifts from his people. In Ephesians, the notion of leading out the captives has been re-imagined as making "captivity itself a captive." The Lord who ascends has been re-imagined as the Christ who descended into the lower parts of the earth and then ascended to the heavens. Finally, the direction of the gifts in the psalm has been reversed: No longer does the Lord receive gifts from his people, but Christ gives gifts to his people. Clearly the notion of "gift" has attracted the author to the psalm, and the notion of ascension up the mountain has elicited a connection with the developing confession of the dying, descending and ascending Messiah (cf. Romans 10:6-8; Matthew 12:38-40).
Such exegesis is not uncharacteristic of Paul, or of other early Christians. It reflects the extent to which early Christian confession was bound to the Scriptures and engaged existing theological claims in order to authorize and orient belief and practice in the church. This example demonstrates how the original idea of the body of Christ and various gifts that Paul developed took on further thought and reflection in the church, and that that further thought and reflection was in part exegetical.
The notion of gifts, very much in keeping with Paul's reflections in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12, underlines the varieties of activities in the church. Here the list of "gifts" is more tied to office and role in the church than the wide variety described in 1 Corinthians (e.g., gifts of tongues and healing). All the gifts are understood, however, as serving the unity of the body that exists to promote unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God. The purpose of the church seems to be envisioned as a nurturing vessel for right belief and as a means for promoting Christian spirituality.
In 4:12-13, the author claims the gifts of the church serve the "building up" of the body of Christ, a coming "of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity" and to the full stature of Christ. These images emphasize the dynamic nature of the body. It is growing, and it exists to promote the growth of each of its members. Church membership is envisioned as a call, a dynamic activity. It is not about being a part of a self-justified or self-serving institution. The church exists in the service of its members growing up, maturing into the full stature of Christ. The church, in this vision, is a true center for spiritual discipline and development. Maturing into the full stature of Christ is the call of every baptized Christian, and the church serves the fulfillment of this call.
The text concludes with a final development of Paul's image of the body of Christ. Where in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12, there is no particular order to the metaphor of the body, here the author has organized the parts of the body around their "head," Jesus Christ (4:15). While such a statement is certainly in keeping with Paul's understanding of the church, the metaphor has been further defined and confessionally (rather than pragmatically) oriented. The idea that Christ is "the head" of the body makes clear the unified purpose and ownership of the church. It is Christ's church. Its goal is Christ, and its practice is Christ's practice, which is the practice of love.
This may be an urban legend, but check it out: Over 30 years ago, scientist Spencer Silver was working on pressure-sensitive adhesives for 3M - glues that instantly bond to a surface but can be removed without destroying the surface. He investigated various synthetic polymers and eventually found one that was a weak adhesive, but then he lost interest.
Fortunately, an engineer named Arthur Fry was working for 3M in the early 1970s, and Fry had a problem. He was a member of his church choir and was getting frustrated with the fact that when he tried to mark pages in his hymnal with pieces of paper, the markers constantly fell out. Remembering his colleague Silver's weak glue, he put his hands on some and used it to mark his hymns with slips of paper that stayed put and could also be easily removed.
The prototype for Post-its was born!
The forces of hate and violence must not be allowed to gain their victory not just in our society, but in our hearts. Nor must we respond to hate with more hate. This is a time of coming together. -The Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, prayer service, Oklahoma City, quoted by Joanne Lynn and Joan Harrold in Handbook for Mortals: Guidance for People Facing Serious Illness (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 172.
There is an incredible sense of isolation in the world today. Any young person who finds an antidote to loneliness will have found a business that will last forever. -Anita Roddick, founder and co-chair of The Body Shop, London, England, in Fast Company, September 1999, 115.
Forgiveness is as important for church bonds as it is for marriage bonds.
In Love in the Time of Cholera, Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez portrays a marriage that disintegrates over a bar of soap.
It was the wife's job to keep the house in order, including the towels, toilet paper and soap in the bathroom. One day she forgot to replace the soap. Her husband exaggerated the oversight: "I've been bathing for almost a week without any soap." She vigorously denied forgetting to replace the soap. Although she had indeed forgotten, her pride was at stake, and she wouldn't back down. For the next seven months, they slept in separate rooms and ate in silence.
Their marriage had suffered a heart attack. "Even when they were old and placid," writes Marquez, "they were very careful about bringing it up, for the barely healed wounds could begin to bleed again as if they'd been inflicted only yesterday." How can a bar of soap ruin a marriage? The answer is actually simple. Because neither partner would say, "Forgive me." -Les Parrott III, "All For a Bar of Soap," VitalMinistry, September-October 1999, 18.
The economist Herbert Stein, eyeing the new hordes of men and women who walk city sidewalks with cell phones at their ears and mouths, decided that our need for information on demand is as primitive an instinct as any animal can have.
"It is the way of keeping contact with someone, anyone, who will reassure you that you are not alone. You may think that you are checking on your portfolio, but deep down you are checking on your existence. I rarely see people using cell phones on the sidewalk when they are in the company of other people. It is being alone that they cannot stand. And for many people, being alone really means being without Mommy ...."
A Freudian economist! Their Walkmans, he says, are a way of regaining the steady, comforting beat from the lullabies of infancy. After all, we were born connected. Solitude came with maturity. -James Gleick, Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything (New York: Pantheon Books, 1999), 92-93.
Two brothers worked together on the family farm. One was married and had a large family. The other was single. At the day's end, the brothers shared everything equally, produce and profit.
Then one day the single brother said to himself, "It's not right that we should share equally the produce and the profit. I'm alone, and my needs are simple." So each night he took a sack of grain from his bin and crept across the field between their houses, dumping it into his brother's bin.
Meanwhile, the married brother said to himself, "It's not right that we should share the produce and the profit equally. After all, I'm married, and I have my wife and children to look after me in years to come. My brother has no one, and no one to take care of his future." So each night he took a sack of grain and dumped it into his single brother's bin.
Both men were puzzled for years because their supply of grain never dwindled. Then one dark night the two brothers bumped into each other. Slowly it dawned on them what was happening. They dropped their sacks and embraced one another. -Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul (Deerfield Beach, Calif.: Heath Communications, 1995), 37.
Houseflies are in short supply in the poultry houses at Zephyr Egg near Tampa, Florida. That's because scientists with USDA's Agricultural Research Service teamed up with University of Florida cooperators to release a predatory fly - the black dump fly - that gobbles up housefly larvae that live in poultry manure.
Each week for a year, the scientists released 70,000 black dump flies into the poultry houses at Zephyr. The company is one of the largest egg producers in Florida, with two million chickens that can produce up to 300 tons of wet manure a day - heaven for houseflies that breed in the manure.
But a single dump fly larva can kill up to 20 housefly larvae a day. Soon after releasing the dump flies, the house flies had virtually disappeared. This meant Zephyr no longer had to spray an estimated $12,000 a year in chemical pesticides to control the pests. Also, organic farmers are now interested in buying the chemical-free manure.
The black dump fly, native to the United States, will kill more housefly larvae than it can eat, making it an excellent biocontrol insect. Another plus: Dump flies won't bother people.
Black dump fly larvae will also eat the larvae of stable flies and other pests. Black dump flies are sold commercially in the United States, Canada and Europe, and have been used predominantly in the midwestern United States. But this is the first time the flies have been used as far south as Florida to control houseflies in a commercial poultry house.
ARS scientists are now working with a Florida poultry farm that wants to breed the flies in an on-the-farm insectary. The scientists also are also testing the dump flies for controlling pest flies in manure at dairy farms. -Sean Adams, "Dumping on Houseflies," March 24, 1997.
What draws males together? On male bonding, from an unknown source: Seems a couple got a new Jeep Cherokee for Christmas and drove it to visit relatives in Michigan. The guys decided to do that male bonding ritual of duck hunting. So they load up the Cherokee with decoys, food, beer, guns, warm clothes, etc., and head off for the lake. Now it's a little known fact that when duck hunting in cold climates, it's common to drive the truck out onto the ice.
It's also a little known fact that, to break a hole in the ice for the decoys, a stick of dynamite is commonly used. Now this particular stick of dynamite has a short fuse, estimated at 20 seconds or so. Normally you put the dynamite on the ice, light the fuse, and run away. But with only 20 seconds, they didn't want to do that since they might slip while running.
So, to be safe, one of the guys lights the fuse and throws the stick of dynamite out onto the ice. Their well-trained Labrador retriever, thinking it's time to play "fetch," runs out onto the ice, picks up the lit stick of dynamite in his mouth and starts running back to the group of guys. The guys yell at the dog but, as he's played fetch so many times before, he just keeps bringing the stick back to his master. One of the guys thinks fast, loads his shotgun and shoots the dog. As the gun is loaded with birdshot, the dog isn't hurt much, but is confused. The guy shoots the dog again. The dog gets scared and runs, stick in his mouth, under the Cherokee.
The Cherokee is now at the bottom of the lake. The insurance company won't pay up because it was destroyed due to the illegal use of explosives.
The first payment is due January 23.
Awake, O Sleeper
Here, O Lord, Your Servants Gather
Yes, We all Agree
Let the Walls Fall Down