September 3, 2017 — Nancy Bancroft
Scripture Reading: I Corinthians 12: 4-11
In the animated movie Ice Age, when saber-tooth tigers attack a tribe of nomads, a mother and her baby attempt to outrun the beasts but are cornered at a raging waterfall. The little boy is discovered by a wooly mammoth named Manfred, a sloth name Sid and a saber-tooth tiger named Diego. These three unlikely companions unite on a common mission to return the baby to his father.
As the trio treks through a mountainous terrain of ice and snow carrying the baby, the mammoth, sloth, and tiger realize they’re on an erupting volcano and that the heat of the lava is compromising the glacier. Isolated from the others on a quickly melting island of ice, Diego jumps to reach the others, but falls short. Dangling from the edge of the ice field, his grip falters, and he falls. Manfred, unwilling to let Diego perish, leaps into a chasm after him and tosses the tiger upwards to safety. Diego, realizing the danger involved in the rescue, is moved by Manfred’s compassion, courage, and sacrifice.
“Why did you do that?” he asks. “You could have died trying to save me.” Humbly, the mammoth responds, “That’s what you do when you’re part of a herd. You look after each other.” Amazed at the convergence of circumstances that has brought these three together, Sid muses aloud. “I don’t know about you guys, but we are one strange herd.”
One strange herd! Now tell me honestly, don’t you agree that sometimes this is a great description of Union Church? We are mix of people with different personalities, different backgrounds, different political views, even different ways that we understand and relate to God. We might otherwise never socialize with each other— except for the one thing that we have in common: love for this spiritual community, what it stands for and what it does. As our covenant states, here we experience a caring community, support, a place of peace, spiritual nourishment and a deep sense of joy. And in one way or another, each of us has been transformed by the Spirit that abides here. Because of that, we hang out together. But even more than that, as the film illustrates in a charming way, as a spiritual “herd”, we look after each other. In Manfred’s rescue of Diego, the film I think also highlights the elements that are needed if indeed we want to achieve our stated goal of preserving our roots and expanding our reach. These components are compassion, courage, and sacrifice.
Ken and the members of the Mission Committee addressed compassion so well last week as we reviewed what we are doing to address the needs of our own members and friends as well as those of the local and international community. Today I’d like to explore how the other two virtues, courage and sacrifice, are necessary to our church family. We can look to the life of Jesus and those of his disciples as they founded the church and see that courage is a requisite element in advancing the healing and serving mission of Jesus. We are asked to do whatever is necessary to meet the needs of others and to bring about a world order identified by peace and justice.
More immediately for us, as we transition to a new leader the way that we may need to express our courage is that we stay the course with patience and exemplify kindness. In my experience I have found that the richness and the challenge for a pastor of Union Church is its diversity. How is one to help nurture a community when those attending have different religious beliefs, different preferences for worship, and different expectations of a leader? Some here, above all else, treasure our motto, Peace and Presence by the Sea and favor a captain who will keep the ship sailing smoothly regardless of the storms while others look for a guide who will lead the way into troubled waters in an attempt to rescue those being tossed by the waves. It will take time for Paula to get to know us and our needs as she, like us, remains open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit for our worship, programming, and mission outreach. And it will be for us to support each other through any anxiety we may feel as changes are inevitably made and affirm her especially in the early days.
Sacrifice: At the center of the ancient tree that we adopted as a symbol for our pilgrim church is the goal of deepening personal ministry. In a vibrant church every member has his or her own mission that dovetails into the mission of the church as a whole. We don’t retire from Christianity and, as stated in our Scripture reading this morning, our call to serve flows from the gifts that we have been given. In his book The Joy of Doing, Raymond Baughan states that we find meaning as we live by the law of expenditure and find the greatest joy not in getting, but in expressing what we are. We are individuals who have chosen to form community to support each other, to grow into our best selves and to make a difference for good.
A couple of weeks ago Elaine Robinson and the fellowship committee organized a lovely and enjoyable church picnic. They provided the main fare and many people brought delicious sides to compliment the course. Two weeks ago after our deacons meeting we shared a fun potluck dinner together. Most of us like these kinds of events. Like with making stone soup, everyone brings something good, no one works too hard and we get to taste a variety of delicious things. In his story telling Jesus often used the image of a banquet as imagery for the coming of the Kingdom of God; the reign that we’ve all committed ourselves to advancing. At the same time Jesus’ actions were characterized by his practice of open table-fellowship, of eating and drinking, sometimes with men and women otherwise outside the pale of acceptable table companions. All were welcome and all needed nourishment as collaborators in his mission. As individuals and as a church we are called to continue that tradition; to build something on that foundation. Each of us is to build a life. Together, we are to build a church, and as a whole human race, we are to build a world.
Paul’s lesson on “spiritual gifts” was meant to teach the community that whatever our individual gifts might be, they all came from the same source, the Holy Spirit and that it is this same Spirit that calls us all to be “in the service.” Whatever is graced and gifted to us is for one purpose only — for “the common good.” Each of us is unique. We were each born into relationship with gifts and talents that the world desperately needs. We’ve all had opportunities to develop our gifts, mentors, supporters, encouragers, challengers, comforters who have helped us grow. Now each of us continues to navigate how to find our place in creation’s fold, while understanding that everyone around us is involved in the very same pursuit. Where do your gifts meet the needs of this community and the pressing needs of the world? What will you bring to the feast?
Perhaps now, at this time of transition in our church, is an apt time to recommit ourselves to God and to each other. When we recommit we affirm that we will continue to direct our energy toward our deepest convictions. Recommitting means examining why we made a commitment in the first place, courageously resisting any and all temptations to give up or give in, and reawakening the zeal and enthusiasm of our promises.
In one of her poems Mary Oliver asks, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Ever since Rev. Paula Norbert was selected to become our settled pastor I have been asked over and over again, by family and friends, by people in this church and by people in the garden club and other organizations and groups where over the past two years my attendance has been scarce to non-existent or my participation has been minimal, “What do you plan to do next?” And my answer is always the same, “I don’t know. I hadn’t really planned on doing this.” I know that I will no longer have the inspiring and awesome role of being your pastor and as of today I relinquish all of the duties, responsibilities and powers related to the position. I also know that God isn’t finished with me yet. And so I ask for your prayers that I along with you, remain open to the spirit to how we might each live with courage, compassion and sacrifice, or as I was challenged to do here when I was ordained, specifically where and how to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.
I’d like to end with a prayer by Lyn Cox that I’ve used in a previous worship service but one I think is especially meaningful today.
Come you accidental pilgrims, you members of our one strange herd, you who find yourself on a journey of surprise and wonder. Come you who emerge into this place as an act of liberation. Come you who seek a life of mindfulness and a place to test your thoughts. Come you who bring hearts of all kinds: heavy hearts, rusty hearts, hearts broken open in revelation, hearts full of love to share. Come you who seek courage, and you who have more courage than you realize. Come you who stand behind the curtain, gathering up the resources to claim your truth. Come you who have been in a bubble, you who are poised for transformation.
We begin our story again, gathering courage, love, mindfulness, and a sense of purpose. We gather as people of all ages, of different abilities, different backgrounds, and different perspectives. We share a covenant, a direction for our shared journey, and a commitment to encourage and challenge one another to spiritual growth.
This path will ask much from us. Let us move forward with love. Let us move forward with appreciation for one another. Let us move forward knowing we are not alone. Whoever you are, whatever your gifts, you are welcome to join this journey. Amen
On our journey we need a leader, we need each other and we need sustenance. Jesus has provided us with a banquet. We are invited to commune with each other in memory of him who gave himself fully teaching us how to live and establishing a faith community to support us as we follow his example. Come now to the table.