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New Membership...?

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class=MsoNormal style='margin-bottom:0cm;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none'>Heavenly Father, we thank you that you have created the church, that only together are we whole. May we, united in Christ, hear your love for your people. Amen 

For years, scientists have wondered how fire ants, whose bodies are denser than water, can survive floods that should destroy them.

How do entire colonies form themselves into life rafts that can float for weeks?

A Los Angeles Times article explained that engineers from the Georgia Institute of Technology discovered that tiny hairs on the ants’ bodies trap air bubbles.

This enables thousands of the insects, “which flounder and struggle in the water as individuals,” to ride out the flood when they cling together.

The New Testament speaks often of our need to be connected to other followers of Christ in order to survive and grow spiritually.

In Ephesians 4, Paul wrote, “We should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.”

He added, “But, speaking the truth in love, may [we] grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:14-16).

Alone, we sink; but clinging and growing together in the Lord, we can ride out every storm.[1]

I open with this wonderful story in nature because today we celebrate what membership means

            Today, you have already taken part in two very important services of the church

                        We have welcome new members into the family of God in the six Baptisms

We have also welcomed new members into this church – Farringdon Independent Church, New members to contribute and to receive from others – as we grow together in faith

The story is also relevant because the institution of the Church in Canada is under a storm cloud

For many churches it is a steady rain storm where the waters remain high and very slowly there is a decline in the role of the church, both in individual’s lives and influence in society

For other churches there are the cultural changes that threaten - especially in the face of the Word of God (The Bible) being a liberating force from the effect of the ebbs and flows of the world around it.

This is nothing new, of course, in the decades after Jesus launched the church, there was a series of bad emperors who let loose their fury on the new Christian movement.

The well-known book, The Robe, tells about it, centering its story in the year A.D. 95

When the emperor Domitian set about the task of annihilating the Christian church in its cradle stage.

He didn't succeed. In time, in fact, he came to marvel at the Christians and noted that they probably could never be extinguished because

"They have in them, a quality of the eternal." [2]

Christians hold to the truth that, the key to the church’s vitality today and every day is the risen Jesus Christ. 

And that is why we have in our readings today from Romans and from the Gospel of John, these declarations of the truth – the power of being born from above…born again

The Risen Christ gives gifts to his followers: the presence of the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, abundant life now and after death. 

But also fundamentally, the Risen Christ creates a new community

A new family, not based on blood or ethnicity, but based on the life of God in Christ Jesus.

This community is not a community centred around a concern for the environment, though they might share in the responsibility of its care. 

It is not a community centred around a love for a certain kind of music—be it organ/piano or drums and guitar

It is not a community centred around a fascination with 16th or 18th century rites, rituals and language. 

It is a community centred around the Risen Christ.

As a community centred around the Risen Christ it engages in certain activities on a day by day, week by week basis.

One commentator when asked about community and fellowship said that the word fellowship has lost the depth of its meaning for nowadays it means simply “refreshments.” 

Now as someone who enjoys consuming quantities juice and goodies, I am not going to say a bad word about refreshments. 

But we all know church coffee hours that are merely opportunities to commiserate on failure once again of the Leafs to make it to the playoffs;

Vital as solving that problem may be,

This is not ‘fellowship’ in the Biblical meaning. 

The Biblical meaning of fellowship has much more to do with sharing the ups and downs of the discipleship journey with one another.  

It is not easy to be a follower of Jesus Christ—it was countercultural in the 1st century just as it is in the 21st century. 

Recently a colleague of mine called and shared some of the challenges that she was facing, she said “tell me how I’m going to do this—this is too hard.” 

We talked; I offered some suggestions and affirmed the words of our Baptism, with God’s help, you can do it

That is fellowship—and that is what communities around the Risen Christ do.

It is my contention—and I am by no means the only person saying this—that if the Church returns to its original calling, to be a community centred around Jesus Christ, then we will be alright.[3]

People outside the church often have misunderstandings of what the church is and what the purpose of the church is

There is a common misconception that when the church speaks about ‘holiness’ and ‘righteousness’ that it means that the people that go to church already believe that they have achieved this

The Church is not a "repository of the saved,"

But what one commentator liked to call "a community of people, no better than anybody else, but who are trying to be the light of the world..."

That has been the case since the first twelve disciples.

They were ordinary men, not in the least like what they look in stained glass windows, but very human:

John with his temper, and Peter scared into wild swings of commitments, and Thomas lagging so far behind that he could hardly keep our Lord in sight.

And yet these men were very dear to Jesus, and he owed very much to them, as He himself told God,

Looking at them, while with eyes shining with gratitude [4]

We, as a community centered on the Risen Christ, read scripture based on that foundational premise

Our passage from Romans challenges to "remember our baptism"

That does not mean so much remembering the time and the place or who the sponsors were or who performed the sacrament.

It is a way of saying: Remember who you are; you have died to sin and now you live a new life in Jesus Christ.

It is a way of saying: Be who you are.

"Remember your baptism" also means… "Remember who you belong to."

In North America we are so enamored of our own individualism that we proudly claim that we are self-made,

Have pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and don't owe anything to anyone.

For St. Paul and his readers that would not have made any sense.

Everyone belongs to someone or something.

To put it even more strongly, everyone is servant or slave to someone or something.

            In the words of a Bob Dylan song:

You may be a business man or some high degree thief

They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief.

You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame

You may be living in another country under another name.

            But you're gonna have to serve somebody…Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you're gonna have to serve somebody [5]

Therefore St. Paul has timelessly wrote: Paraphrasing verse 6, ‘Before baptism we were slaves to sin’

After baptism we are "dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." (Romans 6:11) [6]

So today as we celebrate New Membership, into the Family of God and into this very church

As we remember who we belong to …that we are a community centered around the Risen Christ

Remember that even in a time of great persecution, with a Roman emperor who was granted unbelievable authority, that even he couldn’t complete the job of persecution

      Because we Christians, by the power of the Holy Spirit, have in us, a quality of the eternal

Remember in times of celebration like today, and times of struggle, remember the words of our Baptismal promise I will, with God’s help

And remember that, like the fire ants - Alone, we sink; but clinging and growing together in the Lord, we can ride out every storm!

            Thanks BE to God – Alleluia and Amen


----

[1] Our Daily Bread – Stick together - April 14th 2012

[2] Illustration Sourcebook III # 2883 - ETERNAL LIFE, EARLY CHRISTIANITY

[3] From Sermon by Rev Renee Desjardin titled “The Church

[4] Illustration Sourcebook III # 2231 - HUMANNESS, COMMUNITY, CHURCH— Arthur J. Gossip

[5] Bob Dylan – “Gotta Serve Somebody”

[6] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=6/22/2008&tab=3

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