Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Message: Invite the children to enjoy “s’mores” around the campfire. Just
give them each a marshmallow. To make a real s’more, need chocolate, graham
crackers, and toasted marshmallow … need real fire. Lesson: to be a real
church, we need all different kinds of people.]
Opening: How many of you went to summer camp? Boy Scout camp? Girl Scout camp? Horseback
camp? Wilderness camp? Christian camp?
My guess is that no matter what type
of camp you went to, or even if you never went to camp but went camping with
your family, at some point you gathered around a campfire. Campfire is the
quintessential camp activity. Gathered around the campfire, you probably sang
songs, shared stories. There is something about the flickering and crackling
flames that transport us into a different state of mind. There is something mesmerizing,
even hypnotic about those dancing tongues of fire. As you warm by the fire, you
may feel a sense of peace … or calm. As you look around at the faces glowing
yellow and orange, you may feel a strong sense of community.
My most vivid recollections of
campfires spring forth from my years at the Christian Youth Conference right
down the road at Oceanwood in Ocean Park. The songs that we are singing this
morning are songs that we sang around those campfires. At those campfires, the
members of the conference staff as well as the campers shared in the
leadership. They selected the scripture readings, and they shared personal
stories of their faith journeys.
The Youth Conference concluded with
Commitment Night. It was a worship service at which every participant … youth
and adult … was asked to consider what commitment they would make to deepen
their faith, or their commitment to their churches or their communities. After
the service, we processed to the campfire at which we once again sang our
favorite songs. But this time, our gaze into the flames assumed a deeper
meaning. As we gathered in that community, people were invited to share … if
they felt comfortable doing so … the commitments that they had made earlier in
Listening to those personal testimonials
was a very powerful experience. There was a connection and an intimacy in that
circle. It was at those campfires that I began to consider my place in the life
of the church. You could even say that those campfires played a significant
role in bringing me to this point today.
As I contemplated this morning’s
service, and what scripture passage we would use, I reflected on those
campfires. I selected the passage from First Corinthians because of Paul’s description
of what it means to be in Christian community with one another.
Paul spoke of a community as a body,
one in which everyone was important. He would have scoffed at the notion of a
church in which the paid staff bore all of the responsibility for leading the
congregation. Thankfully, this church family is blessed with strong lay
leadership. You willingly share the gifts that you possess with one another.
In this letter, Paul was confronting
a church community that was being threatened by deepening division. There were
those who believed that they were better than the others or held a special
place within the community. So, he employed this image for them. It is a
passage with which we are all familiar. It is also metaphor that was familiar
to the people of his day.
The “body” was an illustration that
was used frequently to describe civic, social and political life. However, in
those models, some argued that some parts of the body were more important. For
example, the head was more important than the pinky toe. Those social and
political thinkers used the body metaphor to help the uneducated masses
understand how systems and organizations functioned.
However, Paul turned this metaphor
on its head! He instructed that ALL members of the body were equally important.
When he wrote this, he had Genesis 1
and 2 in mind. The Creation Story. God created human beings in the Divine
Image. Human beings are created in God’s own image. The Paul made the connection
that the church is to be the place where, together, we learn how to be God’s
genuinely human beings, worshipping God and reflecting God in the world.
He was essentially saying, “You have
heard of those other ‘bodies’ but this is a whole new thing, a whole new body,
designed by God, in God’s image, to reflect God in the world.”
As I said, some of the early
Christians believed that they held a higher status than others. Some of them
who had closer connections with the first disciples, perhaps even knew the
disciples personally, claimed to have a special status. They believed hat their
relationship with the disciples set them apart … above … the rest.
There were others who had converted
to the Way of Christ from Judaism. They believed that they were in a special
class in relation to those Gentiles that had chosen to follow the Way.
And there were also those who
distinguished between the types of baptism. They believed that some baptisms
were not valid, or were somehow inferior, and therefor held those who had been
baptized in that fashion in low regard.
Paul warned against the corrosive
damage and the danger of one Christian looking down upon another. He said that
we are all baptized in the same Spirit, no matter which method of baptism we
received. He said that there are NOT super Christians, or superior Christians
leaving the “average” Christians behind.
He said that ALL members of the
fellowship are important. Paul wanted every member of the church to value every
other member. No one is disposable. No one is more significant than the other.
ALL are one. We are all connected in the one body, just as God designed it.
When one suffers, we all suffer. When one is exalted, all are exalted.
The first four words in the Bible
are, “In the beginning, God …” Not “In the beginning, Scott …” Or, “In the
beginning, Sue, or Sandy, or Shaun, or Steve.” Not, “In the beginning, Bonnie,
or Bob, or Barbara, or Brad.”
In the beginning, God.
When one begins to think that the
church about US or THEM, or US versus THEM, we get into serious trouble. That
can lead to church members acting as if they are in competition with one
another, or even conflict with one another. It can lead to church members, or
church committees believing that their function, or their responsibilities are
more important than others.
It can lead to “silo” mentality, one
in which the church functions more like ten, or twelve, or twenty separate
organizations functioning in parallel but independent of one another. “We are
‘this’ committee, and you are ‘that’ committee. This belongs to us, and that
belongs to you.”
That does not resemble or reflect
the image of God.
When I was a younger man, I was very
competitive. (Actually, I am still competitive. I just do a better job
controlling it now that I am older and wiser.) Back in the day, I belonged to a
church that presented an annual “Moderator’s Award” to a member that had
distinguished themselves during the previous year. Being competitive, I took
the award to heart. I rose to the challenge. Or … I tried. Every year, I would
“compete” for the recognition. I would volunteer for everything. I was always
at the church. I was a youth advisor, and a Deacon, and on the Property
Committee. And yet … I never received the Moderator’s Award.
And what was the result? It made me
resent the moderator. It made me resent the recipients of the award. It made me
think more highly of myself than I ought. I will say that I never shared those
feelings with anyone. I kept them hidden from the other church members. I
always supported those individuals that received that recognition and the
award. However, that kernel of resentment was still there. It was shameful, and
I am embarrassed about it.
Paul’s lesson was more than just a
reminder to practice humility. The lesson has a broader message. It was written
to the church in Corinth and was a reminder to the members of that congregation
that they are ALL parts of the one body. But it was also a lesson to the wider
church. There is a temptation to look down upon other congregations, to think
less of other churches. There is a temptation for congregations to pat
themselves on the backs and say, “Look at us! Are we not the best?! Are we not
the most pious?! The most righteous?!”
In the beginning, God.
God loved. God created.
We are intended to reflect that to
We are God’s people. We are God’s
body. We are one with God and with one another. Amen.
Congregational ChurchUCC, SACO MAINE12 BEACH STREET | SACO, ME 04072207-283-3771