How many of you are into body building? Staying physically fit can be a struggle - especially as we age! Six or seven ago I began going to Curves a women's gym where clients go around a circuit of machines twice in thirty minutes. It's a quick workout, and seems to help my blood pressure and muscle tone. When Keith and I discovered biking vacations a year or so later, I added a few times on the recumbent bike at the Y to my exercise routine. Many of you know that I also practice yoga regularly - undoubtedly yoga has helped my back and spine, my blood pressure, and my spirit. As I said, I try to stay in reasonably good shape, because I am also an avid eater and some say ministry can be rather stressful.
But watching the Olympics this past week, I realize that I have no clue what body building really means. Could you believe the dismounts of those female gymnasts off the balance beam? Or the men whipping around on the pommel horse? Talk about washboard abs! What about those swimmers - Missy Franklin, Michael Phelps or Andrew Gemmel, grandson of our own member Nancy Gemmel? And who cannot help but notice the core strength of the women playing beach volleyball? Then there are the runners whose muscles bulge rhythmically as they sprint down the track or glide over hurdles. Their body fat must hover around 2-3%! Finally, did you see the weightlifters? One of their thighs is more than double the circumference of our own Susan Moseley - seriously. One of the TV ads this week presented various athletes confiding, "I haven't watched TV in over a year." "You know that bestseller? I haven't read it." You see, they have devoted themselves to getting in shape, and training, training, training in order to be the best they can be.
In our passage this morning, we hear an exhortation to lead a life worthy of our calling, by using our gifts, for the building up of the body, the body of Christ. The author, whether that be Paul, or one of his followers, identifies roles rather than gifts - that some should be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers - for the purpose of equipping every member for the work of ministry. In other words, (together), we are called to be the body of Christ in the world - running the race that is set before us with all the grace of a hurdler, passion of a sprinter, and the endurance of a marathon runner.
If you have watched any of this year's Olympics, you have undoubtedly seen several commercials for Blue Cross, comparing the human body to an idealized health care system. Showing a runner burst off the starting block and a swimmer slither effortlessly through the water, a voice says, "the human body is an amazing display of coordinated movement, wouldn't it be nice if our health care system worked this way?" Likewise, another ad focuses on a skateboarder, with the message, "the human body is a marvel of intertwined parts, wouldn't it be nice if your family doctors and specialists were as perfectly coordinated?"
Our Ephesians message sounds similar, "The body is One amazing organism comprised of many members, each doing their part, exercising their gift to enable the body to thrive. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the church worked this way?"
By the power of Christ's Spirit, it can and it does.
Hasn't God been showing us this? Westminster has been without its senior pastor, Greg Jones, for the past four months. Many of you wondered how we could do this, and I made it clear that I could not, and would not be preaching every week in addition to my regular duties. The Personnel Committee and Session helped us realize that with one of our key players missing, the other members of the body would need to compensate. While Greg was resting and getting revitalized, we needed to shift into a slightly higher gear. And we did - I preached only slightly more than usual. We heard wonderful sermons from our Pastoral Care Assistant, Jill Getty, and our Church Educator, Susan Moseley. We brought in other diverse and inspiring guest preachers, including Dr Larry Stratton, brother of member Barbara Stratton; Tom Stout, our presbytery moderator; and Jason Chesnut, a young Lutheran pastor from Wisconsin. And lest we forget, in April our youth led us in worship with four of our seniors preaching. In May, two Westminster choir members offered testimonies to the power of music in their faith, on the Sunday we also heard a gorgeous Bach cantata. In June, at least fourteen Westminster By Heart Storytellers presented Jesus' Sermon on the Mount from Matthew, which was reinforced with hymns and prayers. And just last Sunday, we sang our way through worship, experiencing the remarkable power of hymnody to uplift, convict, comfort, and inspire. Several of those who stood in before us might have said, "What? Me? A preacher?" and the Spirit answered, "Yes," stretching them to give voice to the presence of the Holy in their lives.
Moreover, our body not only experienced different preachers and sermons, we also heard new visions and voices in prayer. In the last few months at least six church members have offered the Prayers of the People, thanks to the nurturing help and guidance of elder Anne Gunn. Again, not only has the experience nudged these individuals out of their comfort zone, but their prayers have spoken fresh words to our hearts.
These are just some of the changes or team substitutions we have felt in worship, but there have been countless other ways we have shifted and compensated on a day-to-day basis, as we have had to adjust to the absence of our senior pastor Greg Jones, as well as his right-hand Camilla, who also plays an integral role in our ongoing life and ministry. As much as we think we cannot survive without Greg, or Paul, or Chad, or Jane Kline, or Dick Leonard, or ____ you fill in the name, we can. Even those we think we have lost are still with us, cheering us on, inspiring our efforts. For you see, Christ's body is dynamic - always changing and growing and expanding. Ultimately, the body is not dependent on any single person, but simply the ongoing power and presence of Christ.
And Christ blesses each one with particular gifts - of grace, patience, hospitality, organization, humor, prayer, gardening, listening, leading, teaching, planning, praying, giving, questioning, ... Gifts which when used together form a body that is both dynamic and powerful as well as caring and vulnerable. A body girded in love. Did you notice that love is the key? Our unity is grounded in Christ's love for the whole world. Only as we inhale this love (live out of this love), can we benefit from Christ's life coursing through our veins, faithfully and forever building up the body.
As the church we are called to be part of this living, pulsating body which exists to fill the entire universe with God's love. Thankfully, God has provided us resources - the wisdom of scripture, the power of prayer, the ongoing presence of the Spirit, and communion - the gift of one another. You see, at this table, Jesus brings us together, reminding us of our oneness - our common hunger for grace and truth, our mutual need for love and relationship.
Here at this table we acknowledge that we belong to each other. We are called together and given to each other - to befriend and support, to enjoy and encourage, to care for and comfort, to listen and learn from. As we pass the gifts of God's grace for each and every one of us, the bread and the cup, we are acknowledging that we are bound to one another in Christ. Silently we are saying, "As God will not stop loving me, I cannot stop loving you. As God forgave me, so I forgive you. As God accepts me, so I accept you."
An electric charge, that surging of the Holy Spirit, goes through the sanctuary as the great miracle of Christ's love is reenacted. Love that embraces us, and empowers us and equips us. The church is alive. Right here. Right now. May we take our place at the table, and be strengthened for our calling in the one body of Christ.
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We take your confidentiality seriously. Please know that only a pastor receives this information.