Joys of Membership

December 11, 2016 sermon
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor

Romans 12:3-16

Christmas is a time when many of us experience the joy of belonging. It’s a time when we gather with our family, and we do Christmasy things: We exchange gifts, we probably eat particular foods, and we have Christmas traditions.

Let me just ask you – how many of you have family Christmas Traditions? A particular meal – or decorations – or maybe ways of doing things? What are they? Good or bad – weird or not weird – what are they?

When I thought about this, I asked myself “What traditions do the Ulrichs – my extended family – really have?” I hate to say it, but the first thing that came to my mind was really kind of what you might call an unexpected thing. You would think our traditions would be things like – a Christmas prayer – or reading the Christmas story from the Bible – wouldn’t you?

But NO! The thing that came to my mind was: The Ulrich family guys vs. girls Nerf gun battle. Every year we fight a giant battle with Nerf Guns. And every year my Mom finds a way to act like she is randomly distributing the weapons when in reality she is ensuring that the girls get all the fast, accurate machine-gun weapons – while the guys get the Lame-o Dollar Store reject weapons. Here’s a picture from one year. I believe that was the year that the girls put on warpaint – and made their own fight-song – and had a photo-shoot – and got properly organized.

There is a staircase that goes down to my parents basement with a door to an outside deck halfway down. They lured us to the staircase, then got a mattress off a bed and pushed us all down the stairs using the mattress as a shield – very devious! Little did they know – while they were painting up, and singing their little song – we were making dozens of snowballs on the deck – and had a couple of guys hiding there. So once they “pushed us down” the stairs, we pretty much turned them into human snowmen. I think someone probably lost an eye in that one.

It’s one of those goofy Christmas Traditions. But it’s something that every member of the Ulrich family from the oldest to the youngest looks forward to, because it’s a reminder that you’re an Ulrich. Whether you want to be or not! It reminds us that we have a family. It reminds us of the joy of belonging – of having a place where you fit – where you’re known, and accepted and valued – and where you contribute to the whole. There’s joy in belonging.

Today I want us to talk about the joy of belonging – to a church. Today we are going to talk about the “Joy of Membership.” Here’s one reason for Joy: with this message, we finish our core training! No more Significant But Important issues! No more “John is nervous all week!” I for one, am relieved! I think it’s actually been really good for us: We’ve covered some very needful things about our beliefs – and our values – and difficult issues. But today – we finish!

Today we’re going to do two things:

  1.  Look at Romans 12:3-16 and see the call to belong.
  2. Joel Brown – who works with our finances – is going to come and talk to us about the joy of stewardship (notice I made Joel do the money!)

Here’s my prayer today: It is that as we talk about membership – that there won’t just be an external call to belong in the passage – but that the Holy Spirit will put a call in your heart to fully engage – to be a part of the Body that Christ is building right here at Perry Creek Church.

This is a passage that calls us to belong and describes for us what it is like to truly belong to a church. Paul says this:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.  – Romans 12: 3-16

The call to belong

The Biblical call to belong to – to be a functioning member of – a church. All Christians are called to do that. If you know your Bible really well, you might be asking “Is there really a verse that calls us to church membership? Is there a verse that calls us to sort of, sign on the dotted line – or transfer our letter, or something?” Let me say “No – you’re not going to find that verse.”

But Scripture does clearly call us to belong to and participate in a local church. That’s a call for all Christians. Discipleship isn’t just about believing – it’s about belonging. God calls each disciple to belong to a local church. Look at what the passage says:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others  – Romans 12: 3-5

There’s lots we could talk about there, but let’s just look at the big picture of what Paul’s saying. He’s saying “don’t think of yourself more highly than you should – RATHER think of yourselves as a member – a part – in the body of Christ.” The New Testament uses this metaphor of the “Body of Christ” to portray the church again and again. It’s used more than any other word picture – used here in Romans – in 1 Corinthians – in Ephesians – in Colossians. It’s really common. 1 Corinthians 12:13 tells us that when we believed – when we trusted Christ for salvation “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” When you become a believer, the Spirit transplants you into the body of Christ.

The Spirit knows just exactly where you are supposed to go and what you are supposed to do in that body. He’s got a special spot for you. It’s like Linda White’s house. If you’ve ever been there around Christmas, it’s beautiful! There’s so much to see. She has like, a thousand little knick-knacks – of every kind. Way more than I could notice. If you talk to Linda about them, she knows every one. Every one is intentionally placed. If you were to give her a new knick-knack, she would say “Oh, I know exactly where that one is supposed to go.”

Have you ever known anyone like that? Well, the Holy Spirit is like that. He knows the exact place in the body where you are supposed to fit. He has a special place for you. If you feel like you’re a little odd, so much the better! He knows right where you fit!

Here’s what the passage is saying: If you belong to Christ – if you are a believer – you are called to a particular place in his body: you have a place to be – and a job to do – and other believers to coordinate with.

Here’s the thing: To not think of yourself in that way – to not think of yourself as a member of the body – to not think of yourself as a small part of something bigger – is to think too highly of yourself. Right? If you think your spirituality is an end in itself – if you think that the point of your Christianity is you – how you are doing – the kind of teaching that feeds you – your doctrinal preferences – the worship style you like best – whether you feel good about your relationship to God – you’re thinking more highly of yourself than you ought. Because you are a member – and just a member – of the body of Christ. We have to think of ourselves that way.

This passage isn’t so much a call for us to become a member of the body of Christ. Rather, it’s a call to recognize the membership we already have. Each and every one of us that have trusted in Christ – already has an assigned place in a local church. You have that. And it’s your job to find that place, and take that role. So membership is not so much something we create. Rather, it’s something that each of us is called to discover.

Now having said that, let me just make some observations about the body that we are called to join – just three things about this body.

It is a body with a mission

This is not a passive body. I say that because I think sometimes when we think of the metaphor of Christ’s body – our attention can sort of turn inward – like our job is to find our place and just sort of sit there. Maybe take care of others who are already in the body, but mostly just to sit there.

I was thinking about it this week – and I wrestled with it – but I’ve just got to say it – I think there are some Christians out there who think that they are the backside – the rear end – of the body of Christ. There are a lot of places we could go with that, but what I mean is just that if you ask them “What is your job?” they would say “Well – I sit in a seat. That’s my job. I’m the backside.” And I just have to say “That’s not enough! This is a body with a mission!”

It’s the body of Christ. A big part of what that means is that this body is supposed to do the same things that his body did while he was on earth. When Jesus was here, he lived on mission. Scripture tells us that Jesus didn’t come to be served, but to serve. It tells us he came to seek and to save the lost – to preach the gospel to the poor – and to care for them. It tells us he came to help those who are weighed down with sickness, and pain, and the cares of life.

As the body of Christ, we have the same mission. We’re here to strengthen each other and serve the community. That’s why Paul uses all these active verbs in this passage. He talks about the members of Christ’s body serving – and teaching – and proclaiming – and administrating – and showing mercy.

That’s where a lot of the joy of membership is. It’s in our serving. There’s a reason that Kathy and Doug Starkey go to Mexico year after year. There’s a reason that Joel serves at the Rescue Mission – that Carol tutors Muslim students – that Jim Higgins serves at the prison. That reason isn’t just what it does for those they serve. That’s clearly a motivator, but that’s not the only one. It’s also because they have discovered the joy of serving. The joy of living their lives on mission.

It is a body that requires harmony

Like any body – the body of Christ is a body that requires harmony amongst its members if it’s going to function correctly. The various parts have to operate in harmony. Paul tells us this:

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. – Romans 12: 6-8

What Paul is saying there is lean into your gifting: Be yourself. Be the best version you can of the you that God made you to be. If you’re an arm, be a strong arm. If you’re an ear, be a really attentive ear. If you’re a gall-bladder, do whatever gall bladders do really well! Do Your part.

But then having said that, look at versus 9-16. Paul changes the focus from thinking about yourself to thinking about the other parts of the body. He calls us to harmonize with them – to consider them. Look at these verses. How many different ways can Paul say “Love one another?”

  • Verse 9 – “Love must be sincere”
  • Verse 10 – “be devoted to one another – honor one another”
  • Verse 13 – “share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality”
  • Verse 14 – Bless those who persecute you. And by the way, he’s talking about those in the church who persecute you!
  • Verse 15 – “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Hurt for them, when they hurt. Even if what hurts them wouldn’t hurt you. Mourn with those who mourn.
  • Verse 16 – He says it straight up: “Live in harmony.”

What Paul is saying here, in so many different ways is this: “Yes, be yourself. By all means, play the part that God is calling you to play; lean into that. But – play your part – in concert with the other parts. Live in harmony with them.”

This is the part that’s hard. This is the part that’s really tough about being in the body of Christ. Because the body of Christ is deliberately composed of parts that are different. We’re supposed to be different. We’re supposed to be. Read the passage. We work in different ways. Here’s the thing: People who don’t work like you, probably won’t think like you. And people who don’t think like you have the capacity to irritate you.

It’s so easy to irritate each other – with our personalities – with our different priorities – with our failures – with our differences. It’s so easy to irritate each other when we’re different. I guarantee you it will happen. We don’t even have to try. We’re gonna irritate each other as we work if we are different.

Different is God’s heart. It’s the way he wants things to be. This passage tells us that we lost the right to think only of ourselves as individuals – or even to think only of those who are like us – when we became believers. God placed us in a diverse body – and called us to have sincere love for one another – to honor one another above ourselves – to share with one another – to bless when we feel persecuted – to rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn – to live in harmony.

We have to live in forgiveness and service to one another. We have to. Nothing will kill the joy of membership quicker than disharmony in the body. This is a body that requires harmony.

The Body is the Church

I don’t want to belabor this point – we’ve already implied it – but it’s worth being clear about. The Body that Paul is talking about here is the universal church with it’s local expression in the Local Church. It’s the church. That is the thing that the Spirit baptizes every believer into. It’s in the Church that God has a place for each and every Christian to serve.

If you want to learn at BSF – or if you want to take a missions trip and serve with a Para-church ministry – or connect with a ministry like Zoweh outdoors – that’s great! God calls a lot of people to participate in those things. He might call you to do that. But he will definitely call you to be an invested part of a local church. He does that for every believer.

I’ve said it before, but the church really is special:

  • It’s the only organization that Jesus himself started
  • It’s the only organization that Jesus promised to build
  • The only one that Jesus organized with specific principles and positions
  • It’s the only one that Jesus promised victory to – he promised that not even the gates of hell would stand against the church

This is a call for each of us to belong – really belong – to a church.

  • To know the others in that church deeply
  • To be known by them and valued by them deeply
  • To bring your unique gifting – and experience – and perspective – and passion together.
  • To build something that’s bigger than you.

So that you can look back and say “I had a part in that.”

  • I helped send the gospel to Iran
  • I helped a family in the Perry Creek area have a Christmas
  • I helped represent Christ at River Bend Elementary
  • I helped build Josh Garcia – and Diane Stakoe’s faith – I had a part in that

That’s the joy that we are called to, when we are called to belong to the church. Now Joel is going to come – and he’s going to talk to us for just a few minutes about membership and stewardship. Really holistic stewardship – a perspective on stewardship that may be new to some of you. So, Joel – come share with us.