1 Corinthians 12:12-20
Last week we began this sermon series where we are taking a look at the vows we take as members or disciples of our local church community. We began by looking at prayer, and we saw how when we make a commitment to pray we make a commitment to keep the people and ministries of our congregation on our hearts and minds at all times and we commit to a deep relationship with God through conversation with him.
Now as we move on we look at the next part of that same vow we observed last week. This week we look at…“As members of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by…your presence…?” (http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/new-membership-vows-and-ritual-revised-and-corrected)
The church is a community for a reason. That is because we gather together as the church. Whether you want to believe it or not our commitment to a church, any church, has a large basis on our presence, on our physically being somewhere and attentive to what is happening and active in that situation.
Last week we in our focus on prayer talked about spiritual support by how we are praying for our church. However, our commitment to church cannot and should not be maintained at such a personal level, because God created us to be in our local community of believers.
To commit our presence to the church means that we will be there…and be supportive and active, and yes that means going to worship services, serving on committees, attending bible study, and all the sorts of other things that happen in the life of the church. Why? Because within our Christian context we are stronger as a group. Within the community we are stronger because we can lift each other up, support each other, teach each other, and learn from each other. That does’t happen when we try and go about this journey alone. So yes part of this commitment is that we are faithfully attending church and we are attentive to what is happening and active while we are there.
Now, a little disclaimer, I always said I never wanted to be one of those pastors who annoyed people and guilted them into attending church, because I know annoying and guilting people doesn’t work. However, I am here to encourage you to be an active participant within this community. I hope you are encouraged as to what your presence in this community means and how important your presence is. Therefore, I’m not gonna stand here and tell you that you need to be here or you need to pay attention, but I will tell you what you can get out of being here and participating.
So lets look at what it means to faithfully participate in the church with your presence.
The question we ask is “Why?” Why should we be here? What is the point of coming to church? Why is activity important? Why can’t I stay home? Or why is it more important for me to be here and present than doing something else on a Sunday morning?
It is important because of what we offer to God and what we in turn get out of participating in worship.
Let’s start with the first aspect of that. What we offer to God.
In our presence here in church we offer ourselves to God. We offer our praise and worship to God. We begin by saying that God is worth our time and that we are not seeking to put anything before God in our lives. Therefore, our worship and our action and activity in our congregations says to God that we are not only willing to take that first step, but we want to continue walking and journeying along. When we neglect our presence within our community we neglect that God is as an important part of our lives as we could seek to make him.
This is also important because participating with our presence also benefits us. Our participation in the community helps us to grow, mature, and strengthen in our relationship with God and with others. However, when we neglect this commitment we can strain the relationship we have within the church, and can prevent our learning and growing in faith. Bottom line is that we need each other.
See how it is phrased at the end of our Hebrews passage:
“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb. 10:24-25)
Church community is about encouragement and our presence in that community is about our participation and reception of that encouragement. Without the community we can suffer and lag as a Christian. Not because we are unfaithful, don’t study, or any other number of reasons, but because of the importance God places on the community as a means of spiritual growth. We read in Genesis when God creates man that man was lonely and it was not good, so God created woman so man could have a companion (Gen 2). Even Jesus’ surrounding himself with disciples is a sign of how ministry is done with other people and is not a solo venture. We lift each other up when we are with one another. Whether you are an extrovert or an introvert.
As I read some material in preparing for this sermon I came across this story about Dwight Moody who was an Evangelist in the late 1800’s. The story goes:
“It is said that one cold and gloomy day, Dwight L. Moody visited a man who had expressed some interest at one of Moody’s meetings. Moody was ushered into a comfortable room with a fire blazing on the hearth. After some gracious preliminary conversation, the man began to argue that it was possible for a person to be a Christian without participating in the life of the church. As he made his elaborate and detailed arguments, Moody leaned forward in his chair, took the poker and pulled a flaming coal from the fire out onto the stone hearth. Moody watched as the coal slowly dimmed and went out. He then turned and looked at the man, without saying anything. After a long pause, the man said, ‘Mr. Moody, you have made your point!’” (http://3story.org/daily-bide/the-body)
The reason this speaks so deeply is because we want church to be so easy that we can just sit at home in our PJ’s sipping some coffee or tea and do it at our own leisure, but the fact is that without other people we can struggle to keep our flame lit. It is that concept of community that drives our continued faith journey. It is the fact that we have to make sacrifices to be at church.
When we commit our presence we are saying that we want to be a part of community. We want to be an active participant. We are saying that we will make it to church, that we will be part of a small group or study group, and that we will be present in the ministries of the church.
Our activity and participation in the church is the essential basis of how we grow together and we make people feel welcome. Listen to this from the Indiana Conference:
“Our promise to support the church by our “presence” is a part of our effort to offer “Radical Hospitality” to all persons. My promise of “presence” is not fulfilled just by my showing up at the church; no I am promising to make our church a place where everyone’s presence is invited, expected, and welcomed.” (http://www.inumc.org/postdetail/171252)
I also found this description on a church website for Wedgwood UMC in Akron, Oh about this membership vow of presence. The church writes:
“Our vow of presence does not mean saying yes to every request for service or taking on tasks and roles that we cannot do. It does mean offering our time and energy in large and small ways that help us grow spiritually and that add value to the congregation, the community, and the world…” (http://www.wedgewoodumc.org/membership.html)
Here is another description from a blog that I found:
“Presence is an invitation to be exposed to the teachings of Christ and the church that impact and shape values, priorities, desires, expectations, and life direction. Together we are stronger than we are apart.” (http://doroteos2.com/2009/02/01/the-big-five/)
The main point is that last point of that one, that we are stronger together. This is embodied in our second scripture we heard read this morning. The Church is about being the body of Christ. As we look at our 1 Corinthians 12 we continue to understand the importance of each person who is a part of a congregation. Your presence is important as part of the body of Christ because together we make up the body of Christ. Paul writes:
“Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many…But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body.” (1 Corinthians 12:14, 18-20)
Most times we look at this we often think that this is Paul saying that God calls different people to the church. We all have different roles, and that is true. However, I invite you to look at it from another angle today. As you read this passage see it that God is calling you to be a part of that body. Do not allow intimidation to get in the way, but fully commit to being present within your local church.
Your presence means that you are honoring God and growing in your own faith journey as well. I’m not going to get on you and get angry when you don’t come to church, because I know there are often extenuating circumstances. However, I will tell you that when you miss church you miss out on an opportunity of community and an opportunity of spiritual growth.
When you are looking at you schedule of what is going on in your life make church the standard. Make church the thing that cant be changed or pushed aside. Allow it ministries to take the “busy”spot that cant be changed in your calendar.
I’m not saying it will be easy, but we are called, not only through our membership vows but by God, to be active participants in our Christian communities. When you allow yourself to be an active participant in a church, to be at worship, to be active in it’s missions, to be active in a small group or study group, to really be a part of church you allow God to work in you through this community.
*All Bible verses used are New Revised Standard Version