Sermon for Sunday, October 7, 2012

Philippians 1:15-30

“Striving Side By Side: What Destroys Relationships & What Builds Relationships”

Today is the fourth sermon in a seven-week series on 40 Days Of Community examining how community can be inspired and nurtured within our congregation and beyond into the neighborhood.

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

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*By almost anyone’s standards, the Apostle Paul struggled to be “in community” with others.  He struggled to be “in community” with the Roman officials, who took his preaching as an affront to the absolute and tyrannical rule of Caesar.  He struggled to be “in community” with his sisters and brothers who were part of the founding church in Jerusalem, as they saw him expanding the faith far beyond the borders of their Jewish roots.  He even struggled to be “in community” with the churches he founded himself, as they matured and grew in ways he did not plan nor with which he agreed!

Paul obviously had not watched the movie *“Stand By Me.”  How many of you remember that “coming of age” movie from the mid 1980’s about a group of friends, young boys, who set out on a journey to find the body of one of their classmates who had been reported missing and dead?  The movie is far less about the object of their search and more about the boys discovering who each other is and who they are in community.  *They take the old maxim Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno or “One for all, all for one” to heart. That phrase is known as being the motto of Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers and is also the traditional motto of Switzerland.

One for all, and all for one.  Stand by me.  Those work for movies and songs, *but is it really possible to live those ideas out in community?  Is solidarity, mutuality, trust, respect, and most of all the communication needed to do all those things really possible “in community?”  Scripture seems to think so.

One of the scriptures I invite you to look at this week is from *Ecclesiastes 4. Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one.  A threefold cord is not quickly broken.

This led me to remember the old *fable of the elderly Chinese emperor who was failing in health and his three sons.  On his deathbed, he summoned his sons in, asking them to each *bring him two sticks.  When they had gathered by his side, he asked each one in turn to break his stick, which each young man did.  Then he told them to *bind all three with rope.  One at a time, he asked the men to try to break the bound sticks.  None could do so.  “So it must be with you three, for apart you are weak, but together your are stronger, and ever more shall be.”

What is the secret, though, to this sense of solidarity, togetherness, and unity, and why is it so evasive in human community, whether it be nation, neighborhood, church, or any other community?

*Well, turning to today’s scripture, we get a clear indication of one central facet of unity.  It is a love that comes through sacrifice.  First Paul sets out the clear expectation that those who follow Christ, who seek to live in the way of Christ, are expected to work together, when he writes, “Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, *I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel,” or in the words of *The Message, “Stand united, singular in vision, contending for people’s trust in the Message, the good news”

And then the Apostle tells us how to do this.  *Now listen carefully to his language: And this is God’s doing.  For God has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.  *Did you hear that?  God has granted us the privilege of suffering for him!  *The Message reads, There’s also suffering for Christ.  And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting.

Suffering as gift and privilege… Though it may not make sense in our head, I believe this perspective rings true in our experience.  The best way, no, indeed, the only way to truly be bound together in community is to be willing to suffer with, sacrifice for, and be of service to those with whom we claim to be in community.

*It reminds me of the story of Barrington Bunny that I learned as a teenager by Martin Bell.  It is in his book, The Way Of The Wolf: The Gospel In New Images.  I won’t tell the entire story, although it is exquisitely beautiful, but in short, it is the story of a bunny who is striving desperately to find community.  Every other animal in the forest has some kind of community in which to belong except Barrington.  Then a fierce winter storm comes, and as Barrington is trying to get to his hole, he comes across a baby field mouse separated from his family.  Barrington decides to forego trying to get home, and instead curls up around the small mouse.  In the morning, when the storm has passed, the mouse family discover their little one alive, warm, and well curled up in the embrace of a dead bunny.  Barrington discovered community by sacrificing himself to save another’s life.  The story sounds familiar, does it not?

*Sisters and brothers, we are called to be in community with one another.  We are called to be in community with those who enter our doors on Sunday, during the week, and those who walk by them.  We are called to be in community with those who look and act and laugh and love like us, and those who don’t.  We are called to be in community with those in this neighborhood, Cleveland’s Artisan Neighborhood, as well as those call it The Near West Side and those in the Hough, Fairfax, Solon, North Ridgeville, and beyond.  And we must stand by one another, be united with one another, be one for all and all for one.  But we cannot do so assuming uniformity is the secret, or even a common purpose being the solution.  It will be shared sacrifice.  I do not expect that to mean, like it did for Barrington and for our Savior, that we will give our lives in order to save another, but I cannot promise that.  All I know is that to be fully, completely, and whole heartedly committed to community, we must be willing to sacrifice, to give of ourselves in significant ways.  Will you be willing to?  Will I?  Will we?

*As we continue our 40 Days Of Community I would invite you to do several things:

1.      Write down your joys and celebrations of community on the special paper provided and put it in the wishing well up front.

2.      We have begun collecting ideas for a big communal service project.  In the chapel you will find post-it notes and sharpie markers to write your ideas for service projects down and post them on the newsprint pad.

3.      If you would like to join a small group, there is still time.  There is always time!  Please sign up on the newsprint pad also in the chapel.

*The theme of our Daily Devotions this week is: “We’re Chosen To Fellowship Together”

*The topic for our Small Groups is: “Belonging Together” and continues our look at 1 Corinthians 13 as well as Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

*The Memory Verse for the week is: “Since we are all one body in Christ, we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others.”

God’s Blessings Be With Everyone!