“Gather Us In” 09/07/2014 by Rev. Stacy Swain (Click on title for audio)

1 Cor 12:12-27 and Matthew 18: 15-20

Praise God we are gathered again! Praise God that we have traversed that rocky terrain between summer and the start of another year. Praise God, the kids are back at school and we are back at church.

That is not to say, I did not love summer. I did, tremendously. And while it continues to feel odd to me that we do not have regular Sunday morning worship here during the summer, if I am perfectly honest, I have to say, it also felt rather nice. For like many of you, I have spent most of my life either being in church on Sunday morning or feeling rather guilty for not being there. And certainly these last 4 years as your pastor, have made a regular church goer of me.

So I found it rather freeing this summer to have Sunday wide open. And there is something to be said for going grocery shopping on Sunday morning when there are no lines at the registers. Or heading to Wingarsheek beach not having to worry that the parking lots may be closed. There is something to be said for sitting on the porch on Sunday morning leisurely reading the paper and greeting the neighbors as they take their dogs out for a walk.

Summer Sundays afforded me the freedom to do whatever I wanted and I have to assume many of you enjoyed this freedom as well?


So why come back? I had to! But you didn’t. What is it that brought you through these doors this morning? And what is it that bring you back next week and the week after that? Don’t get me wrong, I am delighted that you are here! But I invite you consider, what is it that brings you here. What are looking for? What are you finding? Jesus says when two or more are gathered in his name, he is there. That love is present. Could that be part of it why you are here and not so many other places this morning?

This week, I spent time wondering about that question and thinking about all of the various ways of thinking about church, or metaphors for church.

One of the very earliest images of the church, was that of a boat. A simple fishing boat with the mast as the sign of the cross. The early followers of Jesus in the time of persecution used this image cloaked way to identify themselves one to another. And what a perfect image for church really. Church as a boat, a place that will carry you to safety in the turbulent and tumultuous waters of our time. It was a boat/ an arch that carried a remnant of creation during the time of the flood.

And one of my favorite stories in the New Testament is when a storm whips up the waters as the disciples are in a boat with Jesus asleep in the stern, and the terrified disciples wake up Jesus and he calms the waters. Perhaps some of us feel that calming effect of this place. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the beams or this church ceiling bear a striking resemblance to the ribs of a boat. Perhaps we too feel safely carried here, held somehow while the tumultuous storms of the world rage around us. Perhaps that is why we are here.

A much more recent image of church that I often hear, is that church is a kind of service or filling station, where you pull up once a week and fill your tank so that you don’t run out of gas in your travels throughout the week. I kind of like that one too. I have always said that I hope that every time you leave this church, whether it is after worship or book group or Java gents or whatever, that you feel more filled-up than when you entered. So a gas station/ a full service filling station as church. Perhaps that is why you come.

But the image, metaphor that I would invite us to consider today and use as a guiding image this year is that which Paul uses in the letter to the church in Corinth that Frank read for us today, and that is the church as a body, the body. In fact the theme of our all church retreat, which is coming up in November, is “Body Building” and we are going to take this scripture from Corinthians and play with what it is to be the body of Christ and how we are to build it up. It should be a lot of fun. I hope everyone can come.

What I believe is happening every we gather is that we are being gathered into the body of Christ. Paul uses the metaphor of a physical body to help the church understand that each and very person is making the body whole by his or her presence. Church at its best is an experience of being part of a greater whole, an experience of deep connection with each other and with God. At the beginning of the service I extend a word of welcome to you, not because it is the kind and polite thing to do, but because truly the body is more complete, is build up when you are here. Literally, if Judy were not here today, something of this body’s heart would be missing. Or if Kent were not here today, this body’s vision would be dimmer.

With every smile, embrace, and hand shake as the peace is passed, as we welcome new people among us and as we are fed at the communion table — we are gathered in again, restored again as the body of Christ. Knit together by the connective tissue of God’s love and animated by the Holy Spirit coursing through us, enliving us, and giving us breath.

But we don’t stop there. Gathering together of the body, committing to each other and to God to love and support each other in this walk of discipleship (like we did just a few minutes ago when we welcomed Amy and Karen among us) is the first movement of church. The second is transformation. When we are one, one body, with the love of God holding us one to another, and the Holy Spirit coursing through us we are changed.

We feel, even if for a fleeting moment, the joy and freedom of being just who we are meant to be. Wonderful and fearfully made, with gifts to give that only we can bring. Maybe for a moment, we can feel whole, enough, loved, that we belong and that our lives matter for we are truly contributing to the wholeness of those around us. This is true freedom. The freedom for which we were made – to live fully alive as who we are – blessed and beloved and part of all.

In Romans 12, another scripture we will use at the retreat, Paul says “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed.” Be transformed! When we give our whole selves, we are really present to each other and to God, when we really take up our place in this Body of Christ, we will be transformed.

Scripture says that Jesus comes to give us life and give it with abundance and Jesus’ prayer for us, according to the Gospel of John, is so that God’s joy may be made complete in us. Our “job” as church, so to speak is not just to be a ship of safety, not just to be a filling station, but to be Christ’s body, walking in the world as Jesus walked in the world touching and healing, feeding and comforting, speaking good news to the oppressed and setting the captives free. And Lord knows there are lots of people and places out there in the world where people are hungry and hurting and oppressed and imprisoned. Lots of people and places out there that really could use some good news.

So yes! Gather us in lord that we may be restored. And restore us Lord, so that we may be transformed. And transform us Lord so that we may join you as your hands and feet, and lips and heart in the transformation of the world.

Sound like a lot to ask? Sound like pretty high expectations for what we are doing here and what God can be doing through us? It is!, and it ought to be. Church is and ought to be the Body of Christ in the world, and when you and I come together that body is being constituted through our very being. No wonder we are here! No wonder we’d rather be here than at the grocery store or the beach or on our front porches.

So welcome back, welcome home, welcome to your place within this Body. May we be gathered in. May we feel the transformative power of being wholly a part of the body of Christ. And may we through the love of God, and the fellowship with all our brothers and sisters of faith, be God’s hands and feet, and heart and mind working for the healing and transformation of all the world. This is our work. This is our church.