Wired for Community

Part 4 of 4 in our Wired sermon series

I am a self-made man.

Nobody has ever helped me. Why just this morning, I cooked two eggs and bacon for breakfast from chickens that I raised and a pig that I butchered myself. I cooked it in a pan that I made from steel that I forged on my own. I put on shoes that I sewed together from the skin of that same pig I got the bacon from, and then I laced them up from cotton I grew in my backyard that I harvested and spun into thread. I walked to the church on streets that I paved myself and a sidewalk I formed by laying down concrete that I mixed on my own. I crossed the street at the stoplight I installed using electrical wires that I laid down and hooked up to the power plant that I constructed on my own and operate by myself. I did this because I taught myself everything I know without anyone ever helping me. Yes, sir, I am a self-made man.

We all know that isn’t true.

Nobody could do all those things without help from somebody. How would I have been able to cook my own meals as a baby, let alone as a full-grown man without somebody somewhere helping me? How often when we bother to give thanks for our meal stop to think about the farmer who grew the vegetables on our plate or the fieldworker who spent time picking each one? How often do we think of the people in the packing plant who put the vegetables into boxes and the truck drivers who take it to market? How often do we give thanks for the army of people who make it possible for our lives to keep moving forward? Probably not very often. In our political rhetoric today, we often hear about “those people.” Whether “those people” are Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, Christians or Muslims – there always seems to be a “those people.” But the truth is, there isn’t any “those people.” There’s just us.

We are meant to be together.

Amy Banks, a doctor and an instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School said, “Neuroscience is confirming that our nervous systems want us to connect with other human beings.”[1] The evidence certainly seems to indicate that is true. There was a study done on metastatic breast cancer patients back in 1989 where one group was placed in a supportive group environment and the other was given the standard care all patients received and what they found was that those placed in a supportive environment lived twice as long! Twice! There are tangible benefits of being part of a community. We talked last week about the children left in Romanian state care and how that sadly affected their lives, but there was also a study done with monkeys where they placed two “substitute mothers” in with them. One was a wire mother and one was cloth mother. The wire mother had a bottle to feed the monkeys and the cloth mother did not. Yet the monkeys preferred spending time with the cloth mother despite the fact that the wire mother had food. Sadly, these monkeys – with no real mother to care for them – developed autistic tendencies just like the Romanian children did. There is more to life than just things like food, water, and air. As important as those are, living in community is just as important as these studies keep showing us.

Our community of faith at Palm UMC
Our community of faith at Palm UMC

That’s because God wired us for community.

Without community we cannot be the people God created us to be. But more than that, we need community because none of us are completely self-sufficient. We need others to help us. Not just with our physical needs, but our emotional and intellectual needs, too. We provide pieces of the puzzle to life that no one of us has by ourselves. And that’s how Paul described it in his letter to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 12:12-20). He talked about us being the body of Christ together and despite our protests otherwise, we cannot ignore that fact.

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

Red Dragon - The lead configuration of Getter Robo G
Red Dragon – The lead configuration of Getter Robo G

When I read Paul’s letter, I can’t help but think about Getter Robo G.

When I was a kid I remember watching this show about three pilots who all helmed different vehicles. Together they could form different giant robots and could take on the bad guys as one.  When they acted in unison, they could triumph against any situation.  Separately, they were not nearly as effective.  That’s the image that comes to mind for me when I read this passage. That we are like this team of pilots. When we work together we can do amazing things, but separately we just are not as effective.  Sometimes I wonder if we aren’t the cause of many of our own problems because we like to go it alone.  Because so many of us fail to join in community.

It makes sense though, that we are formed for community.

After all we worship a God who is a community all by himself. God the Father. God the Son. God the Holy Spirit. Together but distinct. We refer to the Holy Trinity as the 3-in-1. And if we believe that we are formed in God’s image like it says in Genesis, it wouldn’t be a stretch to also believe that we are made to live in community like God does. God seems to reward being in community. In our passage from Ecclesiastes, Solomon extols the virtues of supporting one another. Jesus told us that anytime two or three are gathered in his name he is there. And the writer of Hebrews encourages us to come together regularly to build one another up and support each other in our faith. Even if you didn’t believe a word of the Bible, the scientific evidence also points the same way. Community is our natural state. Community is our natural state.

John Donne once penned a famous writing called Meditation XVII.

I’ve shared this with you before, but I thought it was so poignant that it needed to be said again. He wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”[2] Because we are all connected, when something happens to one of us, in a sense it happens to all of us. When any of us are diminished, whether it be by death or loss or persecution, it takes away from all we could be.[3] No man is an island. We are all part of the main. Or as we might say in the language of faith, we are all part of the body of Christ. God made us that way. All with different gifts, but united in the Spirit. Watching the news, listening to the radio, reading articles on the Internet or in print, it has become obvious we are less and less willing to live in community. In some bizarre way we are not willing to compromise. We are not willing to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. Instead, we dig a trench. We jump in. And we refuse to budge. But that is not how we were created. We were not meant to be divided. We are meant to find a way to live together in community so that we can make each other better people. We are meant to find a way to live in community so we can learn and grow from each other. We were not meant to be as divisive and divided as we are quickly becoming. And just as we would not be able to easily just cut off our hand or leg or any body part, we should also treat our brothers and sisters in Christ with honor and love and grace. Instead of continuing to fracture ourselves based on our own personal likes and dislikes, interpretations and understandings, we should find ways to keep coming back to the table that represents what Christ gave for us all. We say we believe in open hearts, open minds, and open doors. Let’s put that into practice instead of making it a slogan.

We are all wired by God who does this to help draw us closer to him
We are all wired by God who does this to help draw us closer to him

God wired humanity a specific way.

The reason we’ve been talking about this all month is because I hope you will see that all of those impulses, all of those deep desires, all of those longings of the heart – for relationships, for love, for meaning, even for God – are because that’s how God made you. One of the most profound questions in life is “Who am I?” And the answer is the person God made you. You are the person God made you. Like it says in Psalm 139, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” But you are also shaped by your beliefs, your environment, the people around you and sometimes those things are not very nice. Sometimes those things turn us away from seeing God or distracting us from a meaningful chance to know God. And when that happens we are less than what God intended for us to be. The world can be a harsh place. Not because of God but because of us. But these cravings of the human spirit were always meant to bring us back to him. That’s why we linger on them so much. That’s why we wonder about the meaning of life and if there is a purpose and if there is a God. Because God created us in such a way that no matter how far away you are from him in your spiritual life, there will always be a door open for you to come back, if you decide to pursue it. If you already have a deep faith in Christ, then I hope our series made you think more about the incredible way God put us together and give thanks to Him for loving us so much that he would think about these things long before we ever did. And if you have doubts about God and where he is in your life, I hope you will decide to pursue it. I hope you will take the time to find out if it was God who really made you this way. I think you’ll be astonished by what you find. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] All of the examples in this section come from the article: http://www.theunlost.com/relationships/science-confirms-love-is-all-you-need-except-for-food-stuff/

[2] http://www.online-literature.com/donne/409/

[3] http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/for-whom-the-bell-tolls.html

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