The Brain and the church have a common goal.
We are both trying to take over the world. Pinky and the Brain was an animated television show back in 1995 and it featured two laboratory mice who cook up a new scheme every episode to conquer the planet. The show opened the same way every time. Pinky would ask, “Gee, Brain. What are we going to do tonight?” And Brain would respond, “The same thing we do every night, Pinky – try to take over the world!” So, we have that in common. We just plan do to do it differently.
Our hope and our goal is to win over the world with the love of Christ.
But that’s not a task we can accomplish alone. As brilliant as Brain is, he still needs Pinky, and in the same way the task of bringing the world to faith in Christ is not one we can do on our own. It takes all of us, working together to make a difference. In that way, it’s a lot like our favorite sports teams. The Golden State Warriors won the NBA Championship last year again. Three times in four years. That’s pretty remarkable. But as great as Steph Curry is he didn’t score every point or make every steal. He didn’t even win the MVP of the finals. The same is true of other great sports teams. Look at the Giants when they won the championship back in 2014. On paper, there’s no way they should have won, but you don’t play the game on paper. You play it on the field and that team came together at just the right time and in just the right way to take the World Series. There wasn’t any one player you could point to who did it all. Madison Bumgarner may have won the MVP, but he couldn’t have won without players scoring those runs. Likewise, Jordan had Pippen. Gretsky had Messier. Shaq had Kobe (or maybe Kobe had Shaq). Montana had Rice. And the list goes on and on. The same is true outside of sports, too. J.K. Rowling didn’t create the world of Harry Potter without editors, friends, and advance readers supporting her. Chefs have sous chefs. Pastors have congregations. No one, no matter how talented or great, can do it alone.
That’s why we join the church, because we can do more as a team.
A team that is poised to take over the world with the love of Jesus Christ. As Jesus commanded us, we are to go into the world and make disciples of all nations and that is a task we cannot do alone. We are stronger as a group. We have more resources, more knowledge, and more support as a group. We build each other up and we carry each other’s burdens as a group. And each of us in our own way contributes to that effort. Each of us has gifts we can use to make that vision a reality. We don’t all have to be Michael Jordan or even Scottie Pippin. Maybe we are Steve Kerr, and you see how well he turned out. Our gifts are needed to make the team successful. We see how important those gifts are in our passage this morning.
3 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 faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. – Romans 12:3-8
We have different gifts for a purpose; to compliment the Body of Christ.
Each one of us adds our own particular talents, knowledge, thoughts, and experience to the wider community. And in that way, we help to equip the body, this larger community, for the work God calls us to do. We often underestimate our own value. If our gifts aren’t flashy or cool or obvious, we think they aren’t important, but tell that to the linebacker who protects the quarterback from harm. The quarterback often gets the credit for his team’s spectacular plays, but where would he be without his linemen protecting him? Where would he be without a wide receiver or tight end to catch the ball? You are important to Christ’s mission in the world.
But we also join the church so we can grow in our own faith.
Not only are we tasked to help others come to faith in Christ, but we find Christ through the work we do together. We find a community we fit into, we plant roots in that community, and we grow deeper in our faith. Faith-building is a process of willful engagement where we test our own theology in the framework of our fellow believers. As it says in Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” When we try to grow on our own, we don’t have any mechanism for feedback. We don’t have a way to test our theories and beliefs. We can’t get the feedback of others who might be able to sharpen and refine our beliefs. Just as each of us have gifts to lend to the sharing the love of Christ, we also have gifts to help our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ to grow deeper in their faith. Other people have views and opinions that help to refine our own. Other people have ideas we’ve never even considered. And that helps to shape and mold our understanding of God. The long seasoned follower of Christ has experience on their side while someone new to faith can see things from a fresh perspective. We study the Bible together, we interpret God’s actions in the world together, and we hold each other accountable. When John Wesley began the Methodist movement, that was an essential component – to hold each other accountable. Each person was required to join a small group that would meet regularly and at each session they went around and answered the question, “How is it with your soul?” Wesley felt it was important for us to be accountable to one another. It was another way to strengthen the glue of our faith. And that’s another reason we join the church to build each other up in our faith so that together we can take over the world with the love of Jesus Christ.
Your membership in the local church is a commitment to a certain group of people.
You’ve promised to join a community of like believers who offer something unique to the community and to one another. Our churches are like the dots in George Seurat’s “Sunday in the Park With George.” If you’ve ever seen that painting, you know that it’s made up of thousands of tiny dots. Literally tiny dots. Our churches are like those dots. Each one contributing to the whole, but only together do they make a beautiful painting. Likewise, without the dots, there is no painting. If the painting is missing a section of dots, it looks incomplete. We commit to being a part of one of those dots. Individually, our community is important, but its importance is largely because we are part of that painting. Together, we make the painting complete. We solidify that commitment by taking vows before the congregation when we join the church. Like wedding vows and baptismal vows, our vows of membership are a public way for us to express our faith in Christ. It says in the letter to the Romans, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” By coming before the congregation we are doing just that, declaring with our mouths that Jesus is Lord. We’re giving voice to what we already believe in our hearts. So as we take on the larger commitment to baptize all nations, that journey begins in our local church. As Dr. Stamm wrote in his summary of membership, “…the United Methodist membership vows call us to make the world our parish one neighborhood at a time.” If you’ve been coming for a while but haven’t joined, I hope you’ll challenge yourself to ask why that is. Why is it you have been willing to take part in the life of our church, but unwilling to join? It may not seem important, but it is. Like wedding vows and baptismal vows and citizenship vows, they are more than a piece of paper. They are the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. If you’re new to BMUC, you’ll soon realize this is a community of loving people who want to be a vital part of the world around us and I hope you’ll want to be a part of that, too. Do you have to join to become part of God’s mission here at BMUC? No. And you’re gifts are welcome either way. But I think you’ll find personally that your faith life will be enriched when you take that extra step. And if you are already a member, I hope you’ll pray about how you will use your gifts to continue to enrich this community of faith.
So you see, our mission is the same as Pinky and the Brain.
Like them, we are out to take over the world. But we don’t do it for our glory, but for God’s. And unlike basketball, baseball, football or hockey, we don’t win at the expense of others. In fact, if the mission of the church was like a playground game, it would probably be more like Red Rover. The game isn’t over until everyone is on our side and then everybody wins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.