The Five Key Ingredients for a 21st Century Church
Psalm 133; Philippians 1:1-11
November 18, 2018
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
I love the fall colors on the trees…the maples have turned bright orange and brilliant red,
the ginkgoes are beginning to dazzle us with their cheerful yellow leaves.
Are you familiar with the two large ginkgoes on the campus of Agnes Scott College?
They are on the left as you drive south on McDonough Avenue, next to a parking area.
They must be at least 60 years old. When their leaves turn, the glorious scene only lasts for a few days,
but it is worth a special trip to stand there beneath them in awe of the wonders of God’s good creation.
Throughout our neighborhoods, each varietal of tree is unique; each leaf shape and texture different.
Some leaves are small, some are large, some are as thick as your bulletin paper, others are almost like silk.
One October some years ago, Luke’s second grade teacher offered a challenge to her students:
Bring to school tomorrow the largest leaf you can find,
and the one with the largest leaf will receive a prize.
Knowing of my love for trees and identifying all kinds of leaves when we would go for hikes,
Luke told me of his assignment. My eyes lit up: I have an idea!
I called a young couple I had recently married and asked if Luke and I might drive across town
to cut one of the leaves off of one of their elephant ear bushes.
Elephant ear leaves, as some of you know, can grow to a length of almost five feet!
The young bride responded “yes” to my request on the phone, but her voice had a bit of hesitation,
like she was asking herself: Has my pastor gone crazy?
That evening, Luke and I drove the mile or two across town, cut a large leaf from one of our friends’ elephant ear bushes, and looked forward with smiles to the next day at school.
The next morning, when I dropped Luke off at the front entrance, he stood tall and marched proudly into the building holding his leaf with both hands.
The stem was as tall as he was, and the huge leaf arched over his head like a large umbrella.
He was certain that he was going to win the prize in class that day!
Alas, when Luke showed up with his huge leaf, the teacher told him that the assignment
was to bring a deciduous leaf, a leaf that had fallen off a tree.
As you can imagine, Luke was so disappointed.
He learned the harsh lesson that sometimes our great expectations for being affirmed and included
can be dashed when our particular form of diversity is beyond the parameters
of what is allowed or appreciated.
I love the diversity that is built into creation.
When it comes to nature, the parameters seem broad and expansive.
I am still amazed when someone remarks to me how every single snowflake is different.
How can that be?
Even rocks reveal a broad diversity.
A smooth river stone sits on my dresser that reminds me of my baptism.
I remember marveling at diverse forms of marble in a building in Santiago, Chile –
45 different types of marble in one flight of stairs!
The monochromatic stone which forms the likeness of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln monument in DC
seems as sturdy as Lincoln’s resolve, while beautiful sandstone on the buildings
of St Andrews, Scotland offer a playful pallet of color.
This summer, I took multiple pictures of lava rock on the coast of Maine
that looked like Moose Tracks ice cream.
Speaking of ice cream…
it was a special treat for my family when I was young to go to Baskin Robbins Ice Cream parlor.
30 fabulous flavors! One summer the sign changed and became 32 fabulous flavors,
and so I tried the newest – Jamocha Almond Fudge – and yum!,
it quickly became one of my all-time favorites.
Mom and Dad would let us have two scoops on a sugar cone,
so for the next several trips I ordered Jamocha Almond Fudge along with my old standard,
French Vanilla. Mmm, what a great combination!
I am in no way an aficionado, but I do love a diversity of music.
Our sons gave us an “Alexa” last Christmas, the Amazon speaker that sits on your counter
and is connected to your WiFi signal.
The best thing about Alexa is that I can say “play YoYo Ma cello music” and she does!
Or we can simply say “play happy music” and she does!
And if you’re not in the mood for whatever she picks, you just tell her to try again.
Van Morrison and James Taylor are two of my lifelong go-to’s.
I appreciate the relaxing nature of a Norah Jones ballad as well as the “singable” quality
of the new John Bell hymns from the Church of Scotland.
I recently discovered Lauren Daigle – a contemporary Christian artist –
because Jody and Ed Sauls’ son plays in her band.
Lauren Daigle has a voice like Adele, but she sings with an honest faith that speaks to my soul.
A diversity of music, of flavors, of rocks and of leaves, and of people is built into God’s good creation.
Human beings are incredibly diverse. With unique genetic makeups and environmental influences,
hardly any two humans are alike. Even identical twins or triplets will have different traits over time.
In the 11th chapter of his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul describes how, in the Church,
each diverse person is an indispensable part of the body.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. …If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?… As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’
On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this.
But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
A number of members of DPC come forward and share with congregation….
Hikie Allen, Audrey Wilson, Mike Brown, Ron Warren, Bill Turnipseed, Ella Perry, Tedd Weitzman, Beryl Taylor, Jared Witz, Kim Campbell)
“I am a child of God and I belong at DPC!”
I thank my God every time I remember these saints of the church, for what each of them brings to our fellowship.
And I thank God for Candace Godwin’s daddy whose memorial service we held yesterday in Tucker.
I thank God for Diana Norman, whose memorial service we hold today, who sang in this choir for
decades, and who was Jap Keith’s right hand in getting things done around here when he was pastor.
I thank God for Mo Boggs, whose service we’ll have on Tuesday,
and for Lisa McDonough, who died this past Wednesday evening.
I thank God for those beautiful children who just left for children’s chapel,
and for those who care for them.
I thank God for Dudley Larus, who is here nearly every Sunday,
generously giving his time to ensure we have ushers and greeters in the narthex.
I thank my God for everyone who “shares in the gospel”, as Paul said,
for everyone who participates in this ministry of living and sharing the good news
of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
I have had the good fortune of worshiping with congregations across the globe,
from a one room concrete block church on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande River,
to a crowded sanctuary in Shanghai, China where people sat on the floor in the aisles
and stood peering in open windows,
from a stone chapel in the middle of the Old City Jerusalem,
to a casual fellowship hall with hot tea and scones in Inverness, Scotland.
No matter where I have worshiped, I have always found a sense of a unity with those gathered,
a commonality, a connection of faith in Jesus Christ that runs deeper
than any differences in nationality or ethnicity or even language.
As John Pavlovitz writes in his book, A Bigger Table,
“Most startling was the diversity of Jesus’ table.
He gathered (at table) with priests and prostitutes, with the religious elite and common street (people),
(he gathered at table) with his disciples and with his adversaries.” (p. 58)
The Philippian congregation initiated by Paul at the riverside outside of Philippi
was a diverse congregation – Jews and Gentiles, women and men, rich landowners and working poor.
And Paul was thankful for each of them, for their sharing in the gospel.
Diversity was built into the early church.
The community in which we live is changing, becoming more diverse.
Within a mile of here, there are people of all ages, from all walks of life and faith backgrounds,
from various regions of our nation and numerous countries around the globe.
Some years ago, our elders at a planning retreat affirmed that our congregation
needed to become more reflective of our broader community, and we are doing so.
Slowly, over time, God has brought some wonderful new people into our midst,
individuals who broaden not only how we look as a congregation, but how we sound,
and how we think, and what we hold dear.
Certainly, with diversity comes change, and change can sometimes be difficult to navigate.
But with diversity also comes many unexpected blessings, when we are open to receive them.
I thank my God every time I remember (each of you),
constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you,
because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now…
And this is my prayer, that our love (for one another) may overflow more and more
with knowledge and full insight to help us to determine what is best,
so that on the day of Christ we may be pure and blameless,
having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ
for the glory and praise of God.
May God continue to bless and grow the rich diversity of Decatur Presbyterian Church,
and may we, together, as indispensable parts of one body,
continue to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength,
and to love one another, warmly, as Christian brothers and sisters. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church