Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to 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 by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
This illustration is from Illustrated Children's Ministry. Our church gave each student and teacher present one of these tags to help them remember that they are beloved and that they can do important things as they return to school this week. You can find the tags here: https://www.illustratedchildrensministry.com/
*This Sunday was our Blessing of the Backpacks. Before the sermon, all students and teachers were invited to come up to receive a special blessing before the school year began this week. The whole church then offered the following blessing, originally written by the Rev. Quinn Caldwell, to the students:
O, God, bless these backpacks.
Make them strong for their job
of helping our children to learn.
May their straps never break,
Their padding never give out,
Their zippers never jam.
May they never be forgotten in strange places,
May the burdens in them be light,
And may the bodies that bear them be strong,
and growing, and whole,
and blessed, ever blessed, by your love.
In the name of the great Teacher
at whose knee we are all students, Amen.
One Body, Many Parts: Romans 12:1-8
Our reading from Romans today was written by a man named Paul, one of the people most responsible with spreading Jesus' teaching across the ancient world. Many of the books in the part of the Bible called the New Testament were written by him, or credited to him (there some that he didn't write but that people thought he wrote). Even though Paul never met Jesus when Jesus was alive, he was deeply moved by his teachings and felt as though Jesus' spirit had changed him for the better. He moved all over the ancient Roman empire, working and teaching about Jesus, starting churches and empowering them to continue after he moved on. He got arrested a couple times, too, often charged with disturbing the peace with his preaching. He found a way to continue, though, and often wrote letters to, and received letters from, the churches he founded to help them be better Christians. This book Romans was a letter to the church in Rome.
One thing about all these different letters that I think is really interesting is that, sometimes, even though the churches may have been really far from each other, even though they may be in different parts of the Empire, they have some of the same problems and questions. And, even more interesting, our churches, and the people in our churches, today also have some of the same problems and questions. Have you ever been a group of people that don't get along? Have you ever gotten mad at someone who you have to spend time with? Have you ever had to figure out how to get along with someone at church? The Good News is that so did the Romans and the Corinthians and the Galatians. Paul gave them some sound advice on how to be a church, that is, be a group of people who reflects the love and lessons of Jesus Christ.
One of my favorite ways that Paul tried to help people understand how to work together as a church was to think of themselves different parts of one body. He used this metaphor in today's reading and in another part of the Bible that we call 1st Corinthians. He explains it a little more fully in 1st Corinthians, so I'd like to share a little of that letter because I think it's helpful. Paul asked the reader to think about all the parts of a person's body. Answer these questions in your own mind:
When Paul talked to the Romans, he also told them about he thought the church was like a body. He said that God wants us to find a way to serve God by working together as a body works together to move. He said that it's important for us to not imagine the things that we each can do as an individual are more important or better than things the other members of our body can do. We must remember that we need all the different things that each one of us can do in order to be the church. Some of us will be teachers and some of us will be compassionate hosts and some of us will preach, and some of us will teach everyone how to share (and we'll all probably do a little bit of each one of these things). We really need to appreciate all the gifts each one of us brings. We need to love each other, be excited about our service together, be hopeful and empathetic when someone suffers, and we need to pray together. All of those things make our body stronger.
Since school will be starting soon for the students and teachers and everyone who works at the school, I've been thinking about how schools are kind of like bodies, too. Everyone has things they are supposed to do, that they need to do together, in order for school to work right. One of my friend's churches shared a list of things that are important to do at school so that school works well like a body. I think it sounds a little like something Paul would say to people at church. Here's some things that they said that the student part of the body could do to help the whole body:
Remember how Paul said there were somethings that we all need to do in church to work as a body? He said, we need to love each other, be excited about our service together, be hopeful and empathetic when someone suffers, and we need to pray for each other. I think loving each other, being hopeful and excited together, and trying hard to understand other people's feelings are probably important for school, too. Maybe we get to practice these things at both at church and at school. The more we get to practice, the better we can follow Jesus. I bet we can pray for the people we go to school with, too: the students, the teachers, the people who serve lunch, the janitors, the secretaries, and security guards. Everyone has a part to play in the body, be it at school or at church. For all of your returning to school soon, we pray that you will get many chances to be a helpful part of your school body. You make the body stronger just because you are a part of it.
Pastor Chrissy consulted the following resources while writing this sermon:
Frank L. Crouch- http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3375
Alyce McKenzie: http://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/many-members-alyce-mckenzie-08-18-2014
Many thanks to the Congregational Church UCC in Exeter, NH for your excellent list of how students can be blessings to their school bodies.
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Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.