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2 Kings 2: 1-2, 6-14  *  Psalm 77

Galatians 5:1, 13-26  *  Luke 9: 51-62 

June 30, 2013

Rev. Dr. Warner M. Bailey

Over the last few weeks billions of cicada grubs have awakened from 17 years of subterranean slumber to emerge into the bright sunshine of America’s Mid-Atlantic states.[i]  Their strange cycle brought vast swarms of males swirling above the trees who created a tremendous racket in the hope of mating, frantically, then to die, unlamented, leaving behind eggs that will hatch in another 17 years.

This year’s cicadas, while swirling above the trees, will peer down on an America that is both different from, and strangely similar to, the one their parents saw in l996.  That year the Whitewater convictions were handed down.  The Montana Freedmen ended their 81 day standoff with the FBI.  Hotmail began. The minimum wage rose to $4.25. Michael Jordan signed a $25 million with the NBA.  Osama bin Laden issued his “A Declaration of War Against American Occupying of the Land of Two Holy Places.”  TWA flight 800 exploded over Long Island Sound.  Unabomber Ted Kaczynski was indicted.  Democratic and Republican strategists studied polls to figure out who would get the blame for the government shutdown in progress, after Congress had failed to pass a budget.  The Supreme Court pondered a case involving gay rights.

One 17 year cycle later Hilary Clinton is ranked one of the world’s most powerful women.  Osama bin Laden is dead but sectarian strife among Shi’ah and Sunni factions engulfs the land of the two holy places. Traveling by air involves more hassles and fees.  Homemade bombs create havoc in free societies.  Allegations are being revived of a cover-up of Flight 800.  Sports figures are commanding and getting obscene salaries.  Political fortunes rise and fall on the strength of social media.  Washington gridlock is alive and well.  The Supreme Court has struck down barriers to gay marriage.

Well, these are parlor games, aren’t they?  We can be ever so clever in connecting the dots between 17 year cycles.  Things have changed, but maybe not so much.  We could even stick our necks out and predict what the brood of eggs going into the ground now will wake up to face in 2030.  Texas gone from red to purple to blue?

But in this world where things come and go in cycles, what is God calling the church to be and to do?  I’d like to illustrate that through a very ordinary story about the actions of a very extraordinary child.  I shared this story with you a couple of years ago, but I continue to be drawn to its illustrative power.

It happened in Vacation Bible School a few years ago.  A class was interrupted one day about an hour before dismissal when a new student was brought in.

The little boy had one arm missing, and since the class was almost over, the teacher had no opportunity to learn any details about the cause or his state of adjustment.  She was very nervous and afraid that one of the other children would blurt out something about his handicap and embarrass him.  There was no opportunity to caution them, so she proceeded as carefully as possible.

As the class time drew to a close, she began to relax.  She asked the class to join her in their usual closing ceremony.  “Let’s make our churches, “she said.”  “Here’s the church and here’s the steeple, open it up and there’s….”  The awful truth of her own actions struck her.  The very thing she had feared that the children would do, she had done.

As she stood there speechless, the little girl sitting next to the boy reached over with her left hand and placed it up to his right hand and said, “Here, Davey, let’s make the church together.”
The teacher intuitively feared that children might blurt out some hurtful comment or question.  The teacher’s own best intentions were disarmed by her blissfully unconscious, though embarrassing, closing event. This stunningly embarrassing situation, however, was resolved in the nick of time by a quick-thinking, intuitive, and compassionate classmate.  Let’s make the church together.

Cycles in and cycles out, we are who we are.  A good friend recently observed to me, that the older we get, the more like ourselves we become.  We are people who are born into this life with factory-equipped capacities to cause hurt, to be repulsed by otherness, to propose actions oblivious to their consequences.  We are people who come into life looking for the opportunity to be judgmental, to puff up ourselves at another’s expense, to undermine a person’s integrity with innuendo.

But look at the man or woman who can live above this level, who can show sensitivity, who can use ingenuity to create community, who can be courageous enough to step out and take that first healing step—those folk distinguish themselves.  They are stand-outs.  That, my friends, is what God is calling us to be and to do as the church of Jesus Christ.

Paul, in writing to the Galatians, is coaching a group of people on how to make the church together.  He warns them: If you go on fighting one another, tooth and nail, all you can expect is mutual destruction.  He encourages them: Those who belong to Christ have crucified their lower nature with its passions and desires.  He empowers them: You are now free to exercise the desires of the Spirit because God has given you a fighting chance to act in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness and self-control.

Let’s make the church together.  This church, any church.  Everyone of us comes as an inadequate person, a handicapped person, a vulnerable person, an aching person.  In church we are called to place our handicapped lives alongside the handicapped lives of others and to pray, “Make of us your church together.  Let’s make the church together.”

Who has put his or her hand into yours to make the church together? There have been times in my life when I have wanted to give up.  When I didn’t know where we would get the resources.  When I was out of my depth in solving a problem.  When my spirit was exhausted.  But God has put someone’s hand in my handicap, and we have made the church together.  That’s my story, and I am sure you have one, too.

We make the church together at St. Stephen every time we offer Room in the Inn as we are preparing to begin on July 2.  They need bottled water.  Can you help make the church together?

We make the church together every time we place our offerings in the plate as it is passed each Sunday.  And let me remind you the church is free enterprise in its purest sense.  We receive no government subsidy. We have no assured rate to charge.  We do not compel people to give.  We are dependent on freewill offerings from everybody.  Let’s make the church together.

We make the church together when we take flowers to homebound persons.  We make the church together when we support Tarrant Area Community of Churches, when we support the world mission of the Presbyterian Church, or the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, or new church development, and a host of things that only by living and working connectionally we can do.  We make the church together when deacons show compassion, elders plan wisely, teachers teach with conviction, young people show up for fellowship and mission.

When we make the church together, we do a unique act of national service.  You may have seen it in the papers.[ii]  Texas ranks critically low in “civic health” in a recently released university study.  We come across as a big, sprawling, generally detached Texas where we don’t vote, don’t call officials or even talk public policy as often as most Americans, and haven’t for decades.  Among the states, we rank in the bottom 10 in two areas: volunteering and in adults donating at least $25 to a church or charity.

The health of our national spirit is improved by people who work together, who help each other, who look out for one another.  When we make the church together, we shape and nurture people to be global citizens, people who rise above fear of the other, who seek a higher goal than national interest, who examine local actions in the light of global outcomes.

We are not here to do things perfectly; we are not here to guarantee that we will accomplish a predicted goal.  Rather, you are here to put your hand in my handicap and my hand in your handicap.  We help people make the church together; we help people do the good thing together; we help people find ways to care genuinely and to receive positively genuine care.  And then we pray and look to God to bring forth abundance from God’s storehouse of blessing.


[i] This illustration is taken from “Brood 2030,” The Economist, May 18, 2013, 16.

[ii] Bud Kennedy, “Texans Shrug Off Study on Civic Health,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 23, 2013, B-1.