given on Sunday, August 28, 2016
Scripture connection: Hebrews 13:1-3, NLT
Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters.[a] 2 Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! 3 Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.
One plus one makes two. Right? Certainly that is basic math. Even multiplying one by one is a basic rule that does not change. But then start adding more and more to the formula. What happens then? The results actually can become staggering because when numbers are added together, the outcome continues to grow.
With that fact proven, one can easily wonder what happens when one church member is added with another church member. Suddenly there are two church members standing there side by side. Two church members may not seem very notable, but remember what Jesus said:
“For where two or three gather together as my followers,[h] I am there among them.” [Matthew 18:20, NLT]
Now caution, that verse is one small verse out of the entire Bible, but the context does help answer the question about what happens when one church member is added to other church member(s). The verse comes at the end of the parable about correcting another believer. Jesus explains the process of how to correct another within the church. He tells them on the second attempt to take two or three as witnesses adding:
17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.
18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid[f] on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit[g] on earth will be permitted in heaven.
19 “I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three gather together as my followers,[h] I am there among them.”
Sometimes there is a need for one or more church members to be together, but the times two or more are ‘gathered together’ do not have to be for punitive purposes. When one church member is added to another one, the first step develops fellowship.
In today’s culture, finding those who have compatible values and beliefs is challenging. Stepping into a church that welcomes visitors whether strangers or not, is often the most crucial time to add one church member to another. Those first time visitors may be seeking others who believe the same as they do or they may be seeking to find answers they cannot find among those they work and/or play with in their community.
The value of creating a welcoming, hospitable environment in our churches provides those stepping inside the church door for the first time a sense of comfort. That same welcoming attitude can be carried outside the church doors, too, as invitations to family, friends, and neighbors, even strangers. What we find inside the church is so valuable that we want others to find it to.
Therefore, each time the doors to the church are open, others are invited inside. Church members know that God provides unconditional love and forgiveness for lives filled with challenges. When one church member joins other church members modeling those qualities, then others will come seeking that same sense of love and forgiveness–church members are the first evidence of what God provides. Christian fellowship among the believers can lead to even richer lives.
How does adding one church member to another church member go beyond fellowship? Curiosity or a desire to understand even more about God and living a Christ-centered life triggers church members to join in small groups for study or to seek practices more Christ-like behaviors.
When church members join together to learn more, their spiritual journey develops. The practice of meeting in small groups develops more strength in one’s faith. The small group becomes a covenant group that supports one another when life throws some unexpected obstacles or challenges into our lives. Certainly Bible study is an element of the small groups, but the design of the group can be as unique as the members who have developed a comfortable fellowship among themselves.
One church member who enjoys a personal hobby such as fly fishing or knitting can meet together to learn more or to share their experiences in a Christ-centered setting. Maybe standing in waders casting dry flies becomes a special prayer time when the group shares prayer concerns. Knitting groups often meet together to create prayer shawls or cancer caps while praying, studying, and sharing faith stories.
Fellowship may open the door to practices that enrich one’s life in a range of ways, but the small groups that develop within a church community also spearhead ministries that meet the needs of others beyond the immediate church congregation. The ministries that develop when church members join together can serve so many others in unexpected ways; God’s reach knows no boundaries.
This week alone, the Iowa and Missouri Methodist conferences have sent 1,400 flood buckets to Louisiana to aid in the cleanup of the record floods of the past month. These buckets were first provided by UMCOR when flooding hit these two states, but now they are needed in Louisiana, which is where the headquarters of UMCOR is located.
The Festival of Sharing is another example of how adding church members together, even other congregations and denominations, can provide ministry not only locally in our own state, but globally. The needs of people are evident nightly on the news. Yet one church member acting alone cannot possibly be as effective as when two or three or more add their efforts together.
When two or more are working together with the power of the Holy Spirit, the results grow exponentially. God is present when one church member is added to another developing fellowship that when enriched through study and growth in small groups leads to God’s ministry around this world.
Maybe one might not think it is possible for this to happen right here in our own community. It does happen and this past week we witnessed it once again. The process started a while back, but the outcome continues to be the same.
Tragedy hit one of our own members. The outpouring of love and concern has been tremendous. The fellowship of members reached out first in prayer and then in body to do whatever could be done. This week’s need was personal, but the power of church members working together is part of this community’s purpose to serve one another in unconditional love.
No special training is needed to serve one another, but one thing is needed—God. As we begin a new week filled with challenges, especially annual ones like the fair, we must add our efforts together with one purpose, one mind-set, and God will fill us with the Holy Spirit in ways we cannot plan ourselves. Add your Christ-like self to others and just see what exceptional results occur.
Dear all-knowing, all-loving and all-forgiving Father,
Each one of us has stood alone without Christian fellowship.
Thank you for inviting us to be part of your congregation.
As we discover the wonder of unconditional love and forgiveness,
Guide us to join with one another demonstrating those same qualities.
As we ban together in Christian fellowship here in our own community,
May we discover the blessings of serving others in love, too.
As we continue to learn and to grow in Christ-like ways,
Use us to help others in all the ways that you can.
May we reach out to others seeking Christian fellowship, too,
Guide us in finding ways to help develop one another’s faith,
And spark new ideas of ministry to others here and there. –Amen