Sunday’s sermon: In It Together

buddy-bench

Texts used – Matthew 18:1-5 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

  • A while back, I heard a really touching story on the news.
    • Story comes from across the border – Willowgrove Elementary School in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
    • Story from the playground[1]
      • Elementary school that installed a special bench on their playground
      • “Buddy Bench” → purpose = finding friends
      • News piece: “When you don’t have anyone to play with, you go to the buddy bench … The rules surrounding the green bench, located next to the school’s playground, are pretty simple. Within a few minutes, any student sitting on the bench will be approached by a fellow student and asked to play.”
    • Now, everyone knows about the school playground, either from your own experience (however long ago that may have been) or from the experiences of your children, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, etc. This attitude of coming together and inviting others to play isn’t always everyone’s experience. Sometimes a playground can be a very negative place for kids. But the Buddy Bench turns that attitude and expectation around. It gives kids that little nudge to ask someone new to play with them.
      • About inclusion
      • About invitation
      • About initiative
      • About building relationships
        • Student description: “If you can’t find your best friends, and you don’t know where to go play, you sit on the buddy bench, and somebody will come and find you.”
          • Response to “How long will it take for someone to come find you?”: “Ummm … about a minute.”
    • And I know that Willowgrove is not alone in their Buddy Bench endeavor. → find Buddy Benches all across the country, even in our own backyard (PI Elementary)
      • Ya’ll, look around you this morning. We are in a church. We are in God’s house. We are on holy ground. If ever there were an adult version of a Buddy Bench, this should be it! That is what we are called to be as the body of Christ.
        • Not the individuals of Christ
        • Not the solo artists of Christ
        • Not the divas of Christ
        • The BODY of Christ
        • We are in this thing together – this faith thing, this life thing, this being-a-broken-human-being-in-a-messed-up-world thing. We are in this together … and the sooner we recognize this, the better.
          • Scripture readings this morning are pretty pointed à two great analogies that drive home the importance of togetherness and dependence on each other
  • Gospel text – Matthew
    • Begins with a question: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”[2] → Jesus’ response: “I assure you that if you don’t turn your lives around and become like this little child, you will definitely not enter the kingdom of heaven.”[3]
      • Idea of “becoming like a little child” has been tossed around by preachers and theologians for centuries → often a text that is talked about in terms of child-like innocence
        • Trusting like a child
        • Loving wholeheartedly like a child
        • Adopting the wonderment and joy of a child in the presence of God
    • Related but slightly different angle this morning → Let me ask you this. Have you ever sat back and watched children play together? Especially children who have never met each other before?
      • Not doing the hover-parent thing where you get things going for them → introduce children to each other and set up some sort of shared activity
      • INSTEAD: Simply letting kids explore playing together all on their own
      • Maybe include a couple of shy moments – feel each other out
      • But before you know it, kids who didn’t know each other 5 minutes ago are running around playing tag or zooming trucks or feeding their baby dolls or playing house or kitchen or school or whatever like they’ve known each other forever. When it’s time to part – whether they’ve had 30 minutes to play together or all afternoon – they hug each other and talk animatedly the whole way home about their “new best friend.” What if that’s the attitude we’re supposed to have when it comes to the Kingdom of God?
        • Not an attitude of separation
        • Not an attitude of hesitation
        • Not an attitude of holding out
        • BUT an attitude of extravagant welcome, of uncompromising inclusion
          • Jesus in text: “Those who humble themselves like this little child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”[4] → Children playing together don’t care about the differences. They don’t care that your shoes look different than my shoes or that I wear a hat and you wear a head scarf or that my skin is this color and yours is that color or that your family looks different than my family. All those dividing lines that we are so ready to draw as adults – those lines that separate us from everyone else, that keep everyone else at arm’s length – don’t matter to kids. Do you have an imagination? Do you want to play? Sweet. Let’s go.
            • Humility in its purest form
    • Parallel version of this text from Luke’s gospel in the boys’ picture Bible – accompanying question: “If you were one of the children who go to sit on Jesus’ lap, what would you say to him?” → Think of it this way: If you were one of the children who got to sit on Jesus’ lap, would you want him to see you pushing others aside and telling them they don’t belong, or would you rather the whole scene look a little bit more like the Buddy Bench?
  • Speaks to the heart of NT reading, too – 1 Cor passage
    • Familiar passage about the importance of all the different parts of the body of Christ
      • Highlights importance of diversity
      • Highlights importance of togetherness
      • Highlights importance of valuing those who are different
      • I think that often, when we start talking about welcoming people into this family of faith, what we actually mean is that we’re welcoming them to become like us – to think like us, believe like us, dream like us, vote like us, understand Scripture like us. But that’s not how we were created.
        • Created to be vastly different people with vastly different thoughts, beliefs, dreams, ideologies, and understandings
        • Text: Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. If the foot says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the ear says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted. If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? But as it is, there are many parts but one body. So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”[5] → Now, because I don’t have the ability to show you the news piece about the Buddy Bench, you couldn’t see the different children that the reporter talked to. They were boys and girls. They were from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. They were different ages. But all of them talked about how they had both sat on the Buddy Bench waiting to be invited and been the ones doing the inviting. Their differences didn’t even come into play. All that mattered to them was reaching out to someone that was clearly in need of a friend.
          • Again, cycles back to that humility that we saw in Mt – text: The parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary. The parts of the body that we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most. The private parts of our body that aren’t presentable are the ones that are given the most dignity. The parts of our body that are presentable don’t need this. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it. You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.[6] → Would you want Jesus to see you belittling or diminishing the contributions and accomplishments of others – telling them that they don’t matter or they aren’t “the right kind” – or would you rather the whole scene look a little bit more like the Buddy Bench?
  • Here’s the thing about the Buddy Bench: it’s a place where a lonely child waits for a friend → if the church is the Buddy Bench, we as the body of Christ are supposed to be the friends that come to find the lonely one
    • E.g. – children’s finger rhyme from Sunday school: “This is the church. This is the steeple. Open it up, and here are all the people!” → It’s cute. It’s memorable. It rhymes. But frankly, the theology sucks. We are supposed to be the church – the body of the Christ – in the world, not just within these four walls.
      • Most common word for “church” in Gr. = ekklesia: It’s a word that means assembly, yes, but it means so much more than that! “It’s an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting. It’s those who anywhere, in a city, village, constitute such a company and are united into one body. It’s the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth.”[7] No four walls required.
    • How often do we sit and wait instead, putting all the responsibility on the lonely ones, the lost ones, the scared ones, the desperate ones, the wandering ones, the unsure ones to find us?
    • How often do we actively reach out? How often do we engage other people in our world – people who are hurting, people who have so often been told that they’re not good enough that they’ve started to believe it, people who are wondering, people who are angry, people who are ashamed, people who are uncertain, people who are shy, people who don’t look or think or believe or vote like us?
      • Not passively
      • Not with other mediums like our wallets or our promotional material
      • Not even just with prayer (though prayer is never a bad answer … just not always the only answer)
      • With our voices
      • With our hands
      • With our hearts
    • Friends, there’s no denying that we’re all in this together – this faith thing, this life thing, this being-a-broken-human-being-in-a-messed-up-world thing. → slightly altered quote from Mahatma Gandhi: Be the Buddy Bench you wish to see in the world. Amen.

[1] “Buddy bench a big hit at Saskatoon’s Willowgrove School,” from CBC News, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/buddy-bench-willowgrove-school-1.3505066. Posted Mar. 24, 2016, accessed Feb. 16, 2017.

[2] Mt 18:1.

[3] Mt 18:3.

[4] Mt 18:4.

[5] 1 Cor 12:14-21.

[6] 1 Cor 12:22-27.

[7] “Ekklesia” word study, from http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/ekklesia.html. Accessed Feb. 19, 2017.

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