University Congregational Church
Sept. 22, 2019
Eph. 4: 14-16
I think it was Paul’s idea to do this series on “Chemistry in the Church”. At least I’m going to blame it on Paul! That’s because I’m about the least scientific person you have ever met. You see, we plan sermons months in advance. And when we got to this series on the schedule I looked at it with a blank stare and said aloud, “what was I thinking?!!!” “Chemistry in the church?” “Whose idea was that and what does that even mean?”
I’m going to let you in on a little known secret about me… in high school I was a complete nerd. I was first chair flutist in the band. And I accompanied all the choirs. And I took honors classes. But, in order to qualify for the gifted program, you had to take both AP biology and AP chemistry your freshman year. I took too many music classes to take two science classes that year. Plus, I hated science. Math was my strong suit. So, I didn’t qualify with all my friends for the gifted program. But I wasn’t deterred. I started an UN-Gifted club. With T-Shirts and meetings, those of us who weren’t gifted celebrated our lack of ability on a regular basis and heckled all those brain-e-acks regularly. We considered it our duty. It didn’t win me any popularity contests, but I wouldn’t have won anyway. I blame chemistry for my very ordinariness.
So, that’s a long story to get around to the point of saying that chemistry is definitely not my bailiwick! But here we are – using the metaphor of chemistry as a way to talk about relationships in and out of the church. And today’s chemistry lesson is about bonding.
For those of us who need a reminder, a chemical bond is an electrical force that links atoms – it’s like an attraction. Think about a magnet with poles that pull toward each other. Living things are made up of atoms, but in most cases, those atoms aren’t just floating around individually. Instead, they’re usually interacting with other atoms or groups of atoms. Even the molecules in water connect to one another. Serious cooks measure not only by using a measuring cup, but they level it off with a knife on top. That’s because the water molecules connect to one another on top of the cup and more water than intended can be on top of the cup! This is chemical bonding – that force we can’t see that pulls things together.
The same is true of humans. We aren’t made to be in isolation. We are social animals. We need human connection – just like the atoms need to connect to one another, we are made for connection. In fact, scientist Matthew Lieberman found recently that our need to connect to others is as fundamental as our need for food and water. And when we experience social pain — a snub, a cruel word — the feeling is as real as physical pain.
It is no wonder that our Bible starts in Genesis with the beginning of humanity as a plural event. In the beginning, there is only God. God is lonely and needs community. So God creates humanity for company. This is one reason belonging to a church is important. It is here that we find sacred community.
And like our bonding as humans, our bonding as a church community goes through various processes. You may remember when you were young that boys and girls on the playground had rituals and games we played in small groups. We paired off and found ways to demonstrate our friendships – our bonding! (demonstrate by “My Dolly Playmate” handclapping and singing)
But being a part of sacred community is not all about fun and games. It is fun and it can be deeply rewarding and enriching and lots of laughs with friends! Hopefully there are lots of those times. Those times prepare us for some of the work that we engage in together. Several times a month, members of our church get together to work at the Hygiene Pantry. Yesterday, we served 531 families who needed help. Not long ago, several of our members helped another family from Gammon School at their new Habitat Home, cleaning and painting and stocking their home with needed items. Working together at these kinds of service projects bonds us in ways that are not easily broken. Helping and healing in times of brokenness create chemical bonds that last lifetimes.
It is one of the reasons many of our newest members like to serve on the Board of Deacons – because the Deacons Board is a board that works together (often in the kitchen) to prepare the refreshments after worship each week and the fellowship events several times a year. When they roll up their sleeves and work beside one another they bond with one another and get to know one another.
The same is true in many small groups – choir, house church, Wednesday Night or Larksfield class, Sunday morning study group, and so on. Chemical bonding happens when we get together face to face. This doesn’t happen on Sunday mornings because we are too big of a group and usually we are sitting with our faces to each other’s backs!
I served a church once and I was talking with a middle-aged woman who grew up in the church. She had been a member of that particular church her whole life – from birth on. She went to church every week. Her parents went to church every week, as did her children. While her parents were active and served in various capacities, she had never really been involved. She was complaining to me that she while she went to church every week she felt pretty disconnected. I asked her some pointed questions…
– Had she ever invited anyone out for lunch after church?
– Had she ever served on a committee or volunteered for a job at the church?
– Had she ever worked on a project or come to a work day at the church?
– Did she come to anything at the church other than worship on Sunday morning? Did she attend any classes or go to any of the events?
– Had she sent cards or worked in the office or sung in the choir?
Her answers to all of these questions was “no”. I suggested that she felt disconnected because she was disconnected! And I said that she would find that the more she gave to the church community, the more she would get out of the people in the church. She was startled by my comment and wasn’t really certain what I meant. But she agreed to give it a try.
That was some 15 years ago. She became the Treasurer. And then the Moderator. And then the Building Manager. Now, she has held about every job in the church and I’ve heard her recruiting other volunteers and I’ve heard her explain to others, “I have so many friends in this church! I don’t know what I would do without this church! You know, the more you put in, the more you get out!” It’s like she discovered this and created the concept all on her own.
You see, what we have at UCC is sacred. It is more than a chemical bond – it is a special and holy connection instituted and created by God. The apostle Paul wrote to many churches about how important it was – how to treat one another and how to be gentle and loving with one another because we what we have together is precious. In Ephesians, he wrote:
We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. Eph. 4: 14-16
Paul used the idea of love as the key to communal solidarity. He is advocating for social cohesion instead of competitive, divisive behavior. He wants chemical bonding between them – not destructive back-biting behavior that would divide them.
Friends, we are coming into that season when we are looking for volunteers – not people to sit on boards to make decisions – but people to actually get involved in ministry at UCC! We need volunteers to serve as our Moderator Elect, our Church Treasurer, our Church Clerk, someone to call on visitors; we need people to serve on the board of Deacons, and some of our other boards. If you are interested in getting more out of your relationships at UCC, talk to me or to Tim McKee about how you can be more involved! Because the more you give, the more you will receive.
That’s how chemical bonding works you know, the more electrons shared between two atoms, the stronger their bond will be. The more of us who roll up our sleeves and work together – the better and stronger our church bond will be. True community doesn’t happen overnight. But when each person in the church begins to wrestle with our place in the church and takes a step toward deeper relationship, slowly, the community grows!
What we are talking about here isn’t just serving the church or serving the community – it’s creating bonds that last a lifetime and beyond. Yesterday I asked a new volunteer at the pantry what she thought about the experience and she said, “This is the most rewarding thing I have done in a long time!”
www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-we-are-wired-to-connect. Gareth Cook.
October 22, 2013.
www. Crcna.org “The Ingredients of True Community”. Kevin DeRaaf. March 17, 2010.