“Chemistry in the Church”

September 8, 2019


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
Sept. 8, 2019

Chemistry in the Church
Hebrews 10:22-25

Some of you know that Paul and I enjoy very ornery April Fool’s jokes. A few years ago, I heard that dropping a mentos candy in a coke created a virtual fountain in a coke bottle! I carefully – with needle and thread – stitched a mento into the cap of his ever-present Coke Zero bottle and carefully put in back in our staff refrigerator, hoping that he wouldn’t notice that the full bottle had actually been opened and then the top carefully tightly sealed again. And then I patiently waited for him to unscrew the cap, the mento to come undone from the thread and plot into the coke and for a fountain to erupt!

Much to my dismay, he was cautious on April Fool’s and did notice, drinking instead all of the other Coke Zeros in the refrigerator… but not the two I had punctured my fingers doctoring up with mentos ready to drop into the liquid and cause an explosion. When I finally confessed my scheme, we decided to experiment in the parking lot and the chemical reaction was present, but not as potent as I had hoped.

I don’t know if you had a cool science teacher sometime in middle or high school who liked to create experiments, but I grew up with a mom who enjoyed biology and chemistry in the kitchen. We were treated to all kinds of science and technological marvels and reactions right there in the sink and on our table growing up! Did you know that gummy bears Gummy bears are essentially just sucrose? When gummy bears are dropped into potassium chlorate, it reacts with the glucose molecule within sucrose resulting in a highly exothermic combustion reaction?

The elephant toothpaste reaction is the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide, catalyzed by the iodide ion. The reaction produces a ton of hot, steamy foam, which can be colored or even striped to resemble certain kinds of toothpaste. Why is it called the elephant toothpaste reaction? Only an elephant tusk needs a strip of toothpaste as wide as the one produced by this amazing reaction.

Today we are kicking off our fall sermon series about Chemistry in the Church. It’s really a series about people and the church – our relationships with one another and with God. What makes a church vibrant and alive? What draws people in?

Hebrews 10:22-25 offers advice to the ancient church:
So let us come near to God with a sincere heart and a sure faith, with hearts that have been purified from a guilty conscience and with bodies washed with clean water. Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer. (GNT)

When asked the question recently about what makes a vibrant church, Brian McLaren, an author, speaker, and public theologian, as well as a guest on various media, said that there are many factors influencing why some churches grow, others hold steady, and others decline and disappear. But based on his experiences, churches that grow have at least three things in common:

1. The members treat each other well. If a congregation is full of backbiting, unresolved conflicts, and distrust, people coming in will “smell it in the air” and look elsewhere. The qualities of love, kindness, warmth, and welcome are not sufficient causes for lasting growth, but they are necessary conditions.

One of the things that I can honestly say about UCC is that we are friendly! We are good at welcoming guests. We speak to people and are not only welcoming, but truly warm and glad to have new people here. The members at UCC are interesting, vital, fascinating folks who have much to share. As our text for today challenges, we are
• to be concerned for one another
• help one another
• show love
• do good
• encourage one another

These are the key elements of what being a church is all about. As McLaren mentions, this in itself is not enough for growth, but it is a necessary condition for a healthy, loving community of faith. The chemistry in a church should not cause explosions, but should be a catalyst for hospitality and outreach.

2. The members simply can’t shut up about their church. They are so inspired on Sunday that they want to talk about it on Monday at the water cooler or on Facebook. Not only that, but they honestly feel, “My friends’ lives would be better if they could be part of a community like ours,” so they invite them out of generosity.

In the last few centuries, the theology espoused by some churches was that you wanted to join a church and become a Christian so that you would go to heaven. At UCC, we don’t believe in spooky- Christian-hell-fire- damnation theology. Instead, what we have is not manipulative or compulsive.

It is my goal that when you leave here on a Sunday that you are inspired for another week. I would like you to be so enthusiastic or so challenged or so thought-filled that you want to share what you have learned with others! I want you to talk about what we have, whether it is the music, the sermons, the community, the friends, the cookies, the fellowship, the outreach programs, the beautiful setting, or whatever else you find here with everyone you meet! I want your seams to burst when you leave – with enthusiasm and excitement and good news. And on the days we aren’t enthusiastic … I want your head to be pondering the thoughts you’ve been given so that you are ready to share those ideas with others… and on other days I want you to be singing new songs that pop up in your mind on Monday.

The chemistry of an alive and welcoming church is that growth is exponential. People come because the people of the church invite them. They come because the elements are all working together and the chemical bonding is strong.

3. Visitors almost always come because of #2 – a friend who invites and welcomes them. But visitors only become members when existing members welcome them, include them, make space for them, and involve them. Churches that are warm to each other (#1) aren’t necessarily warm to newcomers.

This is a key element in our chemistry as a church. We all have friend groups in the church. We are bonded to one another. But our bonds cannot be so solid that new folk see the same people sitting together all the time. New and exciting experiences and programs must start regularly, even if they fail. We have to put our best foot forward without getting comfortable in the status quo. We need to be able to move quickly and easily into the future without holding on to the ways of the past – because new people have new ideas and want to be included and involved!
As McLaren notes, churches that are warm to each other are not always warm to newcomers. This is one of the most dangerous chemical charges I have witnessed. Long term members who know each other see things differently – we know each other and we speak in short hand. We know what has been tried and we quickly dismiss new suggestions. But the church is a living, changing organism. In all that we do, as the writer of Hebrews admonishes, we must continue to meet together and encourage one another. We need to make space for our new people, involve them, and truly listen to them.
All of this chemistry has me wondering what happens when you get a bunch of church people together and ask them to cook and bring their best dishes together to feed each other? What happens if you roll a piece of chicken in some flour and then deep fry it? Oh, and what happens when you dice up some cabbage and a bit of sweet mayonnaise?
I think perhaps they call it a church potluck – and this is a chemistry experiment we can all enjoy!

Resources Used:
McLaren, Brian. “Decline of Christianity”. www.progressivechristianity.org. Sept. 2, 2019.
Thoughtco.com. “10 Amazing Chemical Reactions”