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Developing A Sense Of We

1 Corinthians 12:12-30
Dr. William Glasser is a Los Angeles psychiatrist who founded a theory of psychology called Reality Therapy. He believes that all humans have four basic needs beyond their survival needs. One of these is the need for love and belonging. This need is very deep; it is as basic to our personhood as our genetic makeup is. We will strive to fulfill it in one way or another. If we do not do a good job, we will get sick and show certain symptoms. This sickness will be as real as if it were caused by something physical.
We humans were made to be social creatures. We were made to be touched and stroked and loved--literally. Studies have always shown that babies who are not touched and cuddled very much will not thrive.
Family relationships are a primary way we meet the need of love and belonging. Family relationships were the subject of a conversation between Charlie Brown and Linus some time ago. Charlie says, "Did your dad take you to many ball games this year?"
Linus replies, "Oh, yes, we went to quite a few. I think he likes having a son to take to the ball game...I am sort of a built-in friend."1
I do not know how I could overstate the importance of this need to belong. It is essential to every person's healthy development. Langdon Gilkey, the theologian, put it this way when reflecting on his experience in a prison camp during World War II. He said, "Somehow each self needs a `place' in order to be a self, in order to feel on a deep level that it really exists. Unless we can establish roots somewhere in a place where we are at home...we feel that we float, that we are barely there at all."
Do you have a place where you are at home? I am sure you do. That "place" may be within a "biological family" or it may be some other family. It may be a group of singles who get together at a restaurant for supper every Friday night, or a couple of widows who call each other on the phone once in the morning and once in the evening. Families come in all sizes and shapes, and they are all special. We work hard to feed and nurture them and keep them alive.
I could tell you dozens of stories about my visits in people's homes over the years. Most of these stories concern some little thing that happened, and these little things have afforded me a glimpse into a family's life.
Early one evening many years ago I called on a family that had just moved into town. I got word that they were members of my denomination, so I went right out. The mother and children were very friendly. After we visited a few minutes, the father came in the front door with a big barrel of chicken in his hands. The family had just got in from doing something, and he had obviously gone out to get their supper. When I saw the situation, I quickly excused myself and tried to slide out the door. But they would not hear of it. They persuaded me to join them at the table. In about 90 seconds we were ready to eat. I mean everyone in that family had a particular job to do, and they went to it--one child put on the plates, another the silver, etc.
As soon as we sat down, everyone reached out to hold hands for a table grace. Now I had never seen these people before, and I was even more reserved then than I am now; so I presumed that I could excuse myself from this little ritual. Very soon everyone was holding hands but me. Several pairs of eyes looked my way and after an awkward pause, the mother said, "Van (that was the youngest child) won't pray until EVERYONE at the table is holding hands."
After we ate, the father said to the girl, "Tell us something interesting that happened to you today." The girl talked while everyone listened intently. This conversation moved around the circle; and by the time it got to me, I knew I could not get away with excluding myself if I wanted to! I learned that this was the way this family had supper every night, and they did not change it when visitors came to call. They were a busy family but a close family and a strong family, partly because they had this important point of contact with each other.
A busy family does not have to have many points of contact--maybe just one or two. But the contact needs to be regular and meaningful if it is to build community. All family life is a living thing. It has to be fed and cared for. The responsibility for nurturing it rests in the first place with parents, but everyone must contribute.
My grandparents moved to California many years ago. They became part of that great throng of Okies and Arkies who settled in the San Joaquin Valley around Bakersfield. We grandchildren saw our grandparents only occasionally. But there was always one thing we could count on. About the 10th or 15th of every December a package would arrive for every one of us. A label on it, in grandmother's handwriting, would say, "Do not open until Xmas." Usually this gift was something simple. Granny sold Avon and Stanley products, so the gift might be a brush or aftershave.
My grandfather died in 1967, and after that the gifts became very simple indeed. Then Granny's health began to fail. I remember the December when no packages came. But then a couple of days before Christmas there arrived a Christmas card with two crumpled dollar bills in it: "I'm sorry, Sandy, but I just wasn't able to buy gifts this year. Merry Xmas."
Granny's point of contact with her family had come down to something she did but once a year. But it was enough!
Today's scripture reading concerns a family that is very meaningful to all of us--the church. I am convinced more and more that what holds this family together is not great preaching or anything like that. It is the feeding and nurturing that each of us gives to it.
There is an interesting thing I have noticed in the churches I have served. There are always a few members who donot attend worship though they are able to do so, yet they do have a point of contact with the church--they send regular contributions. These contributions are these people's point of contact with the church. Somehow it is important to these people to stay in touch with their church--to feed this community, to be a part of it.
One night I was attending worship at Temple B'nai Israel in Oklahoma City. In many synagogues there is a sense of community that a person can feel. There is a rootedness and a sense of faith and confidence that really gives life to a community.
On this particular night a little thing happened that jarred me. Rabbi Packman was getting ready to read the scripture--a passage concerning the wilderness wanderings of the Hebrew people. First he gave a few sentences of background information. Then he began with a sentence like this: "You remember that when we were in the wilderness..." Something did not sound right to my ears. Then in his next sentence Rabbi Packman used "we" again. I punched the search key on my mental computer. I asked my brain to compute this manner of speech. A second later it hit me: Of course, by saying we, he was identifying the congregation in front of him with those early Israelites--we were in the wilderness."
I have never heard a Christian who was about to read from the book of Acts refer to the early Christians as we. Now I realize that there are factors that account for this: Jews have not only a history and a religion in common but often a bloodline. There is a whole dimension to their WEness that we Christians do not share with each other.
But here is a thought: What if we Christians started reading the book of Acts in this way? What if our sense of community were such that we Christians could read our history and think our thoughts in the first person plural?! What if the church were truly WE?
In today's scripture from 1 Corinthians 12, Paul gives us the most marvelous image for the church that has ever existed: the body of Christ. HE tells us three things about this body: (1) Every part of the body is important. (2) There is no reason for jealousy. (3) Every part has a unique and vital contribution to make. This is the most wonderful definition of belonging that I can imagine. It says that in the church everyone is important, and even the smallest contribution has significance.
A little girl was sitting on the steps of a large cathedral that was newly built. A man who was passing by paused for a moment to admire the beautiful architecture. He was surprised to hear the little girl speak up: "Do you like it?"
"Yes, I think it is very beautiful," the man answered.
"I'm glad you like it," replied the little girl, "because I helped build it."
The man smiled and said, "You are awfully small to have had a part in the construction of such a large building. Tell me, what did you do?"
The little girl proudly announced, "My father is a bricklayer. He worked on this church; and every day he worked, I brought him his lunch."2
In this great body of Christ all of us are important, all of us are givers and receivers. There is a place for every one of us, and no one can occupy anyone else's place. It is as though if one of us were not there, the whole structure would collapse. Jesus came to tell us that we are that valuable to each other and to God. In this family we are truly loved and we belong. It is like a birthright...waiting to be claimed.
Sandy Wylie Tulsa, Oklahoma
1. Robert L. Short, The Parables of Peanuts (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 244. 2. Celebration, January 22, 1989.s: A Cultural Reading of His Letters
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