On December 10th, Maureen’s family welcomed John Edward Winters IV into the world. At just over six pounds, Ward, as he will be known, is quickly becoming the most photographed and media savvy child in Kentucky. Ward is greatly loved and a total wonder to his parents and grandparents. Each day, his parents post a picture on Facebook documenting his newest outfit or expression. With every recorded sound and expression Ward makes, it is made clear his parents see him as God sees him, “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Each evening as I look at the newest and cutest picture of Ward posted on Facebook, I have begun to wonder, if in a few years’ time, if Ward will see himself as fearfully and wonderfully made by God. Or, if he will feel differently after he begins to explore the world and realize not all people are created the same, and not all people are treated equally. If Ward does not grow up to be tall and lean, will he realize he is still fearfully and wonderfully made?” If Ward is not oriented towards academia, or does not excel in sports, will he still know that he is fearfully and wonderfully made by God? Or if he, like his parents, chooses a path that is not deemed the norm, will he still know he is fearfully and wonderfully made?
Our world, our society today has come to a point of so narrowly defining what success and perfection is and/or may look like, it has become hard for many to accept that by not fitting in, by not looking the part, or by not being able to follow the expected path, or by being less than physically perfect we are somehow inadequate and poorly made. But as a poster of my youth once decreed, God does not make junk, and we are all as this morning’s psalm celebrates, fearfully and wonderfully made by God. And thankfully, not made the same.
Instead, as St. Paul writes to the churches in Rome and Corinth, God has created each of us with a different dream in mind and has imbued each of us with gifts and talents that are perfectly suited to the dream God desires for us and for the part we are called to play in creating the Reign of God on earth. The challenge we face throughout life is finding and following the dream and work God desires for us. “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members has the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.” All we have to do to find and fulfill the dream God has for us is to be like Samuel in today’s first reading; to listen for the voice of God and respond by opening our hearts and minds to what God has to say.
Did you know congregations are like people, fearfully and wonderfully made by God? Sometimes it is easy to forget that as a community of faith we are a body which God has known intimately since before its creation. God, in its wisdom, has called each of us together. like an individual, as a community, God holds a dream for us as well and has provided us with the talent and the resources we need to fulfill that dream. And like individuals, we too can lose sight of how wonderfully and perfectly we are made.
As a smaller congregation it is easy to forget how wonderful we truly are. It is easy for us to look to our larger neighbor and assume bigger is better. . .that because they are able to do more, because they have the resources for grand liturgy and Disneyesque Sunday School programs, they are somehow better than us. These large churches look and feel to be the spiritual success stories of the American Church. I will not deny, many do wonderful work for the Reign of God. But like the star athlete or the top student, mega churches do not negate the need and the role of the smaller church.
Smaller churches can and do great things in the name of God when they are focused on mission and ministry. I believe one of the greatest challenges congregations like St. Luke’s face today is the need or the desire to do too much. Often times we believe we have to do it all, to have the best children’s programs, the best music programs, the most outreach etc. It is this understanding of what it means to be a church which often frustrates members and ultimately leads to failure. As Kent Hogan’s advice to those adjusting paralysis often was to focus on what you can do and not on what you cannot, thus advice do also applies to us as a congregation as well.
I believe this is one of the greatest accomplishments we have achieved in the past few years. I feel we have become more comfortable with letting go of what we believe we should be doing as a congregation and celebrating what we do well. Yes, it is true, we don’t have multiple choirs and praise bands, yet we still have robust congregational singing at the 10:30 service each week and we continue to be blessed with talented musicians who lead chanting the psalm and other parts of the service. No we don’t have a large Sunday school outfitted with all the latest in Christian curricula, but we do have Debbie Dilg our committed Sunday School teacher and others who are willing to help, who provide each child with individualized attention and a greater sense of being loved and appreciated by God. And we are a congregation in which every child who grows up here feels part of an extended family. No we do not have outreach programs that travel to do missionary work at the far reaches of the earth, what we do have is an outreach program that continues to intimately touch the lives of many here at home through St. Charles Food Pantry and Meals on Wheels. We may not have multiple small groups and Bible studies based on age, gender and interests, what we have instead are intergenerational opportunities for worship and formation which allow us to become more intimately acquainted with each other.
This morning we give praise to God for fearfully and wonderfully making St. Luke’s the congregation it is today. And like Samuel and young Ward, St. Luke’s has been created with a dream to be fulfilled. This dream may not be for us to become a mega church like the many nearby, but to be a congregation destined to bring all people to God’s healing embrace.