Message for worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting, 6th of Third Month, 2022
Speaker: Stephanie Crumley-Effinger
Scripture: Romans 12: 1-5 (NRSV, MSG)
Jackie: I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Eric: So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for God.
Jackie: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Eric: Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what God wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Jackie: For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
Eric: I'm speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what God does for us, not by what we are and what we do for God.
Jackie: For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.
Eric: In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we're talking about is Christ's body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of this body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn't amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ's body, let's just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren't.
“. . . We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another” (Romans 12:5, NRSV)
“. . . We find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ's body.” (Romans 12:5, MSG)
The phrase, “members one of another,” has been living in me for many months now. So, in early December when Lyn asked me to speak, I had the sense that this was to be the heart of the message. But I also wrote to her, “We shall see if that has staying power or gets replaced by something else!”
So here we are, three months later, and, rather than being replaced, this phrase, “members one of another,” has not only had “staying power,” but has continued to grow in strength and clarity.
Three months ago, however, none of this had the grim context of one European country invading another as Russia is doing in Ukraine. Nor did it come amid some Americans on the political right increasingly expressing admiration for Russian president Vladimir Putin’s ideology of “Christian nationalism” and wishing for that in place of US democratic form of government.
The bloodbath in Ukraine, and state-sponsored violence occurring in various forms in other places, some of it, most regrettably, sponsored by our own government, are harsh reminders not to take for granted our freedom to gather in safety to worship. We are called to be faithful stewards of our privilege while others who wish to be together and in safety are separated and suffering. And in contrast to despicable and frightening viewpoints about nationalistic Christianity held by some powerful persons and interests, instead to witness to Jesus’ call to beloved community rather than to exercise power over others and use violence against those from whom we differ.
So, who are we, as one household of beloved community, West Richmond Meeting, this particular group of people, some of us here for decades, some here for a season of life, and some taking part occasionally? What does it mean here, in this body, to be “members one of another”? Our mission statement affirms that, “As a Christian Quaker community, we seek to discover God’s truth, proclaim God’s love, and live our faith.” This description is both anchored and dynamic, comprising both identity and action, rootedness and engagement, welcoming those who are drawn to the Meeting and wish to experience life together.
Being “members one of another” varies among us in its particulars as, respectively, we take part in the Meeting at differing levels, sometimes depending on our season of life and responsibilities. Some of us attend Meeting when our schedules have more breathing room, while for others it has a regular anchoring dimension, as Randall Shrock has observed about himself and Alice, “whenever we have been away, we don’t feel like we really are home until we have gone to Meeting.”
For the past two years, being “members one of another” has expanded as we have again become the Meeting home to some Friends who had been here in the past prior to moving a distance away. They are now present via Zoom, as are several Friends who have recently moved away and some people living at a distance who are new to the Meeting. We continue exploring what it means to be “members one of another” when some can be physically together while others can gather only by Zoom or phone. What forms of greater intentionality might we need to develop to connect with each other in meaningful and vital ways in addition to Meeting for Worship?
Some Friends who live far apart from one another are finding it very helpful to correspond by e-mail and/or talk by phone or Zoom to get better acquainted in a more informal manner. The Meeting directory is an aid to such visiting! I’d like to give a shoutout to Eugenia Mills, who is particularly active in this form of hospitality to Friends who live at a distance from her.
As a body with varying parts, differences among us, in addition to our physical location, can bring challenges. These include how we vary in what gets our attention. My new favorite word is “salience;” “salience” means that something is on one’s radar, in your field of vision, gets one’s attention. For example, a number of years ago after our trusty old big blue van ground to a halt, in the search for a car we looked at and ultimately bought a Hyundai Sonata. Before that I had not noticed Hyundais, but suddenly I began seeing them all over town! Obviously, they hadn’t all just been bought! Instead, Hyundais had become salient to me, so I had come to see what had previously been there, but I had had no reason to pay attention.
That happens here at the Meeting as well. A given issue can be salient – and even highly important - for one or more of us, while not being much if at all in the awareness of others of us. We differ on the salience of such matters as the peace testimony, the Bible, waiting worship, racial justice, music, Friends missionary work, children’s programming, Quaker business process, Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Meeting budget, and the New Association of Friends. Sometimes we can find it difficult to accept or work with these differences in energy and interest, especially when it concerns something that we treasure, but others seem indifferent to it.
Being “members one of another,” if that is to be real and not just a hope, includes accepting the inevitability of conflict arising among us and needing to be addressed in life-giving ways. Nadia Bolz-Weber, founding pastor of the church known as House for All Sinners and Saints, wrote that when she met with people who had expressed interest in the congregation, she always told them that, at some point, “We will disappoint you” (in Pastrix), and asked them to think ahead to how they would plan to respond when that occurred.
At this Meeting, while we seek to be trustworthy to one another, we are human, and thus necessarily have flaws, as individuals, as committees or other groups, and as a congregation. Working through disappointments and conflicts is difficult, and most of us have had few good models and limited experience in doing this well. But when it is needed, we can survive the discomfort and it can also become a valuable form of increasing our connectedness to make us truly “members one of another.”
Another aspect to deepening our connections so as to fulfill the promise of being “members one of another” is being aware that we differ in what we feel free to share or to ask for prayer and support. Often there are matters which could arouse others’ prejudice or judgment or which feel too private to share, but for which prayer and other forms of accompaniment and support are greatly needed. Some time ago I had a friend who developed a miserably uncomfortable form of cancer in her genital area which required very painful treatment. As you can imagine, that felt private and embarrassing to tell people and at times she and her spouse felt very alone in the struggle with it. Such a sense of loneliness and isolation worsens the pain of the experience itself. This can be the case whenever someone experiences a form of struggle which is stigmatized, such as loss of a job, being a survivor of abuse or assault, having been arrested, or facing bankruptcy. How can we be more fully “members of one another,” and, if not in the full group, as an individual or small group be available and trustworthy to listen when someone shares a difficult experience and provide loving acceptance, accompaniment, and care?
And perhaps the most challenging aspect of the invitation to be “members one of another” is when we have said or done something problematic, and someone brings it to our attention. Most of us dislike getting things wrong and having someone confront us about it. Typically our reaction is a tide of defensiveness rising powerfully within us and, unfortunately, often spilling out toward the other person.
One of the most common causes of this is when our intention is different than the impact on another person of what we have said or done. The reality is that when the impact of our words or actions differs from our intent, instead of trying to convince the other person of what we had meant, our intent needs to take a back seat to caring for the impact felt by the other person. We need to apologize for the harm that the other person experienced through what we said or did and seek to mend the damage done. THIS IS SO HARD!
But perhaps we can come to experience it like being told that one has a piece of spinach stuck between two front teeth or forgot to zip one’s pants after using the restroom. For most of us that is probably the one time we are glad to find out a problem with us and be able to address it. We would probably all much prefer the short-term embarrassment of being told about this over the much bigger embarrassment of discovering it later and wondering how many people noticed, but said nothing, allowing us to go along thinking everything was fine, when this embarrassing thing was visible to others, but nobody cared enough to let us know.
The same thing is true about a way we have gone awry in some other manner; when someone cares enough to let us know we are aided in being able to repair harm, restore relationship, and make a change.
Being “members one of another” is an important part of our calling as a Meeting. May we allow God’s love, and the support and caring challenges we provide to one another, gradually to transform us into being the body of Christ, with our varying parts, each having its specific value, working well together for the purposes of God, both with one another and toward those with whom we come in contact throughout our days and weeks.
(First Sunday in Lent)
New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This document is protected by U.S. and International copyright laws. Reproduction and distribution without permission from the author is prohibited. © 2022 Stephanie Crumley-Effinger. All rights reserved.