A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, October 5, 2014
Romans 12:4-10 GNT
Today is one of those special days that bring great joy to a minister; a day when two of our young persons have been confirmed as members of our church. We are blessed in that the United Church has some wonderful kids and teenagers. And those becoming members today represent the United Church’s finest.
I thought it appropriate in my short sermon today, to spend a few minutes primarily speaking to these young persons. But hopefully what I have to say will also be of interest to everyone, and will maybe serve as a refresher for all of us.
Church membership. What are the benefits of belonging to a faith community in general, and to this United Church congregation in particular? As young persons, you may not today fully appreciate the loving, supportive community this United Church offers. But someday you may better appreciate this congregation and the religious background, support, and encouragement that has been given to you over the years.
I have said it many times, both inside this church and to people I meet outside this church: The United Church is the seventh congregation I have served in my 38 years of ministry. And without a doubt, this United Church is the most loving, harmonious, supportive, congenial congregation I have ever worked with. I would go so far as to say this church is unique. I have never known another quite like it. So as young people, you may not realize what a blessing it is to have been taught, nurtured, encouraged, and loved in this congregation.
Briefly put, what is the meaning of membership? What does it mean to belong to a congregation like this United Church?
- Belief. In this United Church, we don’t have a creed or confession of faith one has to subscribe to in order to become a member. That doesn’t mean we don’t have beliefs. It just means we don’t dictate what one has to believe. Rather, we seek to encourage each member to formulate his or her own informed beliefs in accordance with the positive view of God, faith, human nature, science, and human progress this congregation stands for. I often tell people who inquire about our congregation, my aim is not to preach dogma or doctrine—what one should believe—but rather to preach practical sermons about how a Christian should actually live his or her life.
- Encouragment. Some churches and ministers feel it is their responsibility to remind members how sinful they are every time they come to church. They use guilt as a motivator to boost attendance, and may preach hellfire and brimstone as a threat to keep members in-line. Here at the United Church, instead of telling members how sinful they are, we encourage members to discover their untapped potential and how good they might become, to be the best that they can be.
- Support. In this congregation, we agree to walk together and support one another, not only in each one’s quest for spiritual or religious truth, but also support one another in the joys and sorrows of life. Here we love, comfort, celebrate, forgive, and pray for one another. Here we rejoice with each other when there is cause to rejoice, and we weep with one another when life makes us weep. Our In Reach Group is a unique arm of this congregation that puts this support into action.
- Talents. In this community of faith, we encourage each member to discover, develop to the fullest, and exercise for the good of this community and our wider world the personal talents and abilities that each of us has been given. Such is what the Apostle Paul was talking about in the passage read from Romans. Just as in the human body where each organ or appendage has its unique function for the good of the entire body, in this body—the church—each of us is gifted in some way so as to contribute to the well-being of the whole, to our own personal satisfaction, and for the betterment of our community and wider world. Teaching, preaching, serving, encouraging, sharing, showing kindness, helping, administrating, loving—each of us has abilities and talents to be used in the service of the church and in the service of others. One of the joys and responsibilities of being a church member is discovering, developing, and utilizing our particular gifts that help others, support the church, and help make the world a better place.
There are other things that might be said about the meaning of membership. But these four having to do with beliefs, encouragement, support, and talents are enough to chew on for today. In case you haven’t noticed, the combined first letter of each of these areas comprises an acronym—B-E-S-T: Best. Choosing to become a member of a church like this United Church is one of the BEST decisions that one can ever make. As noted by Dr. Robert Schuller in today’s Thought for Meditation, “Nothing can be more important to a healthy, self-respecting, honored life than joining a community in which people affirm each other.”
I am extremely grateful for those who became members today and those who will become members later this month. I am also extremely grateful that some six years ago things worked out so that I could become a member of this unique community of faith. My hope and prayer is that today, and in years to come, those who have become members today, as well as those who will become members later this month, will also feel the same way, believing it was one of the best decisions ever made. Amen.