The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire



Sermon - August 27, 2017
Scripture Reading: Romans 12:1-8  
Sermon Title: One Body, many parts

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     As I start to write a sermon, I always read the scripture, several times, then start researching.  Normally I do the bulletin well in advance of writing a sermon, so a sermon title is always hard.  There are some weeks in which the bulletin is printed long before I have my sermon written.  And more than once I have written half a sermon, or even the whole thing and realized it was not the direction I wanted to go.  This was one of those weeks.  Was really thinking about the appendix.  We are all parts of the body of Christ, as parts of one body. Although we are one, we have different functions.  Paul does a better job of going deeper into this idea in his letters to the church at Corinth, but touches on it in this letter to the church or churches in Rome.  If we are all parts of this body, someone has to be the appendix.  And what does the appendix do?  Nothing, probably.  May store some good bacteria, often gets infected, and can cause a lot of problems.  And most doctors have no problem with removing it.  You can live fine without an appendix. Having it taken out apparently does no harm to the body.  But you can see where this was leading, and why I needed to start over.  You see, there are no parts of the body of Christ which are useless.  

     As I went back, re-read and starting to think of a new direction, verse 2 jumped out at me: ďDo not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.Ē  The definition of conform is:  behave according to socially acceptable conventions or standards, or in other terms maintaining the status quo, doing it the way we have always done it.  Obviously in Paulís time the conventions or standards were very different than those today, but I think that, for the most part, most of us are conformed to this world. 

     I always thought I had a rebel streak in me.  Over the years I had one of those little rat tail pony tails that were popular in the 80ís, dyed blond.  I had long hair. Once I used to pull it back into a pony tail.  I have had a pierced ear, a tattoo and even have been seen driving a motorcycle.  But despite these bits, I am for the most part conformed to todayís world.  I have a cell phone, drive a car most of the time, live in a house with my wife and family.  Even have one dog and one cat. 
But I donít see this as a bad thing, so I started to ask myself what is bad about conforming and what it means to be transformed. 

     Yesterday I spent some time at Silver Lake Conference Center in CT.  I stopped by a few times over the past many years, but never more than a few hours.  My last summer on the summer staff was 1993.  I had come from Missouri and called the director to see if I could hang out there for a while.  The director seemed to have an open door policy, if someone needed a place to stay, he opened the doors, fed you, and was even able to pay you a very small amount.  After I had been there a month or so, he asked if I would stay around for the summer.  I really didnít have any place to go, so agreed.  It was after the applications had been sent in, and he had already hired the summer staff, so he was not sure where to put me.  In that later winter and early spring I had spent a lot of time doing maintenance.  We cooked on weekends, cleaned the buildings and did maintenance during the week.  They had a maintenance crew hired for the summer, and he had hired a director for this crew. 

     I would have been totally happy being put on this crew.   The director of this crew started working at the camp with me 5 summers before, but I had taken two of those summers off.  So he has seniority.  The conforming thing would be for me to be put on this crew.  But the director felt I had skills that would not be used if I were just on this crew.  Oh, I can mow lawns, I can use a weedwhacker, I could even use a chainsaw.  But the director felt that my skills were really in organization.  The director of this crew could do everything, as well or better than I, but getting everyone organized to do things was where he needed help.  So I was named the ďAssistant to the Director of Outdoor MinistriesĒ and one of my jobs was to work with the maintenance crew on organization.  So each morning just before breakfast we would meet on the loading dock outside the kitchen.  I was there to help the director of that crew make assignments for the day.  I didnít want it to appear that I was making the assignments, I needed him to do it, but needed to support him. 

     It was transforming.  Rather than just plug me into some existing structure that might not work well, how can we change the structure to accomplish our goals?  He saw gifts in me, that I did not see, which he could put to use. 

     This transformation also happens on an individual level.  Paul and I both believe, if I am reading   him correctly, that something happens when you accept Christ, when you make the choice to be a Christian.  Maybe it is not even a choice to be a Christian, but make a choice that you believe in a God that you will follow.  Paul would say something like the old you is buried with Christ in the tomb and a new person arises.  While Paul would probably suggest that this happens once, I believe it happens over and over again, in small steps.  At least that is how I think it happened with me.

     When I was in college, my first year, I was struggling to find out where I belonged.  I attended a few worship services on campus, but they were on Sunday morning.  I am not a morning person now, and in college was really not a morning person.  I donít remember if they were 9 or 10 or 11, but really didnít matter, it was before noon.  Toward the end of the year, I found myself getting more involved.  The campus minister asked if I was interested in renting a room in the campus ministry building the next year, and right after I agreed he resigned. 

     Howie was hired as our interim campus minister.  He was a professor at Bangor Seminary, taught Hebrew and probably some other classes.  Howie was brought up Jewish, but had become a Christian and eventually a minister.  It was during that year that things started to click for me.  I realized that school was very important, but also this whole God thing was important.  While there were things about me that were still conforming, I also started to accept that I was being transformed.  It was OK that I was not living on campus, or in an apartment off campus, I lived in this campus ministry building.  As I moved through the next few years, I grew closer to God, and was able to start in inviting others to join me in this journey I was on.  Although I had done confirmation and been involved in church, it was during those years in which I started to realize that if sin was separation from God, I really enjoyed life with less sin.  How could I get to know this God better and how could I serve this God in whatever I did with my life?  Buried with Christ and risen with Christ are not the terms I would use for this transformation. Mine was much slower, starting to realize that this whole religion thing really was making a difference in who I was becoming.  It was a transformation.

     But it is also clear that Paul does not see us all becoming ministers, or teachers, or givers or leaders or anything else.  He uses the term according to the grace given us.  Of course this does not mean that you are limited to one, but does mean that they are all important. 

     A few months ago I was at an interim minister training and the leader read a passage where Paul describes the body and us as parts of it.  Then he asked us all to stand up, head up here, feet down there, put yourself where you see yourself in the body.  Nobody wanted to be the head, and Paul often says that Jesus is the head of the church, so I understood that.  Once we found our spots we had to tell everyone why we choose the ones we did.  I chose the left hand. 

     Before I explain why the left hand, it is important to say that I am not prejudiced against left handed people.  My mother and brother in law are left handed, so I am aware of the discrimination against left handed people.  Any left handed people here today?  They are always forced to sit at the end of the table, where their left arms will not bump those of us who are right handed.  Scissors are often designed for the right handed.  How about a manual can opener?  Playing some instruments, like a guitar, is hard.  Many tools have a safety button which has to be pressed as you hold the trigger.  They are normally designed for the right handed.  Baseball mitts usually would go on the right hand, so a left handed player could throw with their dominant hand.  Even shooting a bow and arrow, if you are good, requires a left handed bow.  I get that, and left handed people are just as good as all those things as right handed people.

     But I chose the left hand because for the majority of us, we use it less than the right hand, and often think of it as less important.  Writing, hammering, pouring.  And our left one is left just hanging there.  But lest you doubt the importance of your left hand, just try to do everything with just your right hand.  Try to unscrew the lid on a jar, using only your right hand.  Try pulling up your pants, or fastening a button using only your right hand.   The left hand is the one that steadies things, helps out when needed, but is not the center of attention. 

     As we each took turns telling what we were, we all chose something important, but often not thought of on a daily basis.  One woman chose the big toe.  I donít know how accurate it is, but she said that the big toe is the one that allows you to walk.  The other toes help, but the big toe is the one that keeps you standing and helps you push off to take your next step.  Apparently without a big toe, walking is very hard. 

     And the church is that way.  Each of us plays an important role.  Sometimes, perhaps even often, those roles are not seen or even thought of.  Phil Clark I understand was a steady presence for many years.  Every Sunday he rang the bell, counted who was here, and apparently did a lot of other things.  When he passed away others had to step in and take over his jobs.  You can survive without your left hand;  things are just much more difficult.  You can probably survive without a big toe, but makes walking harder.  There are parts of the body that are essential to survival, but maybe we have more than one person who can fill those roles in this church. 

     That has a connection to conforming or transforming.  I love occupational therapists.  If any of you have had to work with one, the way their minds work is amazing.  Oh, you canít use your left hand, OK, look we can use this block of wood to hold the jar when you try to take off the lid.  It will do the job of your left hand.  You cannot bend over to do something, how about this tool? They are transforming the way we think about doing things.  Rather than just conforming to the way we have always done something, maybe we are called to be parts of the body, and maybe we are called also to be occupational therapists, transforming the way we think about things so that while it would be easier if every part is there and working, we can still be the church when one part is missing.