The Richness of Fellowship (Core Value 1)

April 25, 2010      The Richness of Fellowship         1 John 4:7-21

You don’t have to raise your hand this morning—but I’m wondering if anyone is here this morning who would rather be somewhere else?

Maybe you’d rather be sitting at home, watching TV or even still sleeping.

Or maybe you’d rather be getting that shopping done at Wal-Mart, or putting the final touches on the meal you’re going to eat later.

Maybe there’s a hobby you have that you’d rather be doing right now.

I was just wondering, because there’s a new religion that’s available for people who are in those shoes!  People who adhere to this new religion are immediately freed from any and all responsibilities that have to do with church.

This religion officially started in 1984, although I know the seeds were there for hundreds if not thousands of years before then.

It’s founder is a woman named Sheila, and as you might be able to guess, the name of the religion is ‘Sheila-ism’.

When asked about her religion in 1984, Sheila responded by saying “I believe in God, I am not a religious fanatic.  I can’t remember the last time I went to church, but my faith has carried me a long way. It’s Sheilaism. Just my own little voice.”

Her interviewer asked her to define what she meant by ‘sheilaism’, and she replied with this answer:  “just try to love yourself and be gentle with yourself. You know, I guess, take care of each other. I think God would want us to take care of each other.”

So, if you’re tired of coming to church on Sunday mornings, and if you’re tired of trying to make sense of the God who is revealed in the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ…if  you’re tired of dealing with other Christians and you’d prefer to just go it alone—there’s an option for you!  Sheilaism!  (Or I guess you’d have to substitute your own name to make it really your own).

All that’s required is to love yourself and be gentle with yourself.  And maybe taking care of other people would be a good idea, too.

These main tenets of Sheilaism are found in all religions.  It’s just that no other religion has quite the same emphasis on following ‘your own little voice’, or putting yourself quite in the center in the same way.

Sheilaism is attractive to Sheila, for obvious reasons.

In the same way, Patrickism is attractive to me in some ways.  🙂

I would love to do away with scripture and tradition and the church and just start emphasizing what’s important, and convenient, for Patrick.

What a perfect solution to the problem of a religion that demands too much from us!  No more church on Sunday morning!  No more commitments beyond our job and family!  I can still be inspired by the idea of a God somewhere—just not the kind who threatens how I live my life!  J

I like it!

Why don’t we all just do what we want to do in the name of religion and name it after us?

I would be a Patrickist—I’d roll out of bed at 10:00 on Sunday morning and probably read until lunchtime and then play video games all afternoon.

If I were a Patrickist, I’d spend long stretches of time isolated from other people.  I’d emerge from seclusion only for the most basic needs—to buy food, to get gas, the occasional trip to the bookstore or Panera Bread.

Why not just stop with this silly church business and each of us adopt our own religion?  Wouldn’t it be a lot easier?

After all, as long as we love ourselves, are gentle with ourselves, and try to take care of others, what harm can there be in it?

Isn’t that the point of church?  Isn’t that the heart of Christianity?

The answer is no.  It’s not the heart of Christianity, and it’s not the purpose of the church.

It’s close–close enough to be a sinister perversion of the gospel–but this individualistic approach to religion and life misses the boat in some pretty important ways.

The scripture this morning says

God’s love was revealed among us in this way; God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.

Love is the single most powerful thing in the world.  It’s strong enough to span generations, to motivate millions of people toward a common goal–it transforms people from the inside out and it is even stronger than the finality of death.

Love is indeed a powerful thing.

But it has one weakness; it can’t survive alone!

Love cannot live in us when we isolate ourselves from other people!

Love REQUIRES a community.

Sure, we can love people who are absent from us—and sometimes the most loving thing to do for yourself and everyone else is to get away for a time.  But unless we join and commit ourselves to the people we claim to love, then it’s not really love, is it?
For example, I love my family even though they’re in Iowa.

But if I never traveled to Iowa—ever—if I never called home or sent birthday cards a month late like I do now—if I never did any of that, yet continued to claim a love for my family—wouldn’t you start to question whether my love was sincere?

In the same way, we need the community of faith in order to demonstrate God’s love— both in our giving and receiving of that love.

Our fellowship is the arena in which God’s love is shown!  Can you see that?

Real Love cannot be expressed in the quiet solitude of lives detached from fellowship.

That’s why Sheilaism is such a sinister idea–because it suggests that love of self is equal to love of God. It suggests that what’s good for Sheila is good for the world—and that’s just not true.

Love of self is not love as God intended! Love of self does not require a community to survive—I can love myself and interact with as few people as possible in the world.  I can love myself and never come to church.

But God intended otherwise.  God showed us all a better way!  He gave us a Stronger Love!

We love because He first loved us!  You heard it read–

By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.  And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.  God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.  So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

Therefore, as Hebrews puts it,

let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

It’s almost like I’ve heard that somewhere before…the importance of meeting together in order to show God’s love!

I remember where it was!

Christine and I had just graduated from Seminary and were looking for a job.

We had received several packets of information from different churches around the denomination who were looking for pastors.

All of the packets we received were pretty similar–just information about the congregation and the area where it was located.

So we were considering a few churches based on the information that we had.  And then we got a packet from Millersburg, which was pretty similar to the rest except for one thing this church included.

It was a document that outlined the ‘Core Values’ of Millersburg Mennonite Church.

And it left an impression on both Christine and me.

The simple fact that this church had taken the time to create such a document spoke volumes to us.  But beyond that, what it actually said was what really piqued our interest and eventually led to this relationship!

The first core value that is listed reads as follow, and I think it’s on the top of your bulletin if you’re interested to read it for yourself.

It says:

1. We recognize the critical importance of our fellowship together.

Building relationships is necessary for spiritual growth and is basic to being able to give and receive counsel and to otherwise listen and tend to one another’s needs, both physical and spiritual.

Therefore, we seek a fellowship that promotes personal growth and strengthens families.

We find a richness in our fellowship and wish to extend it to others.

These core values drew us into your story here in Millersburg…your story which is now our story.

So I’d like to take the next several weeks to sermonize each of these core values.  I want to do this to remind us of what we’re doing when we get together.

I also hope it’s a way to keep us grounded in a shared vision as we continue to chart a course into the future.

See, it’s exactly because you are here right now instead of anywhere else that I’d like to do this.  You’re presence in this room tells me that you don’t want to simply follow the path of least resistance in your life. If that’s what you wanted, you’d still be in bed or watching TV right now.

So I have to believe that one reason you’re here right now is because you believe there is more to this life than we can ever really understand.

You want something more than just your own version of Sheilaism, and you recognize that because God loved us, so we must love one another.

So it makes sense to remember and to recognize the critical importance of our fellowship together.

You are here this morning because you made a choice.

Maybe you made that choice just this morning—when you got up and decided to come to church.  Or maybe the choice is becoming a habit after years of making the decision to come to church.

Either way, this morning you are stating with your presence in this room, that this fellowship of believers is important to you.  You’re saying that relationships are necessary for spiritual growth, that these relationships are basic to being able to give and receive counsel.

Simply by showing up, you’re saying more than you can imagine.

Whether or not you intended to say any of that is beside the point.

That’s because in the give and take of these relationships, you are being changed and you are changing other people.  That’s not a small thing.

How we love each other is our primary form of witness to the world!

Our love is not from ourselves!  Our love is from God!

And so The commandment we have from Him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

Love is not a small inner voice or even an emotion that we feel—it’s a commandment from the mouth of the almighty God.

But neither is it drudgery.  We love because he first loved us, sending his Son to dwell with us, to die for us, to live again among us!

So there really is a richness in our fellowship that we are eager to extend to others!

Our God was not content to be alone.  He created the world and humanity so that He might fellowship with us!  What Greater privilege can we have, then, but to share that fellowship with others?

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