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Pulling Together
January 26, 1992

Russia is in our news almost daily, with monumental changes occurring within minutes. There's an old Russian story that all Russians know and which they need to hear again—a story which will also do us some good. One weekend, grandfather Lev and grandmother Olga were visited by their granddaughter, Katya. Actually, she was sent by her parents because they were having marital difficulties. They thought a quiet weekend by themselves was just what they needed. Marital difficulties seem to run in the family because the grandparents didn't get along very well either! And nor were they that thrilled to have Katya visit. She was full of questions; she hid under the table; she got under foot; she wanted to help but she wasn’t any good at it; she was noisy; she left the door open; when she ate there were crumbs on the floor; she made fun of adults and made  the dog bark. In other words, she was a delightful ordinary child. But the adults in her family generally found her to be a mixture of earthquakes and thunderstorms.

Well, suppertime was getting close, and grandmother Olga told total grandfather Lev to go out in the garden and pull a turnip because Katya had a big appetite enough for three well behaved children. So grandfather Lev went out in the garden and found a turnip. It was the only one left so he tried to pull it up. But no matter how hard he tried it would not budge. But you know how men like to open jars and do anything that requires a lot of muscle. And you also know how men do not like to admit they can't do everything. And how especially they do not like to ask for help from a woman. So hesitantly and reluctantly, grandfather Lev returned to the kitchen empty handed and asked grandmother Olga to come and help him pull the turnip. “This is the biggest turnip in the world; even Samson couldn't pull it up by himself.” Grandmother Olga turned to him with her sweetest smile and said she wasn't at all surprised he couldn't pull it up by himself. In fact, she said, men were generally all boast and talk.

Well, they both tried to pull up the turnip, but the stubborn turnip stayed locked in the ground. So they asked Katya for help. Katya was reluctant at first. After a day of scolding, she could feel the sweet taste of milk in her mouth. But she also could imagine the taste of the turnip, cooked and mashed with butter on top. So she went out to help. But the three of them could not budge the turnip. So Katya had the remarkable idea that the dog might help. But even with the dog’s help, the turnip would not move. So the dog went to the cat. But still the turnip only trembled in the ground. So the cat turned to the one member of the household not yet in the garden, the mouse who lived behind the stove. She was an exceptionally extraordinarily clever mouse as the cat knew well. The mouse approached the turnip, carefully keeping her eye on the cat. The mouse knew that turnips have roots so she tunneled her way to the turnip’s base. And there she nicked each tiny root with her sharp teeth. Once again grandfather Lev put his hands on the turnip. Grandmother pulled him, Katya pulled grandmother, the dog pulled Katya, the cat pulled the dog, the mouse pulled the cat and the earth surrendered up its prize when they all pulled together, only when they all pulled together. They tell me that tourists going to Moscow can buy a curious small little toy. It is turnip shaped, stained orange. And next to it are six little figures—a tall man, a plump woman, a bratty child, a dog, a cat and least in stature, a smiling mouse. That's a delightful story Russians need to hear again. And so do we.

As a church, we face major challenges and opportunities. We achieved a monumental victory by ending last year with all our bills paid and making a 100% contribution of our conference apportionments. And now we have 1992. Another challenge. The Administrative Council on Tuesday evening will decide what we're going to do about the organ by dealing with a 47-page proposal from the Organ committee, the Trustees, the Worship Committee, the Music Committee, the Strategy Council and the Finance Committee all voting that we raise over $350,000.

The growth of our congregation continues to be a challenge. Our program theme this year is to help each other grow into relationship with God. And we are happily engaged in an ecumenical venture of providing a pastoral counseling ministry housed in our building on the lower level. Funds are being raised. A $25,000 grant was just received from the Packard Foundation. And tomorrow we'll begin interviewing candidates for the Executive Director position. The Samaritan Counseling Center will be one way we as a church respond to the stress under which people live these days causing marital difficulties, family break down, individual dysfunctions. Can we as a church do all that? Can we as a church succeed? Of course we can, if we pull together. How do we pull together? 

The scripture lesson this morning was the familiar passages of Paul's likening the church to a body. We are the body of Christ. Christ has no physical body on this earth but the church. The holy Catholic Church is like a body. Let's look at the body image again and find some clues as to how we pull together. The body image reinforces the necessity of pulling together. A body is made up of parts which are interrelated and interdependent. The eye needs the ear, the foot needs the hand. A dysfunctional part cripples the bodily parts. The parts pull together, work together or the body is incapacitated. A church pulls together or it is immobilized. Each part of the body is necessary and equally important. Whatever part you are, you are equally important with everyone else. Can you say the heart is more important than the liver? Or can you say the dog was more important than the cat in pulling the turnip or grandfather Lev was more important than the mouse? There is no such thing as a lowly insignificant Christian in the body of Christ. There's no such thing. We all have our parts to play. We can't all be mouths, thank the Lord. We can’t all be leaders, we can’t all be followers, we can’t all be musicians, we can't all cook. It takes all of us together, it takes all of us working together, it takes all of us pulling together.

Therefore, inactivity in the church—non-participation in the church—cripples the body. Non-participation has an effect, as participation has an effect. When members die, or when members move away, the body suffers. And it takes a great deal of time and new growth to replace those parts. Likewise, when members become inactive, their absence has a greater effect than just not being here.  The absence, non-participation, is just not being absent, it cripples the body. Paul said in chapter 12, verse 15, if the foot would say, because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body, that would not make it any less a part of the body. The foot deciding not to be an active foot cripples the body. The foot does not leave the body. The foot cannot say, “I don't think I'll hang on to this body anymore, I'll go over there.” The foot cannot decide to leave the body, but the foot can decide to cripple the body. And the body limps along.

Popular commitment today says “I'll do it as long as it's on my terms and fits my agenda. And when it doesn't, I can leave anytime.” Too many marriage commitments, too many friendship commitments, too many commitments to Christ and the church are not commitments at all. They are not covenants. They have strings attached. “I'll do it as long as it feels good. I'll do it as long as I want to. I'll do it as long as they do things my way. I will do it as long as I get something out of it.”

In contrast to that kind of commitment, in contrast to popular commitment, biblical commitment is covenantal. Biblical commitment says, “I respond to God's love of me. I respond to God's reaching out to me by becoming a part of the church, by becoming a part of the body of Christ.” And that means through thick and thin. When the body has the flu, the foot can't go out and try to look for a healthy body. There are lots of dissatisfied, unfulfilled people out there who have become disillusioned with the church, and they're trying to live outside the body, unhappily disconnected. Short term commitments, fair weather Christians do not make happy, victorious, joyful faith for living.

In this passage, Paul then listed some parts of the body of Christ which are necessary. Last week, I tried to make the point that most mainline congregations are missing some of the spiritual gifts—gifts of the Holy Spirit. We’re missing the gift of healing, the gift of miracles, the gift of tongues. Discovering, nurturing, and sharing all the gifts of the Holy Spirit will complete the body of Christ. Then Paul reminds us in this passage that we are not all expected to have all the gifts, which is why we need each other and why we need to pull together on the same team.

But Paul in verse 31 encourages all of us to strive for the greater good and the more excellent way, which he then majestically and beautifully In chapter 13 calls love. We can’t all teach or lead or heal, or perform miracles. But we all can love. We all can pull together. A three-year old boy wandered off into the cold North Dakota prairie. Volunteers and rescue workers came from all over to search for the missing boy. After three days of searching, someone suggested, why don't we hold hands, join hands and form a human chain. They found the body under a bush and when they lay the cold, lifeless body in his mother's arms, his mother looked up with tears streaming down her face and asked, “Why didn’t you join hands sooner?”

(End of the sermon is missing)

© 1992 Douglas I. Norris