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Get Connected
March 7 and 8, 1998


How to Succeed, Not Just Survive is our theme this Lent/Easter season. So far in this series, DREAM BIG and TELL THE STORIES. If you missed hearing either or both, copies are available. Today's topic: GET CONNECTED.

The other evening I turned on a lamp in the Family Room, but nothing happened. Before I changed bulbs, I happened to look on the floor, and there next to the outlet was the cord. The lamp was not connected to the power source. What good is a lamp if it doesn't turn on? A lamp may be a lovely ornament, a decoration, but it's primary function is to give light. A lamp is useless until it is connected.

Perhaps you've heard the old story of a pastor who went to call on a member who had been absent from church for some time. The pastor was invited inside and the two of them sat in front of a blazing fire in the fireplace. Without saying a word, the pastor got up, picked up the tongs, pulled a brightly burning log out of the fire. He sat down and the two of them watched the log's flame slowly die. Then the pastor got up, walked to the fireplace, replaced the log on the fire, and they watched it, now united with the other logs, rejuvenated, burst into flame. Still not saying a word, the pastor got up to leave. At the door, the church member said, "Thanks for the sermon. I'll be in church Sunday."

The point? Alone, we die; together, we live. Disconnected, we have no power. Get connected. The myth of rugged American individualism is just that-- a myth. A pioneer did not and could not survive without the help and companionship of neighbors. To succeed, not just survive, get connected. We all need support systems. We all need reinforcement, encouragement, direction, and we all need people who care about our connection with God.

Why? Because we were not created to live in isolation, but in community. Especially is this true for Christians. We were not redeemed to live as solitary, loner Christians; but we were redeemed to live in community with one another. Jesus did not simply tell us to love one another. Jesus acted out what he was talking about, and gathered people around him to live in community. Within the large group of followers, Jesus organized small groups. He called twelve men to be with him in a small group. They were called his disciples. Within the twelve, he organized an even smaller group of three-- Peter, James and John.

My purpose today is to convince you that you need to be in community, to be in fellowship, not just in the church, but in a small group. Our congregation, like the followers of Jesus, is too large for you to find community, for you to find personal support, encouragement and direction. I appeal to you to consider becoming part of a small group of four to eight persons. At the end of this message, I will be giving you an opportunity to sign up for a small group.

Besides the Fellowships of the United Methodist Women, I estimate that there are ten small groups meeting weekly within our congregation. There are men's groups and women's groups. Dare we challenge everyone in our congregation to belong to a small group? Get connected! Let's start with something manageable, and set a goal of starting 40 new small groups. In addition to the ten we have, at eight each, that is 400 people.

What does a small group designed for Christian growth and fellowship do? What happens? Studying the Scripture passages for today, a small group does four things:

1) "Welcome one another," Romans 15:7, "just as Christ has welcomed you." Besides home, and sometimes where the home is less than desirable, instead of the home, we all need a place, a group where we are welcomed, greeted warmly, and wanted. To walk into a familiar room, where familiar faces all break into genuine smiles, and say, "Hi, Doug, glad you're here!" is a taste of heaven! To be wanted! To have Christian friends! At Family Camp, we sing a song written by Malvina Reynolds,

Ev'rybody has a place to go, Ev'rybody wants a place to be,

When birds fly they're swimming in the sky, while fish are swimming in the sea.

Ev'rybody has a place to go, Ev'rybody wants to be somewhere,

Lobsters live at the bottom of the sea while I'm at the bottom of the air.

A small Christian group is where you have a place to be, where you belong, where you are welcomed.

2) "Bear one another's burdens." Galatians 6:2, and Romans 15:1, "We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak." A Christian small group is where we bear one another's burdens, where the strong help the weak. All of us are strong at times, and all of us are weak at times. The pioneer farmer could not build a barn by himself, but with all the neighbors working together, they raised the barn in no time at all, and had a fun time doing it together. We all have barns to build, we have commitments to make and keep, we have a relationship with God to deepen and enrich, we have needs to be met. We can't do it alone. Admit it; you need help.

Why we feel weak and needy is because we run out of energy. We often don't understand that energy in must equal energy out. Tasks, our job, responsibilities all take energy. Energy out must be balanced by energy in. All change uses energy. Even when the change is a change for the good, change uses energy. Last Thursday, Vernon and Helen Fike invited Ellie and me to lunch with them in their new home in The Hampshire. While there, we visited the new homes of several of our other church members. All of them told us how tired they were; how much the move took out of them. Even those who were already enthusiastic about the change remarked how the move was hard on them. Change uses energy.

Crises and stress use a lot of energy. Some crises are so bad, the strain on one's energy is damaging. Energy out must be balanced by energy in. Relationships either drain or restore energy. Some relationships drain you, leaving you weak, tired, and empty. Other relationships restore energy, leaving you energized, vibrant, ready to take on the day. The relationships formed in an ideal small group restore energy. Prayer restores energy. Bear one another's burdens. When you're strong, help the weak, and vice-versa.

3) "Build up the neighbor." Romans 15:2 A Christian small group builds one another up. We all need to grow spiritually. If you are not growing, you are dying. If your mind and spirit are not expanding, they are shrinking. A small group encourages each other to keep on growing, growing in one's relationship with God, growing in prayer, growing in knowledge of the Bible. John Wesley, founder of Methodism, said, "Converts without nurture are like stillborn babies." Perhaps a crude analogy, but vivid. Wesley was a firm believer in the importance and necessity of small groups for Christian growth. He organized groups of 12 which he called Class Meetings. They met weekly to report on their spiritual progress, share problems and concerns, and pray together. One reason the Methodist movement spread so quickly and had such a tremendous impact was the class meeting. Indeed, the case can be made that Methodism weakened and eventually declined when we stopped meeting in small groups. Our church is now growing. Our church is deepening spiritually. Let's make a commitment to small groups. We all need building up, and we all need a group of people who care about us to encourage us in our spiritual growth.

4) "Live in harmony with one that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 15:5-6 Imagine being with a small group of people where the relationships formed are so harmonious, so loving and supportive that with one voice you praise the Lord. Such a result comes from the Holy Spirit; it can't be manipulated. But, what can happen when a group of four to eight people open themselves to the Holy Spirit is indescribable.

Let me summarize what a small group can be with a poem written by Ken Medema, who appeared in Merced last year, and thrilled the crowd at Applegate Park.

If this is not a place where tears are understood, then where shall I go to cry?

And if this is not a place where my spirit can take wings, then where shall I go to fly?

I don't need another place for trying to impress you with just how good and virtuous I am.

No, no, no, I don't need another place for always being on top of things.

Everybody knows that it's a sham, it's a sham.

I don't need another place for always wearing smiles even when it's not the way I feel.

I don't need another place to mouth the same old platitudes; where everybody knows that it's not real.

A Christian small group is such a place. Get connected. Through the years, I have participated in several small groups of clergy colleagues, and I miss having one now. Jody meets every Tuesday morning with a group of women clergy. Try a small group where you can be yourself, where no one lays trips on you, but welcomes you, bears your burdens, restores your energy when you're weak, builds you up, a small group where you can be in harmony, and together, praise the Lord.

I invite you prayerfully to consider becoming part of a small group. We have the material for you to use, and we will organize the group. The ushers will now distribute cards. During the Invitation and Blessing time, please take the step, fill out a card, pass it to the center aisle, and get ready for a thrilling adventure. Get connected.

To succeed, not just survive, dream big, tell the stories, and get connected!

© 1998 Douglas I. Norris