God's plan for the church requires "me."
We’ve been exploring this theme ‘We’ together. Each week we’ve been continuing to focus on the idea. It acknowledges that we’re all on a journey. There’s no doubt about that. Some of us might be on a journey and might say, “You know what? Faith is not part of my journey. I’m not really there.” We might be here for different reasons. We’re at least exploring the possibility of faith being a part of our life story. Another place we might be is the exact opposite. Which is to say, “You know what? I’m on a journey and my faith is central. Everything else around my life rotates around this faith I have.” Some of us might say, we’re on neither extreme. We’re somewhere in between.
Wherever we are, this is important for us to understand. When we talk about Jesus and a life journey, we will inevitably be challenged by Jesus to consider strongly what it’s like to transition out of a me-oriented way of life. A life where everything revolves around me and embraces a different mindset; a ‘we’ mindset that embraces and recognizes the need for others in our lives, specifically with regards to our faith. It’s certainly too true in every other aspect. You may have noticed we’ve been looking at this from different angles and this weekend, the play on words is ‘we need me.’ What does that mean? Well, it’s a recognition that without each individual in a community, the fact of the matter is there is no community. In many ways, the community of faith Jesus has created functions best when each member recognizes their role in that community. Each individual is extremely important for what this journey is supposed to be about.
In the Bay Area right now, we find ourselves in a rather exciting time for sports. The Warriors are one win from capitalizing on their journey towards their second championship in three years. It’s amazing. They’re playing a great team in the Cavaliers that has, I think, the greatest player of our generation in LeBron James. That’s no leap, but what people are considering is whether or not LeBron is the best player to ever have stepped on the court of basketball. Inevitably, they’re comparing him to the gold standard, Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan has become the gold standard of excellence. To say that somebody is a Michael Jordan in something is to say they are the best at whatever that discussion is about. Jordon was amazing to watch. I remember when I was growing up in the eighties and nineties watching him play and just do an amazing amount of different moves. They were all inspiring.
I remember the commercials and would sing with him. ‘I want to be, I want to be, I want to be like Mike.’ I remember being on the court, imitating his moves, sticking my tongue out, and trying to fly. My teammates were wondering what I was doing. I fell in love with the sport by watching this man show the art of it. We know Jordon as the man who won six championships. He did it by winning three times in a row, twice after taking a break, an amazing feat. We know him as a remarkable player, highly competitive, played through flu and injuries, and other obstacles. But if we know him as the Michael Jordan now, there was a day when he was not the Michael Jordan we know. When he stepped onto the league, he was no question one of the most talented individuals who entered the NBA. Every year, he would set records for individual stats. He was able to demonstrate he was head and shoulders above anyone else on the court. That was never in doubt.
What he was criticized early on for was whether or not he could take his individual talent and utilize it to elevate his team to win the ultimate prize. There were a lot of doubts as to whether or not he could do this. It was considered that he was far too selfish and competitive of a player to ever be able to help his teammates. The Chicago Bulls ended up releasing his coach and hiring a man named Phil Jackson. Upon entering this organization, one of Phil’s jobs was to convince the star player, not just in this team, but of the NBA, to move out of ‘me’ and to step into ‘we.’ As Jackson is having this conversation, he recognizes he needs to acknowledge that Jordan is far too competitive to ever diminish his own skill or ability. Jackson wanted him to stretch out and incorporate others. He ended up reading a piece of a poem written by Rudyard Kipling. We may recognize this from a movie, but the poem is called the Law of the Jungle. I thought I’d read a piece of it.
He said, “Now this is the law of the jungle. As old and as true as the sky and the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die. As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back for the strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack.” After reading that excerpt to him, he says, “I want you to recognize it’s not about you diminishing yourself, it’s about you recognizing the need for the pack.” That conversation became the turning point in Jordan’s career. After that season and conversation, that season became a season in which he started no longer training by himself with his own personal coaches. He started training with the rest of the club. During practice, he started recognizing he could help his coach, coach others. When someone would be discouraged, he would encourage them. A word from him, couldn’t be anything better.
Others would leave stuff in the tank that they had more to give. He would be the one who would challenge them to not leave anything and to leave it all on the court. Slowly, he started to gather with his teammates. At mealtimes, he would sit with them. He would start asking them questions about their lives and their families. He would start asking them about what schools they had gone to and what they had experienced. He started getting to know them. He started training with them in the off-season. He asked them to join him and together he started to change the culture of a team that elevated an individual and everyone else was second class, to a team that elevated a trophy where everyone played a role. It just so happens that one of those teammates was a man named Steve Kerr. Right now, Kerr finds himself coaching a team where now the discussion is, ‘is it possible this is the greatest team that has ever been assembled? I happen to think so.’ They have one win to go, but this is the principle. Do you know what he was talking about?
It is the principle of interdependence. Some of us are very good at being independent. We are good at being independent because of the environment we were raised in. Or the climate we find ourselves in tells us that we must look out for ourselves and if we don’t, no one else will. We must elevate ourselves. If we don’t, no one else will. For others of us, it’s not necessarily that. It’s that we are that good, our skill, talent, and strength give us the capacity to shoulder tremendous weight. We don’t see the need for others. That’s possible. Still, for others of us, it’s not independence that may be challenged. It’s far too great a degree of dependence where the environment we find ourselves in sways us so easily. A lot of times we get in trouble, not because of what’s going on within us, but of what’s going on around us. The culture we inhabit, the friend group we become a part of, or the relationships we cultivate, their approval ends up becoming a major source.
We become far too dependent and easily swayed. You can see that either extreme is unhealthy. However, to be able to own oneself and be a part of a collective, that is, in essence, what this faith community is supposed to be like. Both are necessary. Do you understand the strength of the pack is the wolf? The strength of the wolf is the pack. This is why I love the scriptures. I love the scriptures because they don’t pretend this is easy. In fact, any letter in the New Testament is the apostle addressing a degree of dysfunction or disunity in the community, a church community. With his love and desire to see them strive and thrive together, he ends up addressing and speaking to them in a way that would help them see, ‘we need me.’ Every single individual is extremely important for this to work. Otherwise, it is inhibited and that presents different challenges.
Let’s go ahead and read through a passage found in the letter written to the Corinthians in first Corinthians 12. In verse 12 we’re told, “for just as the body is one and has many members and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” That’s the way it is with Jesus. For in one spirit, we were all baptized into one body. Jews are Greeks, slaves are free, and all were made to drink of one Spirit. What we must understand is the apostle is writing to a community that is caught up in a rather extreme case of division, factions, and cliques. These all have formed and there is some degree of rivalry within that community.
So he says, “You know what? Let me give you an illustration of what this is supposed to be like. Let’s look at the human body. Look at the composition of our anatomy.” He says, “We have many pieces to it. We would say, ‘That’s one person,’ but we know upon closer inspection,” which is amazing given it was 2000 years ago that he was writing this, “We know one body is not one piece, but many functioning together.” That’s the way this whole thing is supposed to work. That’s the way it’s supposed to work synergistically now. Then he ends up referring them to something else. He says, “But before we could go on further, we have to remember where this all begins. We were in one spirit were baptized. Baptized is meant to be initiated. You were initiated under one spirit.” What does that mean?
He’s not saying it here. He said it earlier. He is basically saying it all begins and ends with what Jesus did on the cross. On the cross, Jesus paid and gave for our needs. At the foot of the cross, he’s saying to them, “Every single one of us is equal. We are equal in our need and capacity to receive for our need.” Right there, this is what binds and connects us. He also says, “It doesn’t matter if we’re Jewish or Greek, slave or free. It’s not our ethnicity that connects and binds us. It’s not our culture that connects and binds us. That is not what we hold in common. If it’s not our ethnicity or our culture, then it’s not our socioeconomic status.” In translation, it’s not how much money we have or where we reside on the ladder socially. We might hear this and say, “Man, he’s ahead of his time. He’s talking about diversity. We got this. We’re good.” But we have to understand he was addressing a culture where this was earth-shattering. He was addressing a culture and a people group where one’s ethnicity did limit where one could go, who one could relate with, and what religion to practice. Ethnicity dictated. If ethnicity didn’t dictate, culture dictated what was right and wrong. Those were the wins that would prevail on each individual.
If we think about this, he’s writing in a time in history in which he is saying, “Listen, can you think about the difference of a life, a person who is captive in slavery and a life, and a person who lives free. It’s like night and day. When you gather together in the name of Jesus, for the first time in human history, a gathering was not made up of the unity of ethnicity, culture, or class. For the first time, a slave would be in a gathering with a free person and they would be equal. That is what binds you. It’s what Jesus has done. That makes all of us equal.” This is an enormous shift that we are still sensing 2000 years later. He says in verse 14, “for the body does not consist of one member, but of many. If the foot should say because I’m not a hand, I do not belong to the body, that would not make it any less a part of the body.” He’s being somewhat sarcastic. Maybe you could see the humor in it, but he’s being a little bit ridiculous.
He’s saying if the ear should say because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? It’s not how it works. He’s almost saying, “Listen, don’t elevate one part of your community above every other. Don’t do that. Don’t compare yourselves and if you are not the part that is elevated, don’t disqualify yourself and say, ‘Well, I guess I don’t belong here,’ because that’s the part that matters and I’m not that part saying, ‘Don’t do that.’ Don’t let your feeling of inadequacy, not being celebrated, or shame, sideline you. Don’t do that.”
On the other hand, he says, “Listen, but as it is, God arranged the members in the body. Each one of them as he chose and if all were a single member, where would the body be? There are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again, the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.'” So if a group of people in that community are disqualifying themselves because they’re not the ones that are being elevated, he’s saying, “Don’t do that. Don’t let your inadequacy, sense of weakness, or sense of shame sideline you.” He’s saying, “If you find yourself as the one who is elevated and celebrated, don’t let your pride cause you to say, ‘I have no need of we, it’s all about me.'” Either extreme is unhealthy. Don’t do that. Shame or pride will sideline us. He is saying, “Contend with that. Don’t let that settle and have its way with you.”
On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker or indispensable, we think are less honorable. We bestow the greater honor and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty which our more presentable parts do not require. God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it. This is God’s doing, so that there may be no division. This works and we are unified. This is what he is saying, “But that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, they all suffer together. If one member is honored all rejoice together. We know the human body, you are like that. Your community is like the body of Jesus.” He said it to the people of Corinth. He would say to us in San Francisco, “You are individual members of it.” He is not just calling them to recognize their need for each other and their individual roles within that community.
He’s directly connecting the work of God in human history. It is dependent on the communities of faith to work together and that the movement God initiated through Jesus is now relying. He bet on his people. He says, “Now, it depends on your ability to work together. You must see this.” Here we are 2000 years later. If we have ever been a part of a team, community, or community of faith, then it doesn’t take long for us to start to recognize, “Whoa, some people here are not perfect.” When we discover that, some of us say, “I think I’m going to try to find another place where they’re all perfect.” We don’t say that. We think it. When we’re honest with ourselves, we might not say, “Okay, some people here are not perfect.” We might say, “I’m not perfect. I have contradictions. I say things and then I do something else. I have stuff in me that’s broken, jagged, and edged. If somebody touches it wrong, they’ll get cut. There are sensitive sides to me that if someone touches me wrong, it hurts. Then I get mad and have to say sorry, or not.” We have that. We recognize and know this, I hope. If we think about it, throughout history, the church of Jesus has done things that have grossly misrepresented His name. Throughout history, there have been things done that have disappointed Him. No question about it by people who call on His name with faith.
What is miraculous is Jesus has never taken a step back from His commitment to His gatherings. He continues to insist on staking, not just His reputation, but what God wants to do in human history through people like you and me. He remains committed to His gatherings. It’s miraculous. Here we are. What does this mean for us? Might this challenge us to consider our journey with God? Yes, with others as well. First, I put this in personal language because I know some of us take notes and I thought it’d be good for us to write it this way. Do you know what Paul is saying? He’s saying, “We need me to keep my heart connected to His grace.” We need me to keep my heart connected to His grace. It all begins and ends with what Jesus did for us. We must not forget this.
Our role is to begin by connecting our heart to His grace and remember it’s not based on my performance, my capacities, my skill, my qualities, or my qualifications. It’s based on His grace, which is what I think Proverbs is speaking to when Solomon wrote, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” A different translation says, “Guard your heart above all else for out of it flow the issues of life.” What is he saying? Many times, it’s not what happens to us that ends up dictating how things end. It’s how we respond to what happens to us and that is dependent on the condition of our heart. So here’s the piece no one else can do for us. We need others, no question. Others can’t look out for our hearts. We must own ourselves. We are the only ones who can watch our hearts to that degree, which is extremely important.
This is why devotions are the key piece of our daily lives because we drift. A day will come where we might start well and end terribly because of what happened. I have found myself as of late grateful to be able to ride a motorcycle. When I’m on it and the weather is good like today, I’m happy because I’m on a motorcycle and that’s a good thing. I know I can sense the concern. I receive your prayers. I’ll find myself with my helmet and have music playing while I ride. It’s good. I’m on the highway and it’s sunny. It’s beautiful scenery. I feel free and everything is good. I’ll tell you, there have been times where out of nowhere, it’s invisible, but I feel it. A gust of wind will come at me that feels like somebody just ran into the freeway and tried to push me over, except it’s not a person. It’s something far stronger. It’ll rattle me.
My bike’s heavy, but it’ll shake me up. It’ll wake me up. It’s not all fun games anymore. There have been other times when I’ll be riding and a wind is so constant that in order to go straight, there is a need to lean in. If not, my bike starts to drift. It’s so easy for me to just drift into the next lane. Some of us are in situations where the winds around us are strong. It is powerful. Man, are we having a hard time staying in our lane. Some of us, it’s not the winds around us. It’s the winds within us. It’s the currents, the conflict, and the frustration that is moving us. This is why we have a time of devotion where we bring our hearts before God. It recalibrates us.
We bring ourselves before His word. His word becomes the plumb line by which we measure everything else if it’s straight and we say, “God, here I am. Here are the things I have walked through. Here are the places that I’ve been to. Would you please help me get back? Would you bring me back? Would you strengthen me? Would you realign me?” That’s certainly something no one else can ever do for us. But if that’s the case, then sometimes we might get into places where it’s not just us getting ourselves back on track. We need someone else to help us. We need to be able to have the courage to be able to reach out and say, “Hey, can you pray for me? Hey, can you check in on me once in the week? Hey, you know what? I violated my conscience and what I know God said is right. Will you pray that God heals me?” Sometimes it’s not so much that we doubt whether or not God forgives us, which He does. It’s that we need another person to tell us.
To hear those words through somebody else’s lips is what will bring us back. The strength of the wolf is the pack. The strength of the pack is each wolf. We need to keep our hearts connected to His grace. If that’s the case, we also need to be proactively discovered. We need me to proactively discover my role in His local church. We need to discover how we are uniquely made and why we are made the way we are, according to what He wants to do in the community of faith. What is the makeup, the gift mix that He has given to us? The abilities that we have, the passions within our soul, the experiences that we have shared together that no one else would understand? It has been said, you can’t understand somebody unless you walk in their shoes. You can’t do it. Sometimes no one else will ever understand why we had to walk through what we walked through. It will help us understand somebody else having to walk through their journey.
We will start to discover, “Oh, this is why I’m made the way I am. This is why I’m passionate about the things I’m passionate about. This is why some things frustrate me. God, you are making me fulfill a good work, to do something only I am supposed to do. A lot of times, we might think we’re the odd ones out, the marginalized, the weird ones, or the unconventional ones. We might feel that way, but it isn’t a local community of faith that we will discover, “No, God had a purpose and a reason,” that’s when we say, “I will move out of me and I will join up in what you are doing, ‘we.’” I will start to discover, this is why I’m the way I am. Some people do good things. Things some of you can do and some of us could never hope to do. We are all important.
Look at verse 22, “On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. Do not think you don’t matter. God has staked at all on every one of us.” We are indispensable. If that’s the case, then we must come to this point. We need me to join the plan of God for the local church. I have to tell you, I understand. I understand. I’ve had many conversations with different people, and I understand the institution of the church has fallen out of favor for many years now. It’s met with skepticism. It’s met with, ‘I’m not sure I trust it.’ Some reasons are valid. But God has insisted on continuing to demonstrate His grace through a people who admittedly have flaws, weaknesses, and contradictions who all have pain points and wounds. We are all imperfect in one way or another. We need to understand that we are each like a piece of a mosaic.
A piece of a mosaic is jagged. It’s edgy. It’s broken off of something larger and has weak and strong points. In itself, it looks out of place. It doesn’t have a home, but when we decide to say, “You know what, God? This is who I am. I’m messed up. I have contradictions. I have baggage. This is who I am. I have strong points too, but here I am. I come and receive your grace for my life. I move out of just you and me. I want to be a part of a larger expression.” Then our peace slots in and His grace, our edges and brokenness, becomes an art piece that demonstrates His power and ability to transform what we thought was ugly and, in Him, becomes beautiful, connected. It becomes an ongoing movement.
When we join with what He intends to do in this city, in this time in history, other broken pieces walk in through these doors and they find their home. Other points, I thought I didn’t know where this fit in. We find it fits in where God’s grace can demonstrate, “I love to demonstrate how gracious, merciful, kind, forgiving, loving, and tenacious I am in my commitment to my people.” This is His movement, but His movement depends on our willingness to embrace it. ‘We’ needs ‘me.’ Each one of us is necessary. The strength of the pack is the wolf. The strength of the wolf is the pack.
I’d love to pray and ask for His blessing. God, I thank you. I thank you, God, that you meet us exactly where we are. I thank you that you meet each of us on purpose. I thank you that you have created a purpose we will discover as we step into a place that calls on your name and we call it our home. A people group, a tribe, or a pack. Together, we become a beautiful expression of your ongoing grace in this time in history, in this city that we love. Would you give us the courage to do it? We ask for you to prevail over our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.