The heart of our ministry is relationship: Sermon 11.11.12

Rev. Lucy Waechter Webb

Text: 1 Cor 3:4-17

Given that Buckeye Preview was scheduled for this weekend, I chose this particular text from Corinthians as an image for our role in young adult’s lives. It begins by talking about how Paul began the church in Corinth, and Apollos nurtured that community after the foundation was laid. Each college student who arrives at Summit has had a foundation laid for them by parents, their school, their neighborhood, and often a church. Our call is to journey with them in their college years to build on that foundation. To nurture their growth, and even grow alongside them. To support and encourage them in this season of their life.

Paul is very clear with the Corinthian church that the growth does not come from Paul or Apollos, but ultimately from God. However, he does talk about how that growth comes through God’s people.  Paul believes that the Christian faith is always lived in a community. Therefore, the very heart of our ministry is relational.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is one of the best examples of this. The church in Corinth is fighting about all kinds of things and Paul is responding to them. This is the book   where Paul talks about the community being a body with different parts, and that if we lose the eye or the hand we are broken and incomplete. This is the book where he talks about all kinds of issues that deal with relationship within a community regarding divorce, sexuality, lawsuits, how to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues….What is underneath all of those instructions, whether or not we understand Paul’s instructions in the same way today or not, is concern for relationship.

In this passage today Paul says, “You are God’s temple And God’s spirit lives in you.”

Now, we often think of the body as a temple when we read this passage, and interpret this passage individually. That is not an invalid interpretation or one without theological integrity. However, the “you” he uses is plural. You, the church, are God’s temple in Corinth. In Columbus. And you, the church, have God’s spirit living in you.

We know people do not come to this building to encounter God. They don’t seek God’s presence in the hallways or in the offices. Although some may have a paranormal experience if Whitey is hangin’ around while they’re here….

We do not expect that this space itself will nurture people. Our community will. Our people will. People come here to encounter God through one another. Through the music we share, when we are laughing and silly with each other, through the healing that comes when we share our pain, and express our doubts and fears.

It is how we were designed. To live our faith in community.

The heart of our ministry is relationship.

One of the best parts about college is choosing that community for the first time in your life! We grow up in communities around us that we do not choose. A neighborhood, a school, a church. For the first time, we have the freedom to decide. Often you choose your college first, you at least choose a group of friends, the student organizations you join, the music groups or sports teams, the church or faith group you are a part of…

I chose a Southern community. I went to a very small college in Memphis, TN called Rhodes College. And while I was there I connected to a few different faith-based groups. I did occasionally attend an on-campus student ministry called Greek Fellowship. It was all students, held in the evenings at a fraternity house. There was teaching and music, but really I went for the social aspect. I had friends there and it was a time to relax and be with them. But, I, personally, didn’t experience much depth or growth for myself from that ministry. So I continued to wander, sample what was out there.

The place that was the most formative for me and my spirituality was actually a local intergenerational congregation not far from campus: Idlewild Presbyterian Church. It felt like home to me, but was different enough that I was stretched and challenged in ways that I am grateful for to this day. And of course it wasn’t the building that moved me, though it was beautiful.  It was Roscoe and Mark and Frank and Margaret.

Roscoe was an older gentlemen, somewhere between 65 and 75 years old. Let me say that again. Roscoe was an older gentlemen. He was not the pastor, nor was he young or hip or hipster. They didn’t even have a young pastor on staff. And he taught this Sunday morning class, that caught the attention of both Daniel and I. So we started going. He was a bit awkward. He was smart and brought the experiences of practicing law to his conversation. But more than anything he was honest. Roscoe was asking questions about faith, and bringing those questions to the table for all of us to discuss. Sometimes his life and wisdom stretched me, and sometimes, I brought new clarity and connections to him for the first time in his life. He was willing to even learn from me, as a college student. Roscoe didn’t have all the answers to my questions, he couldn’t carry on a conversation about the latest movie or rock band, and definitely not Facebook (which was developed my senior year in college).  Nor did I expect him to. But he cared about me. And he walked with me, and grew alongside me in that church.

On Thursday nights at Idlewild, I showed up to More Than a Meal. As the name suggests it was a soup kitchen, but more. Rather than have people wait in line they welcomed them early into the building and let folks gather in the fellowship hall. They served the meal with real china and silverware, and had volunteers serve the guests at their tables. And once the meals were served, volunteers then sat with and developed relationships with the weekly visitors. We had a time of sharing and prayer before the night was over, and then each parted until our meal next week. As a student I liked the ministry, I could come on Thursday nights and help, there was a role for me, a job for me to do. It actually helped that it wasn’t worship. There was something at the church that the members were passionate about that was making a difference in the world, and there was a place for me to help, and we were in it together. And through the work, we began to know each other.

The heart of our campus ministry is relationship.

The heart of our ministry.  Period. Needs to be relational.

I was at a conference for college pastors and chaplains this summer, and people were expressing concern over Facebook. They couldn’t get students to like their page for their  ministry. We had conversations about whether you should or should not friend students on Facebook, and what kinds of things we should post on our church page….But what was at the heart of that conversation was relationship. People are not as interested in getting updates from an institution. People aren’t interested in knowing an institution better. People are interested in knowing people. People want to connect to people. If we step outside today’s text, and consider the entirety of Jesus’ ministry, at it’s heart, it was relational. He developed deep relationships with the twelve disciples who led alongside him (although not always well). He sat with the woman at the well, he stopped on the road to greet and heal the Syropheneican woman when a dying man was waiting at the end of the road, he called Zacchaeus out of the tree, and Nicodemus snuck a visit at night and Jesus welcomed him in. He dined with Martha and Mary, and even in death he reached out and connected to those dying on either side of him. The heart of our ministry must be relational.

I want to offer some language to help us think about this. Do y’all remember the school house rock? [sings “busy prepositions…”]

I want to think about the prepositions we use for ministry. We do not want a ministry to students. Or a ministry to children, or to LGBT folk. We want a ministry with them. When we say we minister to them – we begin to do things at them. We offer things, give things, program things, hand out things, and feed often. That feels like the motto for a lot of campus ministries, “teach them, pray for them, and feed weekly.”

What does it look like to minister with? To come alongside and be curious about our faith, about each other. To learn and support and know each other. To serve together.

This has been our faocus on CM at Summit. This has been our move to support college groups in their efforts and leadership on campus. To work with them on campaigns to register voters, to work with them to call on the university for justice and ethical practices, to work with them as they teach and nurture children in our community.

Freedom School and Sequoia are Summit ministries, just like More Than a Meal. They not only serve a community and work toward building a more just world, but they are opportunities for students to have a place here. To have a job, to serve with us.  And sometimes, to lead. I asked my sister this week what was important to her in the faith communities she’s been a part of as a student and young adult, and she stayed because she was asked to contribute. Even though she was young her voice mattered and she was invested in the community.

The heart of our ministry is relationship.

It is actually that simple. And it is harder than we let on. No? I trust that people in this place are here for each other. I know that people come to this place to connect to other people. But often we want to get to know each other and we just don’t know where to begin. The world sets up a lot of social rules.

I’m not going to give you a magic bullet, or an easy answer. There aren’t any. But what I will tell you is that the process itself is beautiful and messy and fulfilling and yes sometimes painful. But the process is the point. That process of getting to know one another is relationship.

So start by wondering what you wish someone would ask you. Start with curiosity. What do you wonder about the other person? And then ask them about their life.  Ask them what is going on in their life? What do they do during the week? Where do they come from? What are their passions? What does church mean to them?

Don’t be afraid to ask deeper questions. Don’t be afraid to tell someone you disagree, or you’re not ready to share, or that something hurt. Learning those boundaries and respecting each other along the way is also important and part of the building process.

What I’ve learned from almost two years of student ministry here at Summit, is to ask the question how do we create an environment where this kind of relationship happens? Because it is the heart of what we are doing. And I see two ways where they happen best. They happen when students can find a place alongside us doing the work that we and they care most passionately about. They happen in a place of service and action. But when we ask students to do only this, when we ask members to do only this, we can completely burn ourselves out, and forget why we are even “doing” in the first place. So there are also times when we need to set the programs, and the events, and the calendar aside and simply be together. When we invite people to rest, and play and enjoy time together with no agenda, then people find relationship and are fulfilled as well.

I want to close by saying, that I desperately don’t want you to hear this as another thing on our long list of things to do. It is the reason we do, it should be always the focus of what and how we do. Whatever it is we choose to do!

My vision of this place, of the church, is simultaneously a community that serves and acts boldly in the world, and is also a dwelling place away from it. It is a place where we work and rest together, and in both we seek to know each other, to know ourselves, and to know God.