Sunday’s sermon: Arches National Park – Connection

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, UT.

Text used – Romans 12:4-17

  • When I was in 3rd grade, I had the most amazing teacher.
    • Taught us about all those necessary 3rd gr things
      • Spelling
      • Cursive handwriting
      • Multiplication facts (using the greatest, Midwestern white lady rap ever!)
    • Also focused a lot on respect and wholeness → And one of the main ways that we did this was at the beginning and end of every school day, we set down in a circle in the middle of our classroom and sang the song “Love Can Build a Bridge” by the Judds.


      • Teacher even let me work out hand motions to it that we taught to the class (small example)
      • And sure, there were kids that didn’t love doing it. There were a few boys in the class that would be silly about it (because that’s what 9yo boys do!). But I’ll tell you something: to this day (almost 30 yrs. later), the 20 or so kids that were in that class still talk about those times. We still talk about how much fun it was. Some of us can still do at least some of the motions. And most important, as we get older and go through the motions and the ups and downs of life, we still talk about how meaningful that song has been.
        • Fully honest: I still can’t hear that song without crying! → even just listening to it in my office this morning, I was getting all teary
      • Chorus: Love can build a bridge // between your heart and mine // Love can build a bridge // Don’t you think it’s time? // Don’t you think it’s time?
  • So obviously, one of the things that got me thinking about “Love Can Build a Bridge” – and particularly my 3rd class’s experience with that song – is the connectionality of it. It’s a song all about coming together – about making meaningful connections with people, connections that build each other up and help each other out, connections that are based on the strength and power of love. But the other thing that got me thinking about “Love Can Build a Bridge” in connection (no pun intended) with today’s theme is that the music video was actually shot in Sedona, AZ.
    • Lots of fabulous 1990s-style panorama shots of them singing out in the desert
    • Scene in the video = the Judds (Wynonna and Naomi) standing on top of … Can you guess? An arch. → [READ FROM America’s Holy Ground[1], pp. 31-32]
  • All of those beautiful arches are points of connection. They bridge the cap between one pillar of stone and the next, creating a structure that is even more breathtaking and beautiful than those pillars would have been alone. And that’s what this morning’s Scripture is all about.
    • About how we need each other
    • About how we belong to each other
    • About how we are better together
      • Lift each other up
      • Compliment each other
      • Connect us to each other
      • Text: We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other.[2] → These are surely powerful words, but I think they’re even more powerful when we think that Paul is writing them to people he didn’t know. So often, we read Paul’s letters to people in churches that he had established in his mission journeys.
        • Letter to the Christians in Ephesus
        • Letter to the Christians in Philippi
        • Letters to the Christians in Corinth and Thessalonike
        • All of them = letters to people with whom Paul had already established relationships → people with whom Paul had already made those connections
        • But Paul’s letters to the Romans was to a community unknown to him. Sure, they knew of Paul – knew of his reputation and his ministry, maybe even knew of his conversion story with the flash of light and the vision of Christ and the blindness and healing afterward. Yeah, they probably knew of Paul, but they didn’t actually know His mission travels hadn’t taken him there. He hadn’t planted a church there. There was no established connection there. And so into the absence of that connection, Paul sent them these words about just how powerful and essential connection is to the Christian faith.
          • Make his initial point of the critical nature of connectedness → how we all belong to each other
          • Drives his point home with examples: We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful. Love should be shown without pretending.[3] → Paul highlights all of those different gifts – all of those different pillars that surely could stand on their own. But with the connection of Christian community, the bridges that form between those pillars make us the Church together. Service can be inspired by teaching. Teaching can be informed by prophecy. Prophecy can bring out encouragement. Encouragement can build up leaders. When we combine all of those gifts that Paul talks about, we become stronger, wiser, deeper, closer to God together.
            • Mother Theresa: You can do what I cannot do. I can do what you cannot do. Together we can do great things.
            • More humorous spin – FDR: I’m not the smartest fellow in the world, but I sure can pick smart colleagues.
  • Thing about connections: they aren’t always perfect, right? [READ FROM America’s Holy Ground[4], pp. 32-33] → The arches are fragile. The ecosystem is fragile. Even the dirt is fragile. And in truth, our human connections can be fragile sometimes, too, can’t they?
    • One of the hardest part of the last 5 yrs. or so → We seem to have lost a critical esteem for our connectedness as humans. We’re clinging so tightly to the idol of our own opinions … we’re clinging so tightly to “my rights” over my responsibility to my fellow human beings … we’re so focused on getting what’s mine we’ve lost sight of the importance of what’s ours.
      • Feels like more and more, we’re living in world of shattered connections
        • Children not talking to parents
        • Siblings not talking to one another
        • Neighbors not talking to neighbors
        • Even worse → horrific acts of violence perpetuated against other people simply because of who they are
          • Black and brown people
          • Jewish and Muslim people
          • Native Americans
          • People of Asian heritage
          • LGBTQ people
          • People who have come to this country seeking safety and hope and the promise of possibility
    • Paul addresses this fragility, too, as well as the importance of love and grace in the face of it: Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic – be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. Bless people who harass you – bless and don’t curse them. Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.[5]
      • Now, there are a lot of places we could go with that … but then we’d be here all day. There’s one central phrase in there, though, that I want to look at closer. → “Consider everyone as equal” = sort of Paul’s version of the golden rule – Gr. “think of/be mindful of/take up the cause of” + “each other”
        • Older translations: “Be of the same mind one toward another”[6] → But I want us to notice in that that it doesn’t say “be of the same mind with one another.” The Greek word for “with” is definitely not part of that sentence. Paul isn’t trying to tell us that we all have to think exactly the same thing. Paul is trying to tell us to “be of the same mind toward one another.” Treat others the way you want to be treated. Because mutual honor, mutual respect, mutual love … these are the ways that we build connections in the first place and the way that we rebuild them once they’ve been broken.
    • Passage about Arches National Park makes it clear that those connections – those beautiful, majestic sandstone formations as well as the minute connections in the ecosystems – can’t be rebuilt → once they’re altered, they are forever altered
      • But the beauty of being human … the blessing of being human … is that a lot of times, we can work to rebuild those connections. Not always. There are some connections that cannot be rebuilt – even some that should not be rebuilt when there’s abuse or neglect or other harmful intentions involved. Sometimes the mistakes other people make are just too great. Sometimes the mistakes that we make are just too great. But through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God showed us on the grandest scale possible exactly what kind of strong, powerful, beautiful, life-giving connection can be made through the gifts of love and grace. And as Christians, it is our charge and our challenge to follow Christ’s example out in the world. And that will always include connections.
        • Questions from the end of the Arches National Park reflection: What connections have made a difference in your life so far? What connections would you like to make? With whom can you connect, or reconnect, in a way that enriches you both? Amen.

[1] Brad Lyons and Bruce Barkhauer. America’s Holy Ground: 61 Faithful Reflections on Our National Parks. (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2019), 31-32.

[2] Rom 12:4-5.

[3] Rom 12:6-9a.

[4] Lyons and Barkhauer, 32-33.

[5] Rom 12:9b-17.

[6] Rom 12:16 (KJV).

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