Aug 27th: Created for Connection, with Sue Nell Phillips.
A Part of the Series:
Created for Connection with Sue Nell Phillips. Series: One Thing A Spacious Christianity, First Presbyterian Church of Bend, Oregon. Scripture: 1 Cor. 14-26.
Sue Nell discusses the importance of community and human connection, sharing stories of a brother who loves his church community and finds purpose and connection through serving there — despite describing himself as an atheist.
Hello to you all near and far. I’m Sunil Philips part of the community that goes by the name of First Presbyterian Church here in Bend, Oregon. And thank you for connecting with us today. This past May I went to visit the oldest of my four brothers, he lives on the other side of the country on Martha’s Vineyard. I was there to allow my sister in law chance to go visit her brother whom she had not seen them three years due to COVID when I arrived at their house after hours of travel, my brother’s first words were, where’s my plaque? Well, I don’t know Jack, my sister in law said probably in a box somewhere. They were in the midst of a move from a three story 100 year old home to a single story that would be easier to handle. Well, I need to show Sunil my plaque he repeated. Now before I go on, I need to give you a little backstory on my senior sibling whom I loved so much. He was 15 when my mother was in the throes of morning sickness with me and he wanted to know, where’s my eggs, I’ll be late for school. And once when his younger brother was looking for his glasses before a date, he offered this alternative. I never wear my glasses on a date. I just memorized where I’m going. Jack has led a very successful and enviable life by most standards in high school. He’s tall, handsome, athletic, the lead in the carousel the musical for the school. Although his voice did crack during his solo, semicolon lot at Dartmouth and MBA from Stanford successful career in business. But despite admirable social skills, he can still be challenging at times, and he still can’t help but see me as his baby sister. He’s not quite sure that I’ve made it to adulthood. Before my few days as his babysitter, his words, not mine. I called another brother who had recently visited and told him I was a bit nervous. I thought he might update me on Jack’s condition and give me a few tips on how to manage just indulge him. Bill said not what I was expecting. He’s lost so much. And just remember, he loves you.
I choked back tears. Jack was diagnosed with Parkinson’s last summer. He struggles with balance and depth perception, as well as chronic pain from stenosis in his back. He walks with one hiking pole he really needs to or better yet a walker but he refuses especially when he’s in public. The plaque he was determined to find was one his church had given him for his years of devoted and loving service. Nevermind that he was an atheist confirmed dust to dust over and done he had insisted to me yet, he had organized the food bank collection at all the island grocery stores built hundreds of birdhouses. I have one here with me today, offered his home up for Sunday school classes and rarely missed a Sunday service picnic or concert. You will go with me to church on Sunday he asked after giving up on finding the plaque of course. On Sunday I helped Jack manage the curbs as we cross the street and climb the steps to his simple chapel of wooden stone. He apologized for the small numbers but then introduced me to every and each person after mutual and hearty embraces. Hi Mary. So good to see you, Paul, how you been doing this week? We all love Jack they said to me quietly on the side. He had a job that morning. Greet each congregant and visitor and make sure they had their nametag. Make sure they felt welcome. Several people stood by ready to help if needed. But you could tell jelly Jack relish this role and I couldn’t believe his enthusiasm. Who is this person I asked myself who has stolen my brother. My brother’s an atheist. I reminded myself but clearly, he loves His church. He might be proud, self sufficient, God denying but he needs to connect in a community where he can give and in this season receive as well. It’s a well recognized and accepted truth when acknowledged by psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, biologists, doctors, you name it, that humans are social beings. I recently read an article published in Psychology Today by Professor Julianne Holt instead of Brigham Young University. She and her fellow researchers concluded, loneliness defined by having fewer interactions than desired is the true number one killer in our country. Air pollution increases your risk of early death by 5%. Obesity 20%, excessive drinking by 30% and loneliness by 45%. Those numbers really shocked me. Perhaps they shouldn’t have those who have a network of relationships tend also to have healthier behaviors. They had a diet they had their diet is better, they exercise more they make sure they made it make make make it to see their doctor once a year or more. They have positive outlets for stress. They have better psychological health, a sense of being loved, appreciated, cared for a sense of purpose, better physiological health, strong immune systems, better functioning circulatory endocrine systems. In 2020, the US Circuit Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy published a book together the healing power of human connection in a sometimes lonely world. I love that title, in which he reported that loneliness leads to increased heart disease demand Bucha depression, anxiety, drinking, waking violence, while reducing work performance, creativity and academic performance. Again, we are social beings. And if nothing else, the last three years have driven this home. We are in a state of crisis because it’s been so hard because it contradicts what and who we were created to be. I believe I would actually assert that we are social beings in need of connections, and community, because we are created in God’s image. And God is a social God, God, God’s self is a community, God, the Creator, God, the Son, God, the Holy Spirit, God in three persons. In the beginning, there were three, this Holy Trinity, the Holy community of God was present and creation. The Spirit of God was present. Scripture speaks about God’s Holy Spirit hovering over the waters. The Invisible Word of God, later visible in the flesh of Jesus was also present the Word of God that proceeded from his mouth, the mouth of the God the Creator, calling into existence all that we can see and hear, let there be light, let there be waters let there be plants and trees and living creatures. And finally, in verse 26, of Genesis, God said, Let us make humankind in our image, our image, plural, all Creation spoken for born out of community, to be community on Earth, and for all eternity.
This reality of our connectedness has also in recent years, been posited in the world of quantum physics. Really, do not check me out on this. Nor check out on check out on me on this. I know very little about physics, much less quantum physics. I hated physics in high school, because they asked me to take the formulas and concepts that I’ve memorized to ace the test, and then build a bridge and construct a car. Now I know some of you out there had this same experience, my bridge collapsed under the heavyweight of glue, and the rubber band on my mousetrap broke many times. But I’ve heard whisperings in recent years that quantum physics there theorizes that indeed, an invisible world exists. One that you can’t see, hear or touch, and at all particles and waves that are in that world are connected, and have the potentiality of appearing in and acting in the physical world. Sounds kind of like God’s word later entering the world is flesh and blood. Also an electron here and Ben can trigger an instantaneous reaction in an electron particle there on the far side of the universe. I read an article on this in preparation for this sermon. One article, the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrodinger wrote, There is wholeness of all physical reality, things seem separate, but always connected. He went on to explain that the non material world that is the invisible world exists and is the basis of the material world. A physicist insists all creation, visible and invisible is real, and is bound together in a into a community who knew. On another, perhaps more graspable level, soar trees, they even talk to each other. They make sure that all in their community, especially the weaker ones receive the sustenance they need from those who see tap into a fallen enriched soil. They fend off threats through a network of roots and funky electrical impulses and chemicals. In the hidden life of trees, a book by German forester, Peter Willman. He describes how trees live in a community where it’s One for all and all for one, none of this survival of the fittest stuff that we learned in school. Check it out. Just as God can be seen as a community of three persons, each with different roles, jobs or purposes. We too are meant to be an interwoven community loved by God, belonging to God and to one another. Each was something to offer, but also in need of each other to be healthy and whole. This summer, my book group has been reading Brene Brown’s latest book Atlas of the heart. And in it she claims that as humans, we have two Irreducible Needs. Now Kelly stole this line from me last week at her sermon. But those two needs are to belong and to be loved. As God’s creation, I believe God loves us unconditionally, and claims us unequivocally, we belong. Also, God wants us to recognize our connection to all other humans and to all creation, planted inside each of us is a desire to belong to community, where we can be our true, authentic God given cells where we can be formed and transformed into the fullness of God’s intention for each of us. Each one is needed. Each one is needy. No man is an island. In the words of John down, each man’s joy is joy to me, each man’s grief is my own. This notion is embedded in today’s scripture, First Corinthians 14 through 26. Even so, the body is not made up of one part, but of many, it’s not in the foot, or the foot. Now the foot should could not say because I’m not a hand, I do not belong to the body, it would not for that reason, stop being part of the body. And if the air should say, because I’m not an I don’t belong to the body, it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be and if the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact, God has placed the parts in a body every one of them just as he wanted them to be? If they were all one part, where would the body be as it is, there are many, but one Body, the eye cannot say to the hand, I don’t need you and the head cannot say to the feet, I don’t need you. On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. And the parts that we think are less honorable, we treat with special honor, and the parts that are presentable, are treated with special modesty, while presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it. So there should be no division in the body, but that it’s part should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers. Every part suffers if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
When people are connected in a healthy community, we will serve and be served, love and be loved, nurture and be nurtured by others. Sometimes in some places, each of us may be a leader. But we can expect that at another time, God will put us in a community where we will be followers. Sometimes a teacher sometimes a student may be a giver, but then later receiver following other gifts, allowing others the opportunity to give as well as meet our own needs. And at times we can offer wisdom and other times we will be foolish or the ignorant one, sometimes strong and sometimes weak. These changing roles and seasons can be difficult, but they are part of God’s plan for the fullness of time to shape us, trim us, nourish us and transform us into God’s image to help us grow and mature. As many as you know, we have an amazing bond in partnership with our friends in Guatemala, you may have heard about ways we help our friends build homes, stoves, or attend school. But I think God has led us to form this extended community in Guatemala, as well as in Burundi, not only for the benefit of those living in those places, but also for our own growth, to teach us to humble us to build us into more loving, empathetic, aware human beings who see that we are part of the whole of God’s creation, a part of the whole of God’s human family where each one’s joy and suffering is shared. People People often come up to me and say why should I spend all that money to go to Guatemala? Wouldn’t it be better just to send a check to build more houses and 10 children’s school for a year. By all means, if you’re called to send money, do it money is always needed. But God is doing so much more than building homes for needy Guatemalans. We meet our brothers and sisters there we build lives together, we transformed the blood soaked clay into strong bricks together. I’m a receiver, a student, often foolish and always weak. When I’m in Guatemala. I come home transformed. My vision has improved, I can hear better. My heart has been tenderized, my hands are open to give and receive. Maybe that would be true for you too, I say.
But back to Jack. Many years ago while we sat around a campfire with his young children, he told me that the only thing he would really matter to him when he came to the end of his life. What is was that his tombstone would read he was a good father. During my recent visit, he opened up to me in a way into a degree that he’d never had before. He admitted that he didn’t have the frequency and depth of communication that he would like to have with his children who live in Colorado, and almost no relationship with his eight grandkids now scattered around the country. After denying any regrets about his life, he then admitted that he regretted this chronic disconnection this brokenness. My heart broke with his and oddly or maybe not I felt closer to him than I ever had before. Each one’s Joy each one suffering is my own. Disconnection can be from oneself, one’s own soul, from others, and certainly from God. No doubt all of us, like Jeff have an experience each of these, according to the experiences uncovered in her research. Brene Brown reports that the brokenness of disconnection hurts more than physical pain. But there can be healing. The antidote is authenticity, which involves vulnerability, transparency, truth, telling and compassion both for yourself and for others. What we use as individuals as a community as a nation, and as a world is not rugged individualism, bootstraps self sufficiency, and isolation. This is a false even fatal paradigm. We need to live as community created by and for connection, growing into the fullness of God’s intended purposes with open hands, open minds, open hearts, trusting God to use all of creation to teach us even those with whom we disagree, even those beyond our usual circles, maybe even those in our own families. No wonder Jack loves His church. Maybe he’s found a bit of heaven there. Maybe he’s experienced a bit of God’s purpose for all time there, to reunite to reunite all things, things in heaven and things on earth. Just maybe, even if he is an atheist, let it be so. Amen.