Some of us remember full-service pumps at gas stations, where you could pull up to certain pumps and a person came out to pump the gas, wash the windshield and even check the tire pressure. Now gas stations, except for rare exceptions, are self-service. The big question is whether we pay at the pump or go inside to the cashier. It may depend on the day and how rushed we feel, which we choose. Or we might have a normal preference: do we prefer the anonymity of paying at the pump, or do we prefer human interaction and choose to go inside most of the time? Our pattern may tell us more than we think.
We gather on Sunday mornings because we hold things in common. Some of us share history in this community and this congregation. Some of us share upbringing in a mainline Protestant tradition. Some of are cradle Methodists. Some of us have build relationships here, have close friends, singing companions, PADS crew. There are connections between us, either strong and established or new and growing.
ST. PAUL names even deeper connections for us: we are united as the followers of Jesus Christ. United even with those in other places – in every place, he says. He names us as those who are called to be holy as followers of Jesus Christ. (I Cor 1:2). St. Paul “sees believers everywhere as belonging to one another as belonging to God’s family.”[i] The grace of God which is within each of us unites us with each other. We are connected.
Spider’s Web. The image of a spider’s web may be more prevalent in the month of October. Webs help create ambience for haunted houses and decorate party cupcakes. But spider’s webs might also help us understand how we can be connected to one another. Those webs look almost ephemeral, but scientists tell us that the strength to weight ratio is remarkable. Those strands hold the web together under stress. And spider’s webs come in all kinds of shapes and formations because webs are flexible structures and can be connected almost anywhere. [ii]
Psychologists use the image of the web to talk about human relationships – and our connections to one another. Webs, and relationships, are complex. Sometimes broken, but often repairable. And like a web, the impact can be felt across the web when something changes. Good or bad, small changes are noticed.
2016 World’s Biggest Eye Contact Experiment.
Signs popped up in 214 cities across the world, “Where has the human connection gone? Share 1 minute of eye contact to find out.” And in cities from Brussels, Belgium to Belgrave, Yugoslavia, from Cape Town, South African to New York City and Caraccas, Venezuela to Houston, Texas strangers locked eyes for one minute and connected. Too often we glance at others and move on – or don’t look at people at all. And we miss opportunities of human connection.
That particular experiment was sponsored by “The Liberators International,” but there are similar ones by Soul Pancake for FOUR minutes, and Amnesty International did a similar experience connecting refugees and Europeans across differences in order to help us see each other.
Connection. We need it. We can develop it. We gather here for worship in part because we have some human connection here – and perhaps we gather in larger part because we long for stronger connections with each other.
II. Broken Connections.
Sometimes, though, we throw up barriers to human connections. Like Lot, we might walk away from a relationship if it isn’t giving us what we want. Or if we feel guilty for taking too much. Sometimes we are hurt so we don’t let anyone close for a while.
In Corinth, they had a highly educated group of people. They had strong opinions, and split into factions easily. The factions were fairly fluid – alliances that shifted depending on the issue rather than separate groups in the church. They had factions and cliques, but not identifiable “groups” or “parties” in the church. There were some socioeconomic and status stratifications within their church and community – but that wasn’t all of it. The church was divided on many things. They seemed to have a predilection for contention and division.[iii] There community was torn. There was a lack of unity.[iv] That happens fairly easily when you have intelligent people with strongly held opinions.
But Paul cared about the church at Corinth enough to challenge them to move beyond their differences. He wanted them to remember that what united them in following Jesus was stronger than what caused differences, even squabbling, among them. He urged them to move past their disagreements to consider the impact they were having on those around them. He was trying to help them understand that our lives are not simply our own – that how we relate to those around us is seen by others as a reflection of our spiritual life with Christ. He taught that our choices and decisions, our words and actions in how we treat others, is an example for the world of what life in Christ looks like. He helped them see the disparity between their regular state of discord and the harmony in Christ they were intended to display. Paul wanted them to agree with one another, so there were no divisions among them and they were perfectly united in mind and thought. (v. 10)
Paul wanted them to repair their broken connections – by focusing on their unity in Christ. He wanted them to practice being thankful for all the goodness of God to them. He wanted them to focus on the grace of God to them – so they could offer it to one another. And he offers them some specific instructions on how to go about achieving the unity that they should have in Jesus.
1. “Agree with one another” in the NIV – or “be in agreement” in the NRSV. We know how to do this – we practice for family Thanksgivings. Find the common statement that everyone can agree on: “We need to pray for our country.” Now what you pray and what your cousin prays may be different – but you’ve got something on which you can agree. We TRY not to start fights at the family dinner table, at least most of the time, and we know how to find something where we can “be in agreement.” And if that doesn’t work, “How about those Bears?” usually works. You don’t have to be a Bears fan to take part in the conversation and it usually doesn’t lead to bloodshed. Be in agreement.
2. Have the same mind or outlook. What unites us “ought to be far more powerful and comprehensive” than what pulls us apart. “Have the mind of Christ” Paul says in chapter 2. That means being so full of the Holy Spirit that we are able to love and act more like Jesus. This means focusing on the goals that really matter. It doesn’t mean that we are alike in our talents or abilities – it means that we are thinking about what God wants and how WE can be a part of making that happen.
ILLUS. Louie Newton, a denominational leader among Baptists in a former generation, used to answer all his correspondence by handwritten letter. One night before retiring he wrote two letters. One was to a quarreling church in danger of splitting, and it contained extensive and specific instructions as to what to do about the division. The other letter was to the man who worked on his land and dealt with how to control an uncooperative bull; the message was simply, "Close the gate and keep the bull out of the pasture."
Unfortunately, Dr. Newton placed the letters in the wrong envelopes. When his worker received the letter to the church, he was confused, and when Dr. Newton's letter was opened and read in a tense church meeting, the people were infuriated that the simple statement was all the help they received. Then someone in the crowd stood up and tried to interpret the letter in a positive light: "Maybe he's saying that the bull is the devil, and we have been letting him into our fellowship. Now it's high time we kept him out of this pasture so that this flock can be one in Christ again." It worked; the process of reconciliation began as they decided that Christ would rule their pasture and the devil would be kept out.
There is a problem, Paul says, if we cannot be distinguished from the rest of the world. If our connections with each other and our connections with Jesus are broken, we’ve lost our identity. If we are quarreling and divided, it’s hard for anyone to see Jesus in us. So St Paul says to the church at Corinth.
III. There are deep and profound connections between us that are life-giving. When we develop these connections, it literally changes our lives. When we strengthen them, they draw us closer to God as well as closer to each other. We find the community we seek.
Gander, Newfoundland. Off the Eastern coast of Canada lies the island of Newfoundland. Ordinarily it is pretty much left to itself, but there is an airport in the town of Gander because it is close to the Great Circle Route between New York and London. Still, it doesn’t normally see much traffic, and there was talk about whether it was worth continuing to fund an airport until the events of September 11, 2001. When all of North American airspace was closed by the FAA and Transport Canada, 38 civilian and 4 military flights were diverted to Gander. More than 6,600 passengers and airline crew members, equivalent to 66 percent of the local population—found themselves forced to stay in the Gander area for up to six days until airspace was reopened and flights resumed.[v]
American Airlines pilot Beverly Bass, the first female pilot promoted to Captain in 1986, was one of the pilots grounded in Gander. In an interview she talked about the emergency landing and spending the night on the plane before being allowed to disembark the next morning with all of the fearful passengers. They exited the plane and entered a large building that was set with tables of food the whole length of it after everyone snacking on whatever was on the plane the night before. She talked about people holding out their cell phones to use to connect with frightened family members, and weather appropriate clothing set out on tables for the passengers. During the time spent in Gander, connections and friendships were formed. Lives were changed. What happened in Gander has been told in books, a radio play, and several TV broadcasts. [vi]And now the musical by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come from Away, retells stories of the people who were diverted to Gander and the people of the town who had helped out was mounted on Broadway.[vii]
Actress Jen Colella talked about how in their 12 person show they keep changing roles – from crew and passengers to Gander residents. The stories are compelling. But, she said, the experience of changing roles continuously from passengers receiving hospitality to the hosts providing it was life-transforming. She concluded, “This show changes you.” Perhaps because it forms strong and lasting connections that we human beings desperately need. Especially in moments of tragedy. Especially when the world seems unsure. Community provides connection. Those connections help us be the people we want to be. Be the people God intends us to be.
Deeper connections. Stronger connections. Like a web, we are not blowing loose – but connected with other strands for a purpose. Even a divine purpose. When we don’t let ourselves become separated – when we focus on what we share, where we agree. We can find the community and connection we long for. We may have come from away – but we are now here together.
[i] New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Corinthians, 799.
[ii] James MacDonald, “Six Surprising Facts about Spiderwebs.” rising-facts-about-spiderwebs/
[iii] NIBC, 803.
[iv] NIBC, Corinthians, 801.
[vi] Several stories in the book, The Day the World Came to Town, are about the relationships built in Gander. The radio play, The Day the Planes Came, by Caroline and David Stafford, tells the effect on Gander of the September 11 passengers, first broadcast in June 2008 on BBC Radio 4 and was repeated in October 2009. A TV movie, Diverted, was made in 2009. In February 2010, NBC aired a report by Tom Brokaw on Gander's role in the displacement of hundreds of planes on 9/11 during coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The town was also profiled in Moze Mossanen's 2018 documentary film You Are Here.