WE ARE FAMILY
42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47, NRSV)
The next time you attend a wedding reception you will likely hear at least some of these songs "Dancing Queen" by ABBA, "September" by Earth, Wind & Fire, "I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston, "My Girl" by The Temptations, or "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond, which warms the heart of a Red Sox fan like me.
Then we come to Gloria Gaynor’s disco hit, “I Will Survive.” I’ve always found it an odd choice for a wedding reception. The happy couple has just tied the knot. It’s the happiest day of their lives and then it’s all downhill from there and they exclaim--I will survive! That’s what you call low marital expectations. Are they just hoping to survive their marriage or are they already planning their exit strategy? I don’t know but it is bizarre for the newlyweds to dance and sing along with lyrics that say:
I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong
And I grew strong
And I learned how to get along
And so you're back
From outer space
I just walked in to find you here with that sad look upon your face
I should have changed that stupid lock, I should have made you leave your key
If I'd known for just one second you'd be back to bother me…
Go on now, go, walk out the door
Just turn around now
'Cause you're not welcome anymore
So much for wedded bliss!
And then there is THE song I almost guarantee you will hear, “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge. (For the record, pun intended. Sister Sledge was 4 sisters with the last name Sledge. They were fam-i-ly!) This song topped the disco charts in 1979. It’s a perfect song for one’s wedding day when you and your beloved legally become a family.
This same is true for our church, we are family! At some point, most everyone has at least two families—the family we’re born or adopted into and the family we choose, meaning our friends who are family to us. For those whose friends come closer to an ideal family than one’s family of origin, there’s the quip: “Friends are God’s way of apologizing to us for our families,”…ouch! One of the families that I surely hope God will never need to apologize for is seated around you, our Family of Faith. Most, though not all of us, were born into a Family of Faith. Some were even born into this Family of Faith. One lesson we learn in a healthy family is that we take care of our family and our family takes care of us. The same is true of our Family of Faith. We each do our part to take care of our Church Family, and in our hour of need, our Church Family takes care of us. On this Stewardship Sunday let us consider the ways we can take care of our Family of Faith.
Families by their very nature have a symbiotic relationship, full of give and take. We take care of our children and our parents as they age. And if we live long enough, our children will hopefully take care of us.
We see something like this in the early church in Jerusalem as described in today’s scripture lesson. It is a perfect example of a church that is a loving Family of Faith. In reading the passage, I found similarities to and challenges for our church. In Acts chapter 2 it says members of the ancient church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers” (v. 42).
Our Family of Faith follows in this same vein of teaching and fellowship, breaking bread and prayers. When we gather here to worship we also gather to learn, to find insight and inspiration, or to simply be at peace, undistracted for one hour. When we meet for dinner at the Congo Campfire or the All-Church Potluck, we strengthen the ties that bind us together. When we celebrate Communion, and offer communal prayers, we bond ourselves to one another, as we bond ourselves to God.
The most famous characteristic of the ancient church in Jerusalem was its generosity. In Acts we read, “All who believed were together and held all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (vs. 44-45).
This voluntary pooling of resources for the common good is something our church does well. For over 75 years our Family of Faith has helped those in need on Long Island and throughout the world. Our members have graciously given their time and money to support God’s work through the life and ministry of this church. I am happy to tell you that people’s lives have been changed because of our church—through AA and Al-Anon meetings, by attending Weight Watchers here, by having a heart to heart talk in our Congo Café, because of hospital visits, baptisms, memorial services, because of the prayers shared through our Prayer Chain, because they helped build a house with Rebuilding Together Long Island, and maybe even because their spiritual lives were deepened after a moving service.
Think for a moment of the thousands of children whose lives are nurtured and enriched because of this church. Think of those children who learn to pray in our Sunday School or learn their ABC’s in our Nursery School. Think of the youth who discover the joy of helping others on one of Lori’s Service Trips. Think of all the at-risk children who benefit from Adventures in Learning since Maggie Grundman founded it in 1969. As a church, we take care of our children because we are family.
Over the last few years we’ve had a renaissance in our church. With the help of Keith Fiveson, we launched our Center for Wellbeing (commercial announcement…come to the Health and Wellness Expo starting at 10 AM on November 9). Another new member, Lisa Larsen Hill has brought us Seeds of Faith, a religious book club that meets several times a year. David Dorman brings us “Current Events in Perspective.” We’ve enjoyed great music and supported great causes through our Concerts For A Cause. Then there’s Women at the Well founded by Lori a few years ago. The women who attend love it! Also, we are just completing the first year of our art gallery. People absolutely love it too—the art, the ambiance, and sometimes the table and chairs. Last week I saw a small birthday party in the gallery—a few little children singing Happy Birthday to their friend and nibbling on cake before their soccer class in the Parish Hall.
Another way our church makes a difference is through our wide welcome to everybody including the LGBT community. It means so much to so many. We’ve had people who are gay leave churches that reject them and come to this church that welcomes them. The same is true for people who have LGBT family members. They too leave churches that reject their loved ones to come here and take a deep sigh of relief. I hear so many stories from people. I wish you could hear what I hear.
Despite all of our new programming, Lori maintains a full calendar for our youth and children with Sunday School classes, Family Sundays, weeklong Service Trips, monthly trips into the city to help feed the hungry. Lori and Jacob also host events in their home throughout the year. This definitely goes over and above!
And don’t forget, when launching and leading all of these new programs, we’ve continued many favorites from previous years—the 9 AM Sunday Seminar, the Fall Theology Class, the Spring Theology Class, the Spring Retreat, the Thursday morning Bible Study, the Monday Women’s Prayer Group and much much more.
And then there is Craig Tocher, who has been with us now for 20 years--he is our director and organist par excellence. Under his direction our Chancel Choir and our soloists make heavenly music week in and week out and during their 3 annual concerts.
And then there are the hundreds of people of all ages who pass through our doors every week. Our church makes a difference in so many lives without you even knowing about it. Our outdoor signs are a good example. People I’ve never met call the church to thank us for a message that touched them. People show up for programs because they see them advertised on our signs. Case in point, we had 3 visitors attend our “The Question of God” theology class last week because they saw it advertised on our outdoor signs. One woman, who has attended several of Keith’s mindfulness events, came for the class. It turns out she is Jewish and while sitting at a long red light she read our BE THE CHURCH banner. She was so taken with it that she took a picture and read it at the beginning of her family’s Rosh Hashanah meal that night.
So on behalf of our staff, thank you for your faithful support that helps make all of these things happen. It is a comfort for me to remember that you have always been there for us in the past and I have every confidence you will continue to support us in the future. Why do I believe this? Because as a couple of disco songs remind us—“We Are Family” and, with apologies to Gloria Gaynor…
We, we will survive!
As long as we know how to love, we know we'll stay alive.
We've got all our lives to live
And we've got all our love to give
And we'll survive
Hey, hey we will survive!
Written by Rev. Jimmy Only
October 20, 2019
The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)
Loving God, source of all blessings, we praise you for all your gifts to us, and give thanks for your generosity. Everything we have and creation itself comes from your gracious hand. Help us to be grateful and responsible with these your gifts. You have called us to follow Jesus without counting the cost. May your Holy Spirit give us courage and wisdom to be faithful disciples and good stewards of your bounty. Help us to be grateful and generous, willing to give back as best we can.
Through Jesus Christ our Friend and Brother we pray. AMEN.
Adapted from http://www.rcav.org/uploadedFiles/Diocesan_Offices/