A Season for Growing: Fellowship
A Season for Growing: Fellowship by Rev. L. John Gable
July 9, 2017
About a year and a half ago my sister, Cindy, and her husband, Scott, moved to College Station, Texas, from the small Texas town they had lived in for the better part of 40 years. The move has been great for them. They get to see their son and daughter in law, and most importantly their 2 year old granddaughter, clearly the real motivation behind their move, daily, but one thing has been particularly hard for her. The move has meant she’s had to leave her church – people she has known and loved and worshiped with since she was just out of college. She knew everyone there and they her, and she loved them like family, and finding a new family is never easy.
Hers was a close-knit little church in a small town, but now they are living in a big city and the closest church to them is a big one, but she knew she wanted and needed a church home, so she started attending and it was nice, but she didn’t know a soul. She felt something she hadn’t felt in 40 years, being alone and unknown in church, so after worship she sat in her car and cried. Four weeks in a row after worship she sat in her car and cried. “How am I ever going to get to know anyone or make any friends in a church this large?”
Then she received a post card in the mail inviting her to attend a dinner at church. It simply read, “We are glad you have been worshiping with us recently. We’d like to get to know you and for you to get to know us. Please join us for dinner and, if you’d like, join our church family. No pressure.”
To quote her, she said, “I held that card for a moment then told myself ‘It is time to put on my big girl pants’, so I sent in my RSVP.” She attended the dinner, met the pastors and some of the staff and some others who had recently been attending the church. That night she told them she wanted to join, later telling me, “I knew in my heart that I needed to join to feel like I really belonged”, and not long after that she was invited to be a part of a small group. “I love my small group” she told me with some enthusiasm in her voice. Then she saw in the bulletin that they were starting a new Alpha group which was being led by the pastor and his wife. She thought to herself, “I’ve been wanting to get to know them and this would be a good way to do that”, so she signed up for Alpha. Then she heard that they needed people who would help serve communion and she thought to herself “Well, I can do that”, so now she is serving communion at one of their services each month. I tell you, if one Sunday she reads that there is going to be a guest preacher she may sign up for that as well.
I tell you all of this for two reasons. First, I am very proud of my sister. She has done something that many people find really hard to do: starting over in a new community and navigating her way into a new church family, and she has done it beautifully. I even told her, “You know the pastors and staff are talking about you because you are doing what they wish every new member would do”, albeit it is difficult.
And the second reason I tell you her story is because she has experienced something all of us know in our hearts, but often struggle with: we are not intended to do this life of faith alone. We are designed to walk with Christ in the company of others. Even Jesus knew this, and if Jesus needed others to walk alongside Him, it is safe to say, we do, too.
In our Gospel lesson Jesus has been preaching and teaching for some time now because we are told wherever He goes great crowds are following Him. Crowds are great, but we all know how fickle they can be, and we also know how lonely you can feel, even in a crowd. So Jesus identifies and calls twelve men to be His closest disciples and followers. They become His small group. No one, not even Jesus can know everyone in a crowd, but you can know a small group of twelve. You can talk to and teach a crowd of thousands, but you can’t visit with or really get to know that many people, or they you, in any real way. Jesus knew that if His ministry was going to make an impact, it wouldn’t be through the many, but through the few. So He chose twelve and invited them to follow Him. He invested Himself in them and those twelve ended up carrying a message that changed the world.
I never imagined that I would ever find a reason to preach from Romans 16 where Paul is wrapping up his letter by naming names, 26 of them to be exact, but when I recently read this passage as part of our “Read Through the Bible”, I thought, “How does Paul know these people, and how does he know them well enough to call them by name?” He closes some of his other letters in similar ways, offering words of encouragement to some, telling others to stop fighting with one another, even telling one fellow to bring him some books and papers and a cloak he accidently left behind the last time he visited. How did Paul know these people? Apparently, he had spent time with them, in their homes. Conceivably these folks were part of his small group. With as much as Paul traveled he apparently created a small group of folks that he could really get to know, and they to get to know him, in every town he visited. Paul, like Jesus, knew that he couldn’t do this life of faith alone, nor can we.