Summary: Fourth in the "Back to the Basics" series, exploring the foundational beliefs of Christians. This sermon addresses the question, "What do Christians believe about the Body of Christ, the Church?"

This past week, someone brought to my attention a different kind of church. Travel a half-hour south of Dallas, Texas, and you’ll find the Cowboy Church of Ellis County. Based on the photographs they provide on their website, you’ve got a few choices if you want to lead worship at the Cowboy Church. You can either wear blue jeans or black jeans. And you can either wear a white cowboy hat or a black cowboy hat. The coffee and doughnuts are free and you’re welcome to bring them into worship with you. And they claim to play both kinds of music. You’ve heard this joke before… both kinds of music… country and western. When people are baptized, they are dunked in a big galvanized steel horse trough. And it’s not just the decorations or the style either. Following Sunday worship, they have "open ride" where anyone can bring their horse to church and ride in the arena that is right next to the sanctuary. They have classes for kids to learn how to handle horses. Every Tuesday is the women’s Bible study… and barrell racing, happening in a different part of the church building. Every Thursday is the singles Bible study… and bull riding. Looks like an interesting place to go to church. It’s really different than what we’re used to here at Burlington United Methodist Church, but I think we’d all agree that the Cowboy Church of Ellis County is an equally valid way of being the church – it’s just different.

This past year, the confirmation class visited three different churches that had very different styles. We attended Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, where we were among hundreds of middle school youth at a worship service designed specifically for that particular age group. We went to Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Rockford, where we had an experience of African-American style of worship that honored that cultural heritage. And we worshipped at Salem Korean United Methodist Church in Schaumburg at a service intended to reach second generation Korean-Americans who spoke English and embrace much of American culture but want to retain portions of their Korean culture as well. These churches could not have been more different in style, but we would consider them all valid churches.

While churches can look very different in the ways they worship and the ways they do ministry, there are some things that truly make the church the church. There are some aspects that are essential to being the church, no matter whether the church is big or small, urban or rural, traditional or modern, laid back or straight-laced. Today, we’ll be looking at this fundamental question, "What is the church," as continue our series, Back to the Basics.

Will you pray with me as we prepare to hear the message this morning…

At Annual Conference this year, we had the great pleasure of having Grace Imathiu lead our Bible study each morning. She grew up in Kenya, and is now a pastor near Milwaukee. She tells a story she learned from her father about a man who goes out hunting one day and shoots down an elephant with his bow and arrow. As you can imagine, he is very excited. I mean, just imagine all the meat! He won’t need to hunt for months now!

But, there remains the daunting task of dragging the elephant back to his hut. But he’s pretty determined, so he grabs the animal by one leg and pulls, and pulls, and pulls, he does everything he can think of to get that massive carcass to move, but the animal won’t budge. It’s far too heavy for one man to pull. He tries to haul it by the trunk, by the tail nothing works; the elephant is too darn heavy.

Finally, the elephant hunter goes to his village and announces he has killed an elephant and needs help to drag it back to his hut. The villagers listen and one of them asks, “Whose elephant is it?”

“Mine, of course,” replies the hunter.

“If it is your elephant,” the villager says, “it is your problem. Pull it home yourself.”

As the villagers begin to leave and return to their homes, the hunter rethinks the problem and quickly announces, “I have killed the elephant for all of us.” The villagers stop in their tracks. “An elephant for all of us? Our elephant?”

They break into celebration and quickly gather and head off enthusiastically for the forest to find the slain elephant. Men, women, children, everybody joins in, determined to drag that elephant back to the village. Even the aged and frail join the crowd, insisting that if they cannot help drag the elephant, they will cheer on the work.

In the forest, gathered around the huge animal, the villagers each grab a piece of hide. And somebody begins to shout, “One, two, three, whose elephant?” And the villagers reply in unison, “Our elephant,” pulling as they shout. Again, “One, two, three, whose elephant?” And they shout their reply, “Our elephant,” shifting the huge animal a few more inches closer to home.

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