The Power of Systems Integration

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The Power of Systems Integration

January 23, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Nehemiah 8:1-10

Luke 4:14-21

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

Have you ever heard of systems integration?

As an engineer, it’s a term that is familiar to me, but even if you aren’t familiar with the term, you have seen its power in several ways.

Armies in combat once used flags, trumpets, drums, or sent runners with messages to coordinate their movements.  Then came carrier pigeons, then wired telephones, then radio, and each advance made a nation’s military stronger because its parts could work together.  Today, technology is making it possible for military units to not only communicate, but to literally see what other units, aircraft, drones, and even individuals are seeing.  The radar of a forward observer can appear on the map of an aircraft carrier or an airborne command center so that other planes can be sent in support or rerouted to avoid detection.

Similarly, although our railroads have been using computers for decades, I read an article this week that explained that some of those railroads are now going a step further.  Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, and CSX have agreed to integrate some of the information on their computer systems so that shipments traveling across the country can be tracked by customers, in real time, so they will know where their shipment is, and when they will be expected to pick it up.  The hope, and the expectation, is that this integration will make the transitions between railroads faster and more efficient, reduce congestion at port facilities, and improve customer satisfaction.

And of course, we all understand that internet has changed the world.  Despite wasting time looking at cat pictures and posting photos of food, the internet has put a wealth of information at our fingertips, changed the world, and changed our lives, forever.  And all that happened because someone invented a way to connect computers in libraries, research centers, laboratories, and living rooms together in a global network.  That, my friends, is systems integration.

But what does any of that have to do with our faith, our church, or with our local congregation?  To answer that, let’s begin with the story found in Nehemiah 8:1-10, where the people gather to hear the Law of Moses read to them, after it had been lost and forgotten for several generations.

All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.

So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.

Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clearand giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

After 70 years of exile in Babylon, Ezra and those who had remained faithful to God returned to Israel and, while cleaning and rebuilding, Hilkiah, the high priest, discovered the book of the law buried in the rubble of the Temple.  Although people like Ezra were experts in the law and had studied the law as much as possible while in Babylon, no one had heard the law read in this way since Israel had been taken into captivity.  People were weeping with joy, and perhaps with conviction, when they finally heard God’s commands and understood, in a new way, their covenant relationship with God and their connectedness to God and to one another.  Much like the evolution from waving flags and sending runners to telephones and radio, this was a great leap forward from remembered oral traditions to hearing God’s words read aloud from a scroll.

That tradition of reading the scriptures aloud, and explaining their meaning, not only continued, but became a tradition.  Copies of the law were made and became the prized possession of every synagogue where people would gather regularly to hear, learn, and understand.  And Jesus steps into that tradition in Luke 4:14-21 when he returns to Galilee and reads from the book of Isaiah on the Sabbath.

14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus proclaims that he is, in the presence of the synagogue congregation, fulfilling some of the scriptures that foretold of the coming messiah.  This is a sort of spiritual systems integration.  Jesus says that people are being assembled, or integrated, into a larger whole.  Pieces that were lost are being regathered, outcasts are being brought in, the poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed, and all those who had been lost are being found and returned to the family of God.  This regathering is important because of how God intends to execute the mission of his kingdom.  We understand these things better as we read Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a.

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized byone Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 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!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

Did you follow that?  Paul is saying is that although each of us have different personalities, capabilities, education, experience, skills, and gifts, we all belong to a larger, interconnected, whole.  What’s more, from what we already know about systems integration, the assembling, or integrating, of people in this way creates a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. 

Norfolk Southern has had computers for decades and the same is true for Union Pacific and CSX, but by integrating just a little bit of data from each of their systems they create a system that makes each of them better, and more capable, than they were.  Likewise, while flying a drone over a battlefield or sending infantry scouts behind enemy lines can produce useful data, having real-time access to that data instead of waiting for hours, or days, makes each drone, soldier, marine, tank, artillery piece, ship, aircraft, and every other resources even more useful, more flexible, more valuable, more powerful and multiplies the abilities and potential of every one of them. 

Paul is describing… spiritual systems integration.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, each of us is different.  We have different strengths, different weaknesses, different skills, experiences, gifts and abilities, and we are each capable of doing something to serve God, fulfill his mission, and do the work of his kingdom.  But we are not called to do it alone.  We are called to become a part of a larger whole so that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.  We are called to do the work of God… together… because we can accomplish far more together than we could ever imagine doing separately.  That’s why we join a church instead of trying to be “Lone Ranger” Christians.  That’s why our church is stronger when we work together as a district, annual conference, and as a denomination.  And that’s why brothers and sisters in Christ of different denominations, from different nations, and with different languages all work together to accomplish the mission and vision of Jesus Christ.  We don’t always do that well, but we are stronger, better, faster, and more capable when we do.

God doesn’t want you to be a Lone Ranger Christian.  Find a church where you can plug in and take your place as a part of larger whole.  Every single person is useful, and every person is needed.

That’s the power of systems integration.


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/.  All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.