Monday, November 16, 2015

Three Simple Questions: Who are We Together?

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a:

For the past two weeks we have been seeking to answer three simple questions posed by Bishop Reuben Job in his book by the same name.  Those questions are, who is God, who am I, and who are we together?  Of course those are anything but simple questions and a very brief recap, we started with what I thought was the hardest, and really is the building point, who is God.  What I said was that God is love, an idea of God found throughout scripture and everything else that we might think about God can build from that point.  Because God is love, that also means that God wants to be in relationship with the creation and most importantly, at least for us, God also wants to be in relationship with each and every one of us because we are all children of God, which led us into our second question, Who am I, and that is that we are children of God and we are made in the image of God.
We hear in Paul’s writings that when we clothe ourselves in Christ, that all of the distinctions that we like to think are important, or that society says are important, are blown away because of the freedom we achieve in Christ.  For Paul, and for us, this is best represented in the act of baptism, an outward symbol of our adoption by Christ, to recognize that we are sons and daughters of God.  When Martin Luther was feeling unsure about himself, when people were attacking him, or he had doubts, he said that he would stop and tell himself “remember you are baptized.”  When he did that he said he was reassured that he was a beloved child of God.  I suggested that we should do the same in our own lives, that our mantra should be, quoting from the 43rd chapter of Isaiah, where God says to us “I have called you by name, and you are mine.”  But when we recognize and remember that we are children of God, we must also recognize and remember that everyone else is a child of God as well.

Bishop Job says “When we claim our full inheritance as children of God, then we are able to see clearly and to know in the depth of our being that when we look at another human being, we are looking at a sister or brother who is God’s beloved child, just as we are…. Our identity is not something we create but something that is given by the God who made us, leads us, sustains us, and loves us.  We can, however, give up our own identity and inheritance.  When we forget who we are and begin to see others as anything less than beloved children of God, we are giving up our identity and our inheritance as children of God.”  Because when we do that then we stop following Jesus’ example and injunction to love others as God has loved us.  And that too is part of baptism, because we don’t become Christians through baptism and then seek out a church to join. Instead, when we are baptized we become part of a community.  Baptism is an initiation not just into the faith, but also into the community, into the body of Christ.  To recognize that we are children of God and baptized members in the faith is to begin to answer the question who are we together.

Whenever we baptize someone, not only do they make vows to God, but we also make vows on their behalf.  We vow to “proclaim the good news and to live according to the example of Christ, and to surround” each of us, “with a community of love and forgiveness.”  And when we make that pledge, we make it together, the same as others undertook exactly the same pledge for us when we were baptized.  Baptism is not an individual event, it is not just between that person and God, it is a community event, just as being a Christian is not an individual enterprise it is a community enterprise.  We walk this journey together as the body of Christ.  I have said before that I don’t believe that you can be a deeply committed Christian and not be involved in a faith community of some sort or in some way.  You simply can’t.  Every Sunday when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we do not say, “My father, who art in heaven,” what do we say, “Our father.. give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”  The Lord’s prayer is a communal prayer, not an individual petition.  The earliest creedal statement of the church, known as the Nicene Creed, does not say “I believe in one God,” it says “we believe.”  We believe, we are, we do, give us, forgive us, this is a community and communal exercise we are in as Christians together.

As Tilden Edwards said, community is “what everybody wants, but almost no one is able to sustain well for long.”  Any time a group of people get together there are bound to be conflicts and issues, regardless of the people.  We want to live in harmony and get along, but that’s simply not possible, and that is exactly what Paul is talking about in today’s scripture reading from 1st Corinthians.  Apparently, many in the Corinthian community had come to the conclusion that speaking in tongues was the greatest of the spiritual gifts and that everything else was less important, and so Paul wants to combat this type of thinking.  God has given each and every one of us certain gifts and graces, and we are, in Paul’s belief, all gifted.  We are like the children of Lake Woebegone, we are all above average.  Paul is telling not only the church in Corinth, but us, that not only do we need to be unified, but we also need to be diverse.  That, I think is what we often miss in our calls for unity in understanding who we are together.  In order to be seen as one, we often try to crush out our differences and in doing so, we overlook the nature of creation and the necessary differences that not only make us who we are, but make the body of Christ operate effectively.  Sometimes we put aside who we are because we don’t feel that what we have to offer is important or significant, and other times we put aside who we are because we are told that what we have to offer is not important or significant.

In order to function properly, in order to be the body of Christ, all of us are important.  All of us are vital.  All of us are needed. And all of us are gifted.  I want you to look at one of your fingers.  Now unless you are one of the incredibly rare people who are born without fingerprints, that pattern in unique to you.  If I have your fingerprint I can identify you specifically, instead of the other approximately 6.7 billion people on the planet.  If our fingerprints are utterly unique, why would we possibly ever believe that we are not marked individually in our spirits as well?  Imagine, God has created a system in which each of us is uniquely different in our fingerprints and in our spirit print.  None of us pray alike, think alike, talk about God the same, or have the same relationship with God than anyone else.  And if you accept that as true then you will understand how important you are for the body of Christ.

But, this is not individualism the way we typically understand it, in fact our uniqueness flies in the face of our normal understanding of individualism.  Our spirit print, our gifts, are not given to us in order to build ourselves up or for our own private edification.  Instead they are given to us in order to help build up the church.  Our gifts are not for ourselves, they are given for the unity of the church, and each of us has to give of them in order for the church to be effective and whole.  Unity is not found in the diminishment of gifts, unity is found in the flourishing of gifts, in the recognition that all gifts come to us from God, and therefore are all important and all equal.  If all our gifts are not being seen and utilized than there can be no unity.  Look at the gifts that Paul outlines today, and this is just one of several lists of spiritual gifts that Paul talks about, but they are all outwardly focused.  While faith might be personal, it is never private.  The ministry of the church is for all of us, and all of us are necessary.

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to join the school’s crew team, and it was great.  Now we didn’t have a lot of opportunities for rowing when I was growing up in Phoenix, so I really knew nothing about rowing, and perhaps most of you don’t either.  I rowed in both 4-man and 8-man shells, and when you see it being done it looks so beautiful and graceful and you think well that looks easy enough, and like a lot of fun.  And when everything is working perfect, in rowing it’s called the swing, we say in the zone for other times, it’s just magic.  There is no extra movement, everything and everyone is moving perfectly, and when you hit it you know it and it is an amazing experience.  But to get there, to get to the swing, first you have to practice, a lot, and second you have to understand everyone’s roles in the boat because everyone plays a specific role and does a specific thing and if people forget that, if they try and do something that’s not their part, or think their task isn’t as important as others, then the entire boat falls apart.  It just won’t work.

Each seat in the boat has a number assigned to it, 1-8 in an 8-man shell.  #8 sits closest to the coxswain, and at the direction of the coxswain are the ones who control the stroke rate, and thus they are called the stroke.  Everyone else in the boat follows what the stroke is doing, even if they aren’t following the direction of the coxswain.  #7 sits right behind the stroke.  Rowers look at two things when rowing, the first is the back of the person in front on them so that they are following their motions exactly because if one person is slightly ahead of behind in their seats, which slide back and forth, you can feel it in the boat.  The other thing you watch is the blades, the oars, on your side of the boat, and so the #7 seat conveys to everyone on their side of the boat the stroke rate.  Now the middle seats, 6-3, are where the strongest rowers sit.  They provide the power to the boat.  And because they sit in the middle, where there is the most buoyancy, they don’t have to be as technically sound because there movements will impact the boat less, except for in the power they provide.  You put all the muscle there.  The final two, seats 1-2, require the most skilled rowers for two reasons.  The first is because any movement that is not in alignment with everyone else can cause the stability of the entire boat to be affected, and so one of their jobs is to control the stability.  The second thing that happens at the bow is that it is subject to the greatest amount of pitching, and so they have to be quick and adaptable to make sure their strokes are right and their blades are still hitting the water at the right time and the right depth.  The smallest person in the boat tends to sit in the bow seat.  You can guess which seat I occupied.  When everything is going right, it is a thing of beauty, but everyone has to know their role and do it, not try to do something that can’t do, or aren’t supposed to do, and everyone has to pull their own part, pun intended.  And when that doesn’t happen, bad things happen.

I was racing in a four-man shell and we were doing pretty well, when they oar lock at the number 3 seat broke, which meant there was nothing holding their oar to the boat anymore, and so they couldn’t keep rowing.  But when that happens, not only do they have to stop rowing, but someone whose oar is on the other side of the boat has to stop rowing as well.  Which means once we recovered and were lucky enough not to have anyone get thrown out, that we went from four rowing, to only two rowing.  Needless to say we did not win the race and finished way behind the other shells.  But that experience has stayed with me about the importance that everyone plays in success, that if you are going to depend on the bow to provide power, you’re going to be sorry, and if you want one of the powerhouses to provide stability, you are going to be sorry as well.

Every part of the body has a role and everyone is important.  We cannot all be ears or eyes or hands, nor can we say that those parts are unimportant because we are not those things, All of us play a role in the body of Christ and every part is just as important as every other part for the successful operation of the body, and as we all know when even just one part goes wrong the entire body is impacted, but that when one part is helped, or healed, or allowed to function properly that the entire body is helped and healed and allowed to function properly.

We are the body of Christ, it takes all of us.  It takes all of us to do the things that God has called us to do and to be, it takes all of our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.  Those are the membership vows we take to join the Methodist church, and all of them are important, and all are necessary for us to be as successful as we can be.  But since today is the day we complete our stewardship campaign we are focusing on giving.  This too requires all of us.  If there was just one person, or only a few people who were supporting the operations of the church, not only wouldn’t it be healthy for the church, because what happens if they go away?  It also wanted to be healthy for all the rest of us in our need to give.  This year Linda and I are again increasing our giving for the coming year, and our estimate of giving is $7300, which is a tithe of our taxable income.  Depending on the other estimates that are submitted, that puts us in the top ten of givers in the congregation.  I say that not to brag, but to be transparent so you know that we are walking the walk.  That I am not asking you to do anything that I myself am also not willing to do.

In Ephesians, Paul writes “I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God.  Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience.  Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together.  You are one body and one Spirit just as God also called you in one hope.” (Eph 4:1b-4) The power of the church resides in each and every one of us.  The only thing that keeps us from being the people who God called us to be is ourselves, because God has given us the Holy Spirit and through the Holy Spirit we receive what? Power, the power to accomplish the things that God has called us to do.

Who is God?  God is love and because of that God wants to be in relationship with us, and beckons us to come home.  Who am I? I am made in God’s image and am a child of God.  And who are we together?  We are brothers and sisters in Christ seeking to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world, while being transformed ourselves, while living into the call that God has given to us as part of the body of Christ.  May it be so my sisters and brothers.  Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment