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.
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
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
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
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
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.