Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Joyful Noise: Two Sermons - Part 2

We finally called a new pastor after a year long period of transition.  This past Sunday I was scheduled to serve as the lay worship leader when our new pastor asked me to stand in for her.  The guest pastor she had invited to replace her while she was traveling had to cancel at the last moment.  So I ended up handling the entire service.  Whereas my last sermon [see Part 1] was on a subject of my own choosing, this past Sunday I followed the lectionary for the Third Sunday of Epiphany.  Still, I made the message my own.

Some Body That We Used to Know?
1 Corinthians 12:12-31

I must admit that I feel humbled standing before you this morning.  Pastor Jill has asked me to fill in for her at the last minute when today’s guest pastor was forced to cancel unexpectedly.  I will freely admit that I am not a pastor, nor am I a Biblical scholar or a theologian of note.  I am one of you, standing here before you asking, I hope, the same questions you are and looking for the same answers.  We are one and the same, united in the body of Christ.  So I want to share a few thoughts with you this morning and I thank you for your patience and indulgence.

If you are at all plugged into the current pop music scene, then you are more than likely familiar with the phenomenal success of the Belgian-Australian singer Gotye and his hit song “Somebody That I Used to Know.”  If you have heard it, you will remember it; it is one of those catchy tunes that burrows into your skull and you just can’t seem to shake it.  I liked it the first time I heard it, and this is good, because it a hard one to forget and I find myself singing it under by breath as I go about my daily routine.  He is singing about a single person, a somebody that he use to know that has left him alone and feeling rough, mistreated and unwanted.

The title of this morning’s sermon, a reworking of the song’s title, is not referring to a single individual, but rather the collective body, a sum of its individual parts.  If we look back at today’s Scripture reading - 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 - we can see that this is the foundation of Paul's argument to affirm, against the arrogance and self-centeredness of many of the Corinthians, that all members of the body are needed and that despite whether the weaker members are convinced of their place, or whether the stronger members are not convinced of the weaker person's place in the body, God is the One who has placed all the members in the body and who works with them so that there might be no obvious divisions.  God condemns division.

As it was for the Corinthian and others to whom Paul brought the good news, so too it is for all of us.  We - all of us - are a single body in Christ and the survival of that body is dependent on each one of us bringing our individual gifts and talents into play so that the body, the community, can survive and be whole.  It makes no difference what color our skin might be, what nation we come from, what language we speak, the manner in which we worship and pray, who we choose to love, or whether we are rich or poor.  We are all equal in the eyes of God.  And God want us to be together, to stay together, to work and play together.  The body, Paul tells us, cannot survive and function properly unless all its members exist in harmony and fulfill their roles properly.  And for this to succeed, no single member can assume the body can survive and function without it. Although there in no sin in cherishing our individuality and our unique talents and gifts, God wants us each to apply these talents and gifts so that all of us can reap what we sow together.  We need each other, plain and simple.  We sometime forget this - we forget the body that we use to know, when we become wrapped up in our own lives and forget about others, just as the Corinthians did.

And we often tend to forget that those less fortunate, those with lesser talents and gifts, still contribute to the survival and wellness of the body.  Each and every one of us has a mutual relation and subserviency, and each has his or her proper place and use in the grander scheme of things.

Those of us who appear weaker, or are made to feel weaker by others, are indispensable Paul tells us; the weak and the dispossessed, those who are looked down upon by others, should be treated with greater honor and respect.  God, by calling on us to function as one body, is leveling the playing field so that there should be no dissension among us.  We must care for others just as we need to be cared for.  If one of us suffers, we all must suffer.  If one of us is looked down upon as inferior as a result of ignorance and prejudice, then we are all likewise diminished.  The body becomes unhealthy and is unable to live up to its full potential.  On the other hand, if each one of us is honored and respected for our individual talents and gifts, regardless of what they may be or how they may be judged, then we are the mutual beneficiaries of this honor and respect.  Then we will properly know our place and what is expected of us.  We are the body of Christ just as God intended for us to be.  As this was the message Paul brought to the Corinthians, so too he told the church in Rome - “ For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.  Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” [Romans 12: 3-5]

This, in a sense, is what the Body of Christ and community of faith is – God’s hands delivering the promise of good news to all who come in need. Afraid? We may ask those around us. Come here to find courage. Lonely? Come join our community. Ill? Come here – or better, let us come to you – to care for you. Isolated? We will visit you. Discouraged? Let us gather together and encourage one another.

This is a valuable lesson that we can apply to our daily lives.  Individuals and families function within the context of a community, which in turn functions within a larger society, nation, and world. The individual's and family's well-being is bound up with the community's well-being, and likewise its well-being is inseparable from the peace and prosperity of the society, the nation, and ultimately, the world. Religious precepts undergird community by teaching the virtues of cooperation, friendship, justice, and public-mindedness. These create the spirit of unity by which community can thrive and prosper.  Unity is first of all a gift of grace--a manifestation of the oneness and the reconciliation of those who would otherwise be enemies.

Like many of you, I’m sure, I listened with great interest, and with hope in my heart, to the President’s second inaugural address on Monday.  He also reminded us of the importance of unity and working together so that we may enjoy those freedoms afforded those of us who are lucky to live in this country.  He recalled those words penned by our Founding Fathers - “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and women, although it took many long years for them to be properly recognized) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  Yet he reminded us that although we have been endowed with these rights as a gift from God, they must be secured by God’s people on earth.  We must work together to insure that we all equally benefit from these rights.  In order to move forward, we must move forward together. To retain fidelity to these rights and the principles which guide us in the preservation of our individual freedoms, ultimately require collective action.  We cannot meet the myriad  challenges of today’s world by acting alone.  No single person, or group of persons, has the answers to meet all of these challenges.  Each one of us must cultivate his or her own gifts and talents.  Now, more than ever, we must do these things together as one nation, one people.  We are equal, not just in the eyes of God, but also in our own, and each and every one of us, regardless of our skin, our creed, our beliefs, deserves these God-given rights and the dignity to exercise them for the commonweal.  This is how we will preserve the planet, commanded to our care by God.

There is no harm in reminding ourselves of our duties as individuals.  The body of Christ is a body we have come to know, yet unless we take care to work together with a common effort and purpose to guarantee that all of us benefit equally, we will never fully know and understand it and our place in it.

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