[No audio is available for this sermon.]
Text: 1 Corinthians 12:19: “If all were a single member, where would the body be?”
Saint Paul gets credit for writing some of the most vivid metaphors in all of scripture. This morning’s is an especially powerful image to those of us who belong to a small and busy church, because we instantly grasp the truth revealed in the metaphor.
Paul is teaching the church, and therefore teaching us, that whether we like it or not we are a single organism, not a collection of fully formed miniature beings. There are two important conclusions to draw from this. One of them is pretty obvious; the other is a little less so, but equally as important.
The obvious conclusion is that not all of us have the same sets of gifts; not all of us are equally able to do all the things that everyone else is just as capable of doing. Our success as a community doesn’t come about because all of us do the same thing at different times. It happens because all of us do what we can do, what we are gifted to do, all the time.
The place where this metaphor gets into trouble is with the small problem of our capacity for, well, resentment. I don’t have a problem maintaining order in my own body because one part would rather be another. My hands are generally content not to be ears, and my feet are really, really happy not to be my teeth.
We are not quite like that. There are some things we know we’re capable of doing, and some other things we may even know we’re more talented at doing, or more interested in doing, than anyone else; but then there are things we really would like to do, or really hope someone would ask us to do.
The good news about a church like Saint John’s is that if you hang around long enough, you’ll get a chance at every job there is. I think there are only two jobs around here that I’ve never held; one is Jeffrey’s, and the other is Paula’s, and we are all better off keeping it that way.
But that is the hallmark of a place like ours. We are small enough to afford everyone an opportunity to test the full range of their talents, and big enough to have a lot going on in which to put your gifts to the fullest use.
I said there was also a less-obvious conclusion from Paul’s image of the church as a single organism. It’s perhaps the teaching in this message that is hardest to communicate in our present age.
But it is simply this: There is no such thing as a Christian outside the church. There is no such thing as a Christian alone.
Plenty of people, I know, have problems with organized religion. I’m never quite sure just where they see all this organization, but I have to acknowledge that they have some insightful critiques. We can be too enamored with our own structures, we can give too great a share of our resources to maintaining the structures we’ve built, we can be poor examples of our own highest claims. Just like any other organization.
But in most cases, I suspect that’s only half the story. What keeps a lot of folks out of the church is not so much a critique of organized religion as it is fear—the fear that something about their autonomy, something about their independence, might actually be threatened if they became part of a broader community.
I think they are right to be afraid. Because that is exactly what happens. We are all changed by become part of this community; anyone who takes up a place in any church community that is doing what the church is supposed to do will be changed.
What they’re missing is that they would actually be better off with it than without it. Just as the full meaning of freedom requires the presence of some basic constraints on our behavior, so it is that our full flourishing as humans requires finding and expressing our gifts within the context of a community. You can’t be an arm or a hand or a foot or an ear on your own and get much out of life.
Next week our community, our organism, is due for an annual checkup. We do that in the context of the annual meeting of the parish. We hear from all of the ministries people are involved in, we say thank you to those who have served in important roles and we elect a new group of folks to serve as leaders in the parish Vestry.
We do all of this for the same reason that we go to the doctor once a year; it’s preventative health, it’s checking our vital signs and making sure we’re looking after ourselves.
And we do it to hear once again how our community is reaching to respond to God’s call to us as the body of Christ here in this place; what new challenges are being set before us, and what gifts and talents of yours are needed as we respond to that call.
So no matter what part of this body you are, no matter what gifts have been uniquely given to you to realize in this place, don’t forget that we have an appointment together next week. It will be fun, there will be food, and you may just get a new idea about how you can help this organism grow, and strengthen, and flourish. Amen.