Sunday, January 18, 2004


Well, the Colts choked in their final game of the season. Too bad, I was really pulling for Peyton and Tony to get to the Superbowl. They only lost by ten, which technically makes it a close game. If you saw it, the Pats should have won by 28 or more. All I can do now is hope Philly comes through and beats the Panthers.

Yes -- I preached my first sermon at St. A's today. It went well. I had several gushing reviews, a few post-sermon challenges, and some very good feedback from my sermon review committee. But, as in football where you are only as good as your next call, I'm only as good as my next sermon; which will be 2/22.

The 8:30 went fairly well, although I forgot the big chunk in the middle about some of the specifics of the Episcopal church. I thought 10:30 went better because I remembered that chunk and was also able to add a paragraph from the adult ed class that looked at Job. Specifically, I suggested that Mrs. Job was the most important person in that story because she forces Job to define his faith/theology/ whatever, instead of blindly doing the same thing over and over again.

So, here's the sermon (but after reading it, I think it was much better live):

Epiphany 2 – C
January 18, 2004

Ooh look . . . big people. In trying to figure out what to preach on, I consulted my handy dandy sermon help book (showing everyone my copy of Celebrate the Good News: Children’s Chapel). It said that I should talk about the importance of weddings and then have the children decorate a wedding cake. Sorry, no cake here; instead I’m going to preach on Paul.

If I were a parish priest – and I’m not, but maybe one day when I grow up I will be – if I’m a parish priest, this sermon would be the first in a series on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. This passage we heard today begins what I like to call Paul’s section on unity through diversity. And I think that this is a particularly important topic for today’s church.

I came to seminary over two years ago thoroughly convinced that I was answering God’s call. The idea that I should become ordained was first broached by a former parish priest in the spring of 1996. After many conversations with many people, and the not so subtle movement of the Holy Spirit in my life at that time, I finally agreed. What followed next was a string of college classes as I worked toward my BA, regular meetings with a discernment committee to help flesh out this whole experience and meetings with the Commission on Ministry to further prove and present my call. I knew that by attending seminary I would change, but I also knew that my desire to answer God’s call would not. I was as sure that I should be ordained as you are as sure that you are sitting in a pew.

That is, until this past summer and the events surrounding General Convention. We are all aware of those events and the continuing fallout that our church is experiencing, so I won’t reiterate them. Nor will I use the pulpit to tell you what I think about the ordination of Canon Robinson. And I won't tell you what you should think about that ordination. But I have to admit that that surety I felt regarding my call to ordained ministry was being challenged, and challenged in a big way.

Let me fill you in on a little Seabury secret: I’m known as the campus Calvinist. That whole “predestination-God-knows-everything” thing . . . Yeah. So looking at that, I keep asking myself, “What skills, gifts, talents do I have that I can offer to the people of the church during this time of crisis?” After all, in my view God knows everything in advance, which means that God knew about the current crisis before it happened, which means that God knew just what kind of mess he was calling me into. Man, I hate it when that happens. Which also means that God knew what gifts I would have to offer the church during this time of crisis.

It really is true that the bible not only speaks to Christians through time, but also to specific issues; and I believe that this is one of those times. The beginning of this subject is the reading we heard earlier. He makes his way through different spiritual gifts, compares the church to a physical body, writes one of the most beautiful passages on love ever, and finally ends with his opinion on orderly worship.

Some of the spiritual gifts Paul mentions are prophecy, wisdom, healing, faith, tongues and interpretation. He is very clear that there are a variety of gifts, and that no one gift is more important than the other. Why is this? Because Paul is also very clear that those diverse gifts are given by the same, unified Spirit. There isn’t one gift that glorifies God more than any other gift; but all diverse gifts, taken as a unified whole, witness to the glory of God. Diverse gifts, unity of purpose.

As we read through Paul, we will hear him state that just as the physical body relies on the different “gifts” of its parts to function as a whole, so the body of Christ must rely on the different gifts of its members to function as a whole. Feet rely on knees, hands need shoulders; healing needs faith, and prophecy needs wisdom. We are an interconnected whole of diverse parts.

Kind of like the Episcopal Church – an interconnected whole of diverse parts. We have high church and low church; sung services and spoken services; contemporary worship and traditional worship; conservatives and liberals. We are a diverse denomination that is made even more diverse by our theology of inclusivity. Our history is based on including the best of Roman Catholicism and the best of Protestantism and an understanding that both ends of the spectrum have something valuable to offer.

Our church is in a difficult position right now. But we can’t afford to surround ourselves with all of the other “eyes” who see things the same way we do and avoid those who are different. We can’t afford to claim that our gift is greater than any other gift. This is what Paul was writing about to the church in Corinth. There was a prevailing belief that some gifts were better than others and that some people really weren’t needed. But Paul knew better.

In our own church, we have one group of conservatives that thinks they have the right answers and are choosing to separate themselves from the rest of the Episcopal body. That’s wrong. We also have a group of liberals who also think they have all the right answers and appear to be separating themselves from the rest of the worldwide Anglican communion. That also is wrong. I have a feeling that if Paul were writing to the Episcopal Church today, he would say essentially the same thing. There are many gifts, but one Spirit; there are many body parts, but one body; unity through diversity. But the bible is the Living Word of God, and Paul IS writing to the Episcopal Church today. What he said to the Corinthians so long ago is equally applicable to the church today.

There are many gifts, and not one is more important than any other. What’s important is that we recognize that we all have gifts to share with each other. So, what skills, gifts and talents do I have that I can offer to the people of the church during this time of crisis? I’m still discerning exactly what those might be. But whatever they are, they are skills, gifts and talents that are unique to me and which you don’t possess. And neither do I possess those skills, gifts and talents that you offer. We need each other. Anglo-Catholics need Anglo-Baptists; liberals need conservatives; feet need hands; prophecy needs wisdom; and to separate ourselves from each other is ultimately more harmful to the body of Christ than to debate with, struggle with, discern with and live with each other.

So, with what diverse gifts did the Spirit bless you? Have you spent any time recently discerning what those gifts are and how they might best be used to proclaim Jesus Christ as Savior? Now, more than ever, it’s important that we spend some time figuring that out and more time putting those gifts to good use. And I also pray that we learn to recognize the face of God in each other through our many diverse gifts in order to be unified for God.

I need to go watch the other game now.



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