Monday, January 28, 2013

Sermon, Epiphany 3C, 1 Cor. 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21

Almost forgot . . . here was the sermon for yesterday, Annual Meeting Sunday:

How many times have you heard me say, “I never cease to be amazed how the Lectionary is appropriate for any given day?”  Today is one of those days.

Today we do the business of the church.  Today we look at facts and figures, attendance and service counts, the variety of ministries we perform, and we elect people to the Vestry and as our convention delegates.  And as we examine our parish, recognize our gifts and call on people to use those gifts and talents, we hear from Paul about the body of Christ.

Just as the body is one and has many members, so it is with Christ.  There is one body of Christ, of which we are all members.  We were brought into this body by the power of the Holy Spirit at our baptism and we were blessed with a gift, or gifts, for ministry.  We are all not preachers.  We are all not teachers.  We are all not healers.  We are all not cooks, crafters, quilters, lectors, singers, nor is everyone everything.  But together we are all.  Together we make up one body unified in Christ.

But unity, remember, does not mean conformity or sameness.  We are unified in the body of Christ through our differences by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Paul talks a lot about this in this section of his letter to the Corinthians.  And while he talks about the benefits and value of having many different body parts, or gifts, he is also very critical of individual body parts trying to separate themselves from the rest of the body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you.”

The eye can’t say that, not only because the eye feels the hand is inferior, but nor can the eye say that because the hand is not an eye.  This is the very thing that leads to schism.  One group of people, eyes, believes they are the only ones to see what the church must be and how that is to be accomplished.  This group then turns on other members of the body, the hands, who are working to proclaim the good news in a different manner and say, “We have no need of you.”

On the occasion of our annual meeting, this passage from Paul is not only important to remember, but is important to act on.  We all have different talents, skills and gifts.  In this particular body of Christ, we must remember that all parts of the body must function if we are to live up to our full potential.

If we think we have fewer or less impressive gifts, talents or skills than others, we cannot say to ourselves, “I do not belong,” and withdraw from the body.

Nor can we look at other members of this body and, deciding that they do not meet our expectations of a “proper” member, say to them, “I have no need of you.”

Paul’s appeal to bodily unity is followed up by his most famous discourse on love.  Love is not selfish, he says.  But if we insist that I have no need of this place, or that I have no need of you, then we are living in selfishness, not love.

As we continue to move forward, as we continue to be challenged, as we continue to live, we need to act on this unity through diversity.  It takes all of us to make up this particular body of Christ.  There will be times when things aren’t going your way, or you’re upset with a Vestry decision, a sermon or a hymn.  And those are precisely the times you can’t say, “I have no need of you.”  Refusals to participate, pledge or engage, saying, “I have no need of you,” only hurts the body, of which you are a part.

There is one body and one Spirit; one Lord, one faith, one baptism.  That one Spirit empowers us for the work of ministry in the world, representing the one body of faith through our diverse gifts.

That is all well and good, and very church-y sounding, but the question hanging over this statement is, “What exactly is the job of the body of Christ?  Yes, we have these gifts, but to what end?”

The answers to those questions are found in today’s gospel passage.  The job of the body of Christ, through its diverse members, is to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recover the sight of the blind and to free the oppressed.  That is the job of the body of Christ.

What does that look like?  Good news to the poor is finding places and resources to help with food, bills, clothing, job leads and/or a welcoming place where they aren’t judged on their economic status.  People who have been hurt by the wider church, or by the narrow-mindedness of particular denominations, or by our hateful and exclusionary image are, in essence, blind to the love of God that the church should exhibit.  How can we here at St. Luke’s help those people recover their sight of a loving, welcoming God?  And there are oppressed people all around us – people who have been treated as less-than and barred from participating in resources and activities that the majority takes for granted, yet refuse to share.

These are the people Jesus asks us to reach out to, to include, to welcome, and to love.  He is also saying that the scripture which proclaims this healing and freedom is fulfilled today.  This wasn’t the today of his time; this is the today of today.  Doing that work today is hard.  Doing that work today is unpopular.  Doing that work today is threatening to the established and comfortable.  But doing that work today is something we are called to do.

As we move forward together as a parish and as part of the body of Christ, remember that we need you and you need us.  We need to remember to celebrate our diverse gifts and we need to use those gifts, today, to proclaim the good news of the gospel to all people.

Our challenge for 2013 is this:  how can we use the many gifts of our many members to proclaim the good news of freedom, support and sight as found in Christ?



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