January 17, 2010
Sermon – January 17, 2010
The Rev. R. Bingham Powell
The church in Corinth was a church deeply divided. They had many issues - we don't know them all and even the ones we know, we won't get into all of them today. But one of the issues was that certain people in the community were able to do certain things that others weren't able to do. Some thought that they were better Christians because they had certain gifts from God and that others were lesser because they did not have those gifts. So Paul decided to write them a letter. Our Epistle reading this morning is a part of his response. Paul didn't like the division; he thought that they were all equally valid Christians. Some had certain gifts and others had different gifts, but that didn't make any better than anyone else. God gives different gifts to different people - As he says, "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but the same God who activates all of them in everyone." Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, interpretation of tongues, teaching, hope, love, service - these are just some of the gifts that the Spirit has given people. But having the gift of wisdom does not make you better than someone who has the gift of knowledge. Having the gift of faith does not make you better than someone who has the gift of hope.
If there is any sense of there being any hierarchy, any sense of some gifts being better than others, it is the gifts that build up the community that are the best, but even then, the lack of one of these greater gifts does not make a person lesser. It is only when we look at the gifts and the individuals separately that it seems like we can rank and divide; Paul wants the people at Corinth to look at the community as a whole - "to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." God gives to whom God needs to give, but God ensures that the community as a whole has all of the gifts that it needs to do the ministry that God wants them to do. Community is the core here for Paul. If we look at the community as a whole, it doesn't matter who has the greater gifts, all the gifts are important and critical. What matters is that the community has all of the gifts that it needs.
The Body is the metaphor that Paul uses to try and explain his idea. The Body is made up of many parts, each with its own function. On their own, each part is pretty useless. Only when parts combine and work together, can the body do anything. Each of us is a part of the Body of Christ, each with our own function, each bringing our gift or gifts that God has given us. Yes, every person here has a gift that God has given you for the well-being of this Body. Certain body parts may seem more important, but the lesser ones are often just as critical, if not more so.
If the Body metaphor doesn’t quite work for you, there are other metaphors you could use - take a symphony for instance. Imagine that we are the symphony of Christ, each of us given an instrument by God, perhaps the winds are over here, the strong over there, and the percussion and the brass usually placed toward the back. Each individual instrument brings a different part to the whole symphony, but only in their entirety can they make the music that people want to hear. If we only had one instrument of the symphony, say the oboe, for instance, it might work for a while, but we would get pretty quickly get bored of the melody that it would play. Only when combined with the other instruments, with their different voices and tones, sharing the melody, bringing harmony and rhythm, do we get the beautiful, rich music that only the symphony as a whole can bring.
We, the people of St. Mary's, are not a community divided like the people in Corinth - we are nowhere even near being a church divided like the people of Corinth - but the words that Paul shares with the people there are just as important to us as we transition our leadership here at St. Mary's. Just like the people at Corinth, we have been given all of the gifts we need. God has divided out all of the gifts we need among us and no one person has all of the gifts needed, but together, as a community, as St. Mary's, we possess all the gifts we need to the ministry that God wants us to do. God has certainly given Fr. Ted many wonderful gifts over the years that he has shared with us - the gift of being a sensitive, caring pastor; the gift of being a wise, knowledgeable leader; the gifts of amazing love and faith. One of the greatest gifts that God has given Ted and that he has shared with us is the gift of building others up. These gifts have been important for St. Mary's success over the years, but they are not the only reason St. Mary’s has been successful.
St. Mary's has been successful because so many have shared their diverse gifts that God has given them. Some of us have had creative right-brain gifts, others practical left-brain gifts. Some of us have had the gift of long-term vision, while others have had the gift of focusing on the short-term. Some of us have had the gift of remembering to care for the people who gather here in this building, while others have had the gift of remembering to care for the people outside of the walls of this building. God has given us all of these gifts and many, many more. Sometimes it seems that we have lost a gift, but perhaps God has instead given it to us in a different form. Some of the gifts that Ted has shared with us will pop up in different people, some of the gifts Ted will continue to share with us as Rector Emeritus and as a continuing member of this congregation, some gifts will show up in new forms in ways that we can’t even imagine yet. But God will give us, the Body of Christ, the Symphony of Christ, all of the gifts that we need. Together, we will be able to make the beautiful music of the symphony that is St. Mary's, because God will provide us with all of the instruments we need.