Monday, February 1, 2016

Sermon: Relationship Checkup

 Manuscript, Writing, Paper, Old, Letter, Ink
The Third Sunday after Epiphany
Christ Church Episcopal, Grosse Pointe 
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
Year C – 8am, 24 January 2016

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

Text: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

My friend, Fred, insisted that
we write each other once a year
on the anniversary of our friendship. 

He began this the first year after we met.
Fred wrote about
the highlights of the year,
the adventures of times together,
the few difficult times when we had argued,
the lessons we learned and
his hopes for the coming year,
together, as friends.
In reply, I shared my perspectives back.

This tradition helped us grow together.
We are now not in contact now,
since our lives changed course, but we did share a “going away” lunch, marking the closure of our friendship.

We see something like this in
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, including
the baptism highlights of the year,
the quarrels and difficult times they had,
his hopes for the community.

Paul highlights recommendations
for treating each other
as fellow members in the community.

Perhaps he wrote this letter annually
or as a response to an inquiry made
to deal with key issues
as their lives changed course.

Paul wrote this letter
with a revolutionary twist.[1]
In that time, other comparisons of
human community to the physical body
had reinforced the societal hierarchy:
·        lowly workers should obey and support
their military and political leaders,
·        those at the bottom of the social ladder
should be grateful for the guidance and protection of their natural superiors, just as
·        the brain is more critical than the lowly organs sustaining daily life

Yet here, Paul argued
for diversity and interdependence
with a strongly egalitarian message. 
The notion of superiority of one member
is ridiculous, he wrote. 
People cannot live with only one body part.
All the people of Corinth -
including the privileged and
those of lower status –
are bound together intimately, just as
·        the body relies on all physiological parts to work together. 

The believers in Corinth
were a tattered group
with seemingly nothing in common. 
Their work and their interests were so different
that they lost a sense of
what God was doing through them. 
Carpenters, politicians, homemakers,
teachers, stone masons, weavers…

They related to each other independently,
caring only for their own “tribe.”
When they came together for weekly worship
they often argued. What were their priorities?
What was God up to with this tattered group?

What is God up to in our world? 
Our society, too, draws us ever more apart
with individual cell phones, personalized news,
complicated schedules and separate lives.
Our society, too,
values CEOs more than janitors,
the “brain” more than the “lower” parts
of the body.
This fosters independence
so that deep conversations are be avoided.
It’s much easier to live independently and individually.

According to a Pew Research 2014 Study[2],
which surveyed 35,000 adults,
there has been a falloff in traditional
religious beliefs and practices in recent years.
A growing share of Americans are
“religiously unaffiliated,”
which accounts now for nearly 1 in 4 adults.

This leads to a conclusion
that society and our world
seems to draw people more and more
into an escapist approach
to spirituality, finding ways to affirm beliefs, through consumerism, individual interests, and unique experiences.
So what is God up to in that?

And what was God up to
with the people of Corinth? 

We see Paul’s reaction in our text.
They gathered together, once a week,
and God was sending them sent them out,
Paul wrote, as members of one body.
God called them to use the gifts God gave,
regardless of their social “status,”
to serve as prophets, apostles, evangelists, teachers.  What did God have in mind here?

Frederick Buechner offers that God was making a body for Christ, through these people with these gifts.[3] He wrote,

“Christ didn't have a regular body any more
so God was making him one out of anybody
he could find who looked as if [that person]
might just possibly do.
[God] was using other people's hands
to be Christ's hands and
other people's feet
to be Christ's feet,
and when there was some place
where Christ was needed
in a hurry and needed bad,
[God] put the finger on some
maybe-not-all-that-innocent bystander
and got [that person] to go
and be Christ in that place himself
for lack of anybody better.”

God used the people of Corinth
to sustain the fellowship of that community
to carry on God’s belief in the people,
through a tattered
and diverse bunch of people.

And so it is with us.
God uses us
to sustain the fellowship of our community
to share God’s belief in people,
through this tattered
and diverse bunch gathered here.
God works through our bonds of affection, as egalitarian members in Christ’s body
with different gifts,
until we all become fully human at last.

How are we doing?
Well, we express it each week and
each year, in our annual meeting, (today)
where we evaluate:
the highlights of the year,
the adventures of times together,
the few difficult times when we had argued,
the lessons we learned and
our hopes for the coming year,
together, as sisters and brothers in Christ.

Today, God calls us to be religious
through this community here
even when we are not
as “spiritual” as we might be.
God calls us to see each other
as equal members of this Body of Christ:
as apostles, prophets and teachers
for each other,
for our community.

Today, God calls us
to hear that we are forgiven and
to learn how our God
came down from heaven
“to enter the pain and beauty of humanity. 
climbs up from earth
to offer his body for us so
that we might, in turn,
be his body in the world.”[4]

Today, in this community,
Even in our annual meeting,
we are called
“Christ” to each other
“Christ” to God.

All of us. Finally.
It is just as easy, and just as hard, as that.

[1] Inspired by Lee C. Barrett’s “Theological” Commentary, Feasting on The Word, Year C vol. 1 (Louisville, Westminster John Knox, 2009) p. 278
[2] 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study, the centerpiece of which is a nationally representative telephone survey of 35,071 adults. Cited at on January 19, 2016
[3] See Buechner’s article about Paul, first published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words at cited on January 19, 2016
[4] Nadia Bolz-Weber, “Accidental Saints” (Convergent Books, New York, 2015) p. 170

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