I preached this sermon on Sunday, January 27th at Westfield. The annual meeting referenced is commonplace in churches with congregational policy. Churches gather annually to address the official business of the church. At Westfield, we gather twice–once for our annual meeting for finance (which was today’s meeting) when we review the treasurer’s report from the previous year and adopt a budget for the coming year, and once in June for programatic needs. Because of that pending meeting, the sermon this week was shorter than usual.
Before you reading the sermon, read the scripture it’s written from here: 1 Corinthians 12: 12 – 31.
A note: Our children’s message highlighted different kinds of shoes (slippers, snow boots, galoshes, flip-flops, tennis shoes). We talked about how how each shoe achieves a common goal differently. During the sermon, each shoe was placed along the the pulpit railing, reminding us of our individuality and our common purpose.
Last Sunday, after I joined the church, I said to you: Well, It’s official, we’re in this together. I’ll admit to you that that’s not a new feeling for me towards this church. Honestly, I’ve felt that way since my first visit all the way back in June. Richard Mellen and Kim Aubin brought me into this sanctuary. And I remember walking in and just being in awe. What a church! What beauty! What history! What a story to tell. And even then, I remember thinking “This is the church. We’re going to do some pretty great things.” It was the start of a feeling, of an emotion that became full grown last week as I joined this church.
This week we hear from Paul as he writes to the church in Corinth. You see, the church in corinth, I suppose by American church-naming standards we could call it First Church, Corinth. You see at First Church, Corinth there have been issues. Paul, the widely known founder of churches around that area, has heard of their troubles and has written to them to offer some advice. It was the first time anyone had done church. This was new territory–and like any community endeavor, you’ve got lot’s of shoes: all out to serve the same purpose, but striving to do it in different ways. They, like us, had the striking yellow galoshes–glad to go out in the name of the church and draw attention to it; the flip-flops–easy going and laid back; the snow boot, that pair of shoes that helps you truck through the cold; the sneaker that helps you run through the rough patches; and the slipper–those that hold you close and offer words of comfort and warmth.
Anyway, there were lots of shoes that had forgotten their common purpose, so Paul writes to the good folks of First Church and does a little setting straight, a little encouraging, and a whole lot of loving. I’ll be honest with you, Paul isn’t my favorite New Testament author. But the man could write, and write he does through this first letter. Some of the most iconic segments of the New Testament come from this letter: “now, we see through a glass, darkly,” or “when I was a child I thought as a child,” or the passage we’ll hear more and more of as we approach Valentine’s day: “Love is patient, Love is kind” or “and now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Among these passages in ours today, one that has spoken to millennia of preachers, teachers, churches and church-goers: The body of Christ. Paul is known for his rhetoric, for his ability to eloquently prove his point and this is a prime example:
“Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”
Beautiful when you dissect it from a literary standpoint. Meaningful when you when you really listen to what Paul is saying–that all of us with all of our gifts are a vital part of the body of Christ.
But the next line is my favorite in this passage: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Or, if I were to publish the Jon Chapman translation: “Now, we’re all in it together.”
It’s rather fitting that this is the reading assigned by the lectionary for today, when we head into our annual meeting for finance, our first annual meeting together–a time when we put into action Paul’s reminder that we’re all in this together.
This past week, I’ve had several conversations that reminded me of this fact–that we’re all in this together, and I have to say, what a gift, to be reminded that we’re not alone in this journey as a community, as a church.
I’ve mentioned to some of you how it’s hit me, just in the last week or so that I’ve only been here for just under 4 months, but how it seems like much longer to me–in the best way, I feel settled in, like this is my home, and that’s comforting. It also makes me sometimes wonder, because it seems like longer, if I’ve done enough. We’ve had a great Christmas where we saw lots of new faces and a beautiful sanctuary and found new energy, and we hit January–when, y’all, it has been COLD. And dark, and it’s easy for me to think: What’s next.
But there’s a problem with that thinking. You see, inherent in that “what’s next” is the phrase “for me to do”—what’s next for me to do. And what I have to remind myself and we must remind one another is this: the question for us as a community and as a congregation is never “what’s next for me to do?” It’s always “What’s next for us?”
Paul reminds us: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.”
It really is a beautiful sentiment, that we’re all part of the body of Christ. But in reality, it’s hard to live out isn’t? It can be a challenge to live fully into that particular vision of the church. It requires deep honesty and openness. So, here with that in our minds, here are some things you should know about me. I love terrible jokes. I really like to sing, and there are some songs that I’m pretty good at singing. I can be particular and that particularity can border on demanding. The reason that I’m particular about stuff is because I think God deserves our best and that sometimes its easier for us to do the easy thing than it is for us to the excellent thing. I totally get how this trait might come across as bossy–I’m working on it. Thank God grace abounds, right? I am not Alice or Barbara or Jim or Bill. I am Jonathan, who grew up 9 states away in a different land. So they way I do things will look different. Because I grew up far away, I could absolutely use any advice you’ve got in general, but particularly when it comes to navigating the North. Also, Sometimes, I wear glasses because I like the way they look, not because I need them.
I screw up. I make mistakes. And when I do, come talk to me, tell me about it so that I can apologize and work on fixing it and on not doing it again.
When I came here, four months ago, I was so excited to have a church to be part of, and that it wasn’t just any church, but Westfield church. That excitement is still there and abides in me as deep pride–pride that you chose me, pride that you chose ,e to welcome new members, to baptize our children, to bury our dead, to remind you week in and week out that God loves, you, God loves you, God loves you, and thateveryone, everyone, everyone is welcome, pride that my name is on that sign by our front door, pride that you all are willing to listen to me talk week in and week out. Simply put, I’m proud to be your pastor, to stand in this pulpit among all those who have stood here before. That pride can also become heavy with expectation. Will the church grow? Can we get my job to full-time? Can we have a choir? How do we do more for our kids? For our youth? For our building? And that’s where it’s easy for me to feel a little overwhelmed–overwhelmed in a good way by your love and care for me and overwhelmed in a less good way by what lays in front of us.
But thankfully Paul reminds us, doesn’t he, that we are all in this together–and he reminds me that there’s nothing I can do by myself to make any of that happen, that it has to be all of us, and that is such–a–relief., isn’t it–that we’re all in this together.
All of that to say, I’m learning right alongside you, what it means to be your pastor, to love you the way you need to be loved, to help you see and realize your potential. And what I need from you is just that–learn with me, what it means for me to be your pastor, to love me the way I need to be loved and help me see and realize my potential.
To be clear, and hear this, I have felt that love and support all along…I’m not telling you any of this as a criticism, but rather in principle that if I’m honest with you I can expect your kind honesty in return–so that we can faithfully say that this is our church and that we are in it together.
Friends, we are indeed the body of Christ–all different parts of it all with different gifts to share in this beloved community. Consider this your invitation. As we get going on new project, setting forth new goals, I want you, we need you to be part of it–to be part of it all. Because, at the risk of sounding like my favorite PBS show–Mr. Roger’s neighborhood–you are special, each of you has something offer. I could go down the list right now for each of you, seriously, and highlight something wonderful you bring to this congregation.
Can we do it with out you? Yes. But without you, it would be less than it could be. So you’re invited–jump in the deep end of God’s grace, hope and plan for this church and we’ll learn to swim in that love together.