I Corinthians 12: 12-27 Who is at the Table?
World Communion Sunday October 2, 2011
Last weekend we turned the corner on 50 years of remarkable ministry with this congregation. Today we continue looking forward with faith and hope, discerning God’s call. I’m reminded of that quote by hockey player Wayne Gretsky, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” That kind of skill in the spiritual life requires discerning where God is calling us; and that is why the Stewardship ministry has named this a season of deepening our faith in God while growing in generosity. Over the next several Sundays you will be hearing more of this theme, toward the consecration of our financial pledges on Sunday November 6, when each of us will be asked to give back to God, a portion of our financial resources, to fund the ministry of Saint Mark.
What better time to turn toward the future than World Communion Sunday?
Saint Paul would be glad, I think, because his entire vision might be summed up in this one word: Community. For him community did not mean conglomeration of individuals freely choosing to be a part of this congregation or another, a kind of voluntary association where people choose to be in or out. For Saint Paul, the only way to describe this community of Christ is with a striking metaphor: The Body. All those parts don’t get to choose if they belong, they just belong, period. Or as Paul puts it, “the eye can’t say to the ear, we have no need of you, anymore than the hand can say because I’m not a ear, I don’t belong here.”
Some of you have heard this metaphor so often that it has lost its power to transform your thinking. But that is precisely what Paul intends: the transformation of our thinking and being by the Spirit. The normal patterns of life are full of divisions that separate the human community. The powerful over the powerless; the educated over the illiterate; poor and rich, men against women, gender divisions, conservative versus liberal, Republican against Democrat, Gay and Straight and so on, and so on. These divisions are boring, aren’t they?
But Paul vision is radical, and anything but boring. In fact, if taken seriously will transform all patterns of division into unity with diversity. In Christ, all the categories that separate humanity are abolished; they have no place in the Church that is bound together in the One Spirit that is given to all.
The early Church faced the daunting task of uniting a diverse group of people into a community of faith. Nothing has changed, except the challenge is greater. Christians living in American have to realize that we belong to Christians living in Iraq and Pakistan, Egypt and Sudan. We must realize that Christians in Haiti or Cameroon are no less our brothers and sisters, than those sitting on the pew with you today or whom you tuck into bed tonight; and therefore they have a claim on us, not simply because of their plight, rather because we are hands and feet, ears and eyes, belonging to each other One Body.
As Saint Paul say, when one suffers, we all suffer. I don’t know if we fully comprehend the scope of this vision. When we add Jesus’ teaching that whenever we offer a cup of cold water to the thirsty one – regardless of his race, religion or status – we offer it to Jesus in disguise, we find ourselves deeply bound to humanity across the planet.
This gift of unity that we share is most healthy when respect is given for the differences of each one of us.
So while we are in the glow of testimonies from our 50 anniversary celebration, I’d like to add one this morning that that involves the remarkable Special Friends ministry of this congregation. It speaks to the diversity that belongs to unity.
This was brought home to us once around this communion table a few years ago. Some of you will recall when it happened.
For me? asked Meg. She was sitting on the front pew in Sunday worship. She was rocking back and forth as usual, with slightly slanted grin, a cross between smile and laughter. Her eyes were wide, staring straight at me, filled with expectancy. I was standing behind the communion table holding high a plate of broken bread and a chalice. I looked over the congregation, saying, as I always do, “these are the gifts of God for the people of God. Take them in the remembrance that Christ died for you and …” before I could finish the sentence, Meg said loudly, for me?
She asked it with amazement and delight, loud enough for the congregation to hear. It was as if she realized for the first time and couldn’t quite be sure that it was truly for her. I was startled by her joyful interruption, which made me smile along with everyone else who didn’t quite know what to do. Still holding the bread and chalice, I said, yes Meg, for you! You might have thought it was Christmas day – for both of us. She had the amazed joy of something being given to her and I had the profound experience of understanding more clearly, perhaps more than ever before, the sacrament of the Body of Christ. There the most intimate communion occurred and it sure seemed holy to me, in all its surprise and odd interruption.
The dialogue lasted only a minute but the whole meaning of communion could be summed up in that moment of pure gratitude so innocently and beautifully expressed by one person, for me? I think we all ask that at one time or another of God’s goodness, grace and mercy, for me? I certainly have more than once – is it really for me? As is some often the case with God’s truth it takes a person we least expect to embody the truth that we all want to know.
What I want to say in response to Meg’s spontaneous joy is: our differences are God’s gifts to us; it is through them that the community of the baptized is an expressive people building up the common good. Paul said it best, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
The unity of the Church is one in which everyone works together for the common good. I believe the common good includes those who are most vulnerable: the marginalized, the lost, the last, the lonely, the unborn, the war torn, the battered, beaten and abused, and every race and nation under heaven. There are no exceptions. The common good of God’s vision includes everyone.
Our life in community grows from the blessings of the Spirit. To perceive it to grow in faith and I believe such faith leads to generosity of the deepest kind.
Let us receive with gratitude the gifts of God for the people of God. AMEN.