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Riverside, California
Studying scripture and preaching the Word to draw us into deeper understanding and more faithful discipleship.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Together as the body of Christ

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

When we live by the world’s standards, we constantly kow-tow to what is fashionable and popular. Anybody where poodle skirts? Bell bottoms? A bob? A beehive? Scrunchies? High tops? Leg warmers? Saddle shoes? Fashion is flippant. It’s always changing. And it’s often unforgiving. If you aren’t “in style” everyone knows it. And when we follow the trends, we are basing our actions on those of the masses. Our everyday choices are based on the whim of a designer, an athlete, a movie-star, or a model.

But when we choose to enter the world of faith—to follow Christ and to do God’s will, we begin to live by different standards. Rather than flippant trends, we seek I AM—the God of constant grace, of the past, present and future. The God who has our best interest in mind. The God who calls us beyond trends and popularity and into passionate living that fulfills our deepest longings and satiates the needs of the world.

When we live by God’s standards, we don’t change with every passing trend. Instead, our life’s path is determined by God, and when we live by God, we live as we were intended to be.

And God does that in abundant and marvelous ways. As Paul indicates here, gifts are distributed everywhere to all types of people. They are not limited to a select few.

One of the things I appreciate about being a United Methodist is our emphasis on lay leadership. For those that aren’t familiar with church lingo—lay people, or “the laity”, are all of you. Clergy are pastors ordained to ministry and laity are the people of the church. So to say Methodism emphasizes lay leadership means we believe you all are just as gifted, if not more so, to lead and minister for and with the church. Sometimes, with the pastor always in front, it’s easy to focus all our attention on the pastor and her gifts. But the pastor, by herself, is not the church, we are all the church together and we need each person’s gifts in order to be fruitful and grow in ministry.

Christianity has some ugly scars from its past: the bloody Crusades, the endorsement of slavery, racial segregation, the degradation of women, and imperialism. Imperialism is probably the most unfamiliar concept to most of us. It is often associated with missionary activity and bringing Christianity to new areas of the world. By crass definition it’s “we know more than you do, so we’re gonna lead and you’re gonna follow.” It’s an arrogant approach that places on group as superior to the other and often subjugates the other no matter what the cost. Imperialism negates the truth of this passage. Or maybe Paul had seen the early inclination toward such behavior and was responding to it. Paul reminds us that God works everywhere distributing gifts equally, sharing with all persons. We may make distinctions based on color, gender, age, nationality, language, class, or education, but God does not. God loves equally and gifts equally. In all places to all peoples.

We can’t live in the mindset of imperialism. If we do, we lose out. If we think we are the only ones with a message to share, a gift to use, then we will miss all the riches that God has gifted people of other nations, races and traditions. There are a wealth of gifts, throughout the world and we can’t concern ourselves with unnecessary debates over whose gifts are better or more important, they are all essential. Instead, we need to seek out the gifts of each person and empower them to use those gifts.

God gives a variety of gifts. Paul names a few here, but there are even more listed other places in Scripture. There are at least 31 spiritual gifts! 31!! That’s a lot of gifts! So we shouldn’t look for just one or two gifts in particular. We have to look for a variety of gifts--gifts that strengthen the body of Christ in worship, and in study, and in mission, and in administration, and in hospitality, in caring and healing. There are gifts to build up every part of the body. Our job is to seek them out, strengthen them, and use them. In the coming weeks, we will take a deeper look at some of the gifts so that we might better understand them.

For today, I want us to focus on the fact that each of the gifts comes from the same Spirit, the same God. And no matter which ministry that gift is used for, the ministry too is of the same God, through the same Spirit. In other words, there’s not a hierarchy. It’s not a competition for gifts. There’s no standard that healing is better than administration, or wisdom better than faith. Each gift is important and necessary. And each gift comes from God.

Today is the day we celebrate communion. We celebrate a common meal shared between Jesus and his disciples. It’s a meal of unity. It is a meal of reconciliation. It is a meal shared around the world in a way that connects us with people from all over…from Russia, from China, from South Africa, from Cuba, from France, from Israel, when we share this common meal, we are reminded of our unity. One spirit, one Lord, one world, one God. We all share together. We are one in the body of Christ. We are equally sinners. Equally forgiven. Equally gifted to go out and do the ministry of the church.

Today, as we celebrate this Holy Meal, we are reminded of Christ’s sacrifice…a sacrifice of love and humility that is meant to unite the world. And as we begin this month focused on spiritual gifts, we see that though our gifts are varied, we are still united by the Spirit of God. The spirit is our foundation, the fount of our blessings. We must stay grounded in Christ, focused on God, connected by the Spirit, so we can be strengthened in ministry to all the world.