“Individually members of it”-Sermon for Epiphany 3, I Cor 12:12-31a
Through first serving for seven years as one of the high school summer camp session directors at Camp Allen, our diocesan summer camp and conference center, and now in about my 7th year on Camp Allen’s Board of Directors, I have for many, many years now received at least one email a week from Camp Allen’s President and my friend, George Dehan. And to my recollection for all of that time, in George’s signature at the bottom of his emails is the tag line, “Teamwork makes dreams work”. I know that is a bit trite, maybe even a bit cheesy…but I love it! It brings me a bit of joy…a little smile comes across my face every time I read it…because it is entirely true…teamwork indeed makes dreams work…makes the life-giving hopes and dreams that the God of love inspires in us…possible.
I am so very, very aware of the fact that this journey we have been on and continue together in the planting of St. Julian’s…this desire to plant a church, a family of faith, from the ground up, in the part of God’s vineyard where we have been placed…that is and will continue to make God’s salvation in Christ known and experienced…all of this has been made possible…has been made manifest…through all of our shared ideas and shared efforts…our teamwork…and, of course, all with God’s help. And, when I say with God’s help, I do mean God’s supernatural inspiration, wisdom and power. As I often say, God’s Spirit is alive and active in our individual lives and the life we share together…the Body of Christ…the Church…St. Julian’s. And, sometimes that power is experienced and can only be rightfully described as miraculous…God’s own life-giving and loving intervention in time and space. I hope you will hear me say, as your pastor, that I believe in the unseen and incomprehensible activity of God in our lives and world. I don’t claim to understand it…especially when that intervention doesn’t look like what I believe it should look like…but I do believe in it.
And yet…and yet…my experience of the supernatural inspiration, wisdom and power of God has most of the time, perhaps daily…no…I will say daily…been made present…made manifest…known and experienced…through you…through human beings…those that I have been blessed to journey with and alongside. Thus, I can faithfully say that we become the people and place we were uniquely created to be through God’s help…that is God’s inspiration, wisdom, and power…as it is chiefly experienced in the forgiveness, encouragement, insight, wisdom, care, truth-telling, non-judgement, friendship and compassion…that we extend to each other. Though you and I are surely not God, we are…we get to be…the vessel through which and by which God’s salvation…God’s wholeness, healing, peace, presence, and meaning-making love, is most often experienced and known within the life we live…on this side of glory.
And, it is Jesus who first said that with such great power, God’s own power active and alive in our lives, comes great responsibility. Though I do not mean for it to be a burden, I still never want you to take for granted the potential that exists within you. I really can’t come up with the right words…so I will borrow Mary Oliver and say I never want you to forget the importance of your one wild and precious life. You matter so much to me…to St. Julian’s…and to so many others beyond. For, if I am to flourish…if I am to be fully alive…if I am not to be overcome by this present darkness…if I am to become the life-giver and love-spreader who God has called me to uniquely be, I need you…and of course the reverse is true to…you need me…and, of course, this is also true of the relationships you share with each other and all those you love and who love you.
We have begun a tradition at the last Bishop’s Committee meeting of the year, which takes place in January, so it was just a couple of weeks ago, of giving thanks for those who are completing their 3-year term of service on the committee with an exercise called the “honoring chair”. And, just for context, the Bishop’s Committee is the team of lay leaders from our church who work with me to oversee the life and ministry of our family of faith…those who make sure that all the things we do and offer…that all the time, talent and financial resources so generously shared in our church…are used to further our purpose, vision and mission. They are what I sometimes call our chief leadership team. At the parish meeting next Sunday, we will elect by acclamation 3 new members to the committee. But, again, at the last meeting of the year, we offer thanks and words of affection for the 3 retiring members of the committee. This year our three retiring members are Nancy Dolan, Priscilla Cary and Matt Abrahamson. And, again, the way we offer our thanks is by making each sit one at a time in the metaphorical honoring chair. They have to, for a moment, simply receive from us our words of gratitude and love for their service to our church…but also their service in our individual lives…what they have meant to us very personally. It sounds sweet…and it is…but it is harder than you might think to sit in the honoring chair. For, as I noted at the time, it is so much easier to wash someone else’s feet that to have our own washed…receiving affection requires as much vulnerability, maybe more, than giving it. And, as each took their place in the honoring chair, words to describe these 3 were, indeed, offered…words like: kindness and courage and outside the box thinking and tenderness and graciousness and steadfast love. There were tears offered both by those receiving the blessing and those extending it.
And the moment, as it does each year, reminded me of how much we need each other; how much we receive from each other; how we shape each other; how we all bring unique gifts and charisms to our collective teamwork that make living into our dreams possible. And, I simply use these three wonderful folk as an example, for each of our lives without distinction, as God’s inspiration, wisdom and power shines forth in and through them, are the very help we need…and that God graciously works through…to be a become…to be and become the life-givers and love-spreaders we were each uniquely created by God…in the very image of love…to be. And, it is good soul-work to be intentional about reminding each other of this…what we mean to each other and how we need each other to really be the fully alive people God has made us to be.
And, further, if St. Julian’s is to be and become the dream that God has inspired us with…a place of welcome and sanctuary to all…a place where hope is found and possibility discovered afresh…a place of learning and contemplation…a place of healing found in Godly council and prayer…a place where lasting friendships are forged…a place that leads the larger community in serving those most in need…or, as our Vision Statement sums it up, a place where we can “Grow in Relationship, Love all Well, and Seek Intimacy with Christ”…if we are to really be all of that…we need all of us…all of our personalities and collective gifts and unique resources…empowered, equipped, heard, used and appreciated. As Virginia Woolf once wrote, “It is a thousand pities never to say what one feels”. And, this is the sort of community I believe we are and must continue to shape. One in which the things we feel, dream, hope for, have to offer can be expressed and used…for within such offerings is found…God’s help…the very inspiration, wisdom and power of God. For only together, as a team in which all are valued and affirmed…all have a starting position…and our own unique position on the team…will the dream for this family of faith that God has set on our hearts ever work.
And though I am now coming to the end of this sermon, I will note that I have not yet referenced one or more of the scripture passages that we heard read as assigned for this Third Sunday after the Epiphany. And, yet, I hope that all I have shared, nonetheless, sounds somewhat familiar. For God’s inspiration that was moving through me, as I sat to collect these thoughts, was of course Paul’s reflection on the Body of Christ that we heard read as our New Testament Lesson. For Paul writes, “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it…. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Or, as my friend George’s tagline joyfully reminds me, “Teamwork makes dreams work”. For only together…the whole Body of Christ…a team in which all are valued and affirmed…all have a starting position…and our own unique position on the team…will the dream for this family of faith that God has set on our hearts ever work. Amen.