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1 Corinthians 13:3-13
3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. 4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
12For 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.13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
He struck an imposing figure. Both tall and broad, in a way that could fill a doorway—and sturdy, like tangled old oak tree. His thinning white hair revealed a prominent red birthmark, running down the side of his forehead—a complex topography of the flesh. And his voice…‘booming’ is not quite the word. No, this voice was more of an echo, a lasting reverberation. A voice that commanded attention; garnered immediate, unwavering authority; and yet somehow, also spoke compassion that seemed to well up from the very depths of the earth. This was a voice born for the pulpit. A voice that called up ancient truths, and wrapped all who listened in safety and well-being.
And this man—this large and striking figure, with a voice that might have separated light from darkness—this man, Rev. Dr. Bill Huey met me at the water fountain, every Sunday of the world, since before I can remember until I was too big to be lifted. In that small, sacred window of time between Sunday school and ‘big church,’ I’d run up the stairs and into the heart of joyful chaos. In one common area, the choir would be robing; the deacons, praying; the ‘parlor class,’ dispersing and engaging in a bit of holy gossip. Older children prepared to don acolyte robes. A piano prelude geared up in the background. Everything smelled like coffee. And there he would be. Wearing a heavy black robe, no matter the season, with velvet accents and red trim. We had this standing date… he was always standing there, and knew exactly what I wanted. I didn’t have to ask… but probably did anyway, like some repetitive liturgy. “Can I have a drink?” I’d say, even as I was being whisked upward—my feet off the floor with the words scarcely gone from my mouth.
I was in the nursery as a newborn. I was in Sunday School and Children’s worship nearly every week; there were weeks of Vacation Bible school, years of Christmas musicals, and endless, endless youth group trips. And yet… when I remember the church of my childhood, I remember that weekly stop at the water fountain, and the certainty that I would be met there by someone who always had a moment for me. Who always looked me in the eye, and spoke on my level, and made sure I was not thirsty. I know, now, all the other places his time and attention might have been spent in those few moments of chaos before worship. A last minute review of the sermon notes, a quick corner meeting with the treasurer, an urgent check in with the newly bereaved. And yet, he was always, always, right there. Waiting for 3-, 4-, 5-year old me. That Pastor cannot have known it at the time, but I was baptized at that water fountain, many years before I ever stepped into the baptistery.
Paul wrote to the church at Corinth wanting them to know how very blessed and beloved they were. But he also wanted them to remember some important things about what that meant:
1) The Holy Spirit had given them gifts for the work of ministry; and,
2) The unique gifts of the gathered community must work together, like moving parts of a body, in order to function in the way that God intended.
Paul outlines, for the church at Corinth, the different manifestations of the Spirit that they might experience. Though each individual may possess unique gifts, they all come from the same God; and are all meant to work together, in community, and towards one common purpose: to make the restorative, life-giving love of Christ, known in the world. He wants them to examine their lives—their words, their actions, maybe even their thoughts—and simply ask themselves, does their activity flow from the Spirit? Are they employing everything they have to make God’s love and presence known in the world? Or are they wandering off to use their gifts for selfish ends?
We talked last week about how Paul could work a crowd. He had a brilliant way of knowing his audience, speaking their language, and meeting them where they were. At the same time, he could be crafty about turning a common image or cultural understanding upside down, in order to demonstrate how the Kingdom of God was counter to the secular world they knew.
For instance—this bit about the body… It was common, in that time, to use the ‘body’ image as a means of justifying classism, racism, and sexism. Everybody has their role, you know? So the ruling classes, who saw themselves as the head, of course—would constantly remind the working classes, and the women, that THEIR JOB…was to support the head. Their job was to stay happily subservient and silent. To work their lives away while the rich, the powerful, and the elite stayed safe and comfortable. “What good are the hands and feet,” they would say, “if there’s no head to keep everything in line?”
Paul said, not so fast. And he used that same popular image of the body, that tool of the powerful, and turned it—literally—on its head. What good is the head, he might say, without the eyes and ears? The hands for work, and the feet for movement through the world?
This Jesus, Paul would say, he turns us all upside down. By his grace, through his teachings, all things are made new again. And in this world made new by God’s grace and mercy, we are so utterly dependent on each other, there’s no room any more for that class and race business. Not another minute of it. There is no time for this tedium of who’s in and out/ who’s in charge and who’s first and who gets the biggest piece of pie. This is a new order of things, he reminds that little community at Corinth. Y’all need each other, equally; each of you needs the gifts that the others bring—and MORE IMPORTANTLY:
The world needs what you bring when you’re all working together.
This is the truth of why we still gather in Christian community. We bring all that we have…so that the Spirit might move among us, and make all things new, again. As we worship together—week in, week out—we bring our gifts. These gifts that we carry, they are perfectly good, out there in the world. They are worth something. But when we worship together, the Spirit does something extraordinary with them… And what might be one person’s healing hand over here, or one person’s prophetic voice over there, or this group’s sense of collective wisdom… together, they make the body of Christ. And this body can do things the world’s never dreamed of before. That is the power of the Holy Spirit, at work in our midst: to turn the world’s order, the broken world’s broken body image, on its ear; and bring about a new embodiment of God’s love, made flesh.
In pastor’s class this week, Gary shared with us how the architects that designed Saint Andrew camped outside for awhile in order to determine the vantage point that offered the most beautiful view of the property. And once they found it, that’s where they put the baptistery. And from THERE, they designed the rest of the property around that single point, that sacred center. Did you know that? I bet many of you did…but maybe, between one thing and another, you’d forgotten that lovely part of the story. Or maybe, like me, you’re new around here, and you’re still piecing together what goes where, and why.
BUT…now you know. And today, on Pentecost Sunday, we will call some members of this body into the water; and we will bless their gifts and call them by name; and we will send them back out, for the work of good news in the world. Hopefully, with a fresh and beautiful perspective of how extraordinary the world can look when their gifts of the Spirit go to work there.
As memorable, as meaningful, and as world-shaping as that trip into the water will be– my hunch is that most of them have already been ‘baptized’ in so many other ways, by this community; that even before they step into that water today, they know that they have a place in this body. They know that they’ve been beloved and called by name, for as long as they’ve been among us. Maybe they first got that message in Sunday school, or on the carpet squares in worship and wonder; maybe in a children’s sermon with Denise, or singing with Amy, or Mark; maybe they knew it when you slipped them an extra cookie in Friend’s Hall; or when you listened intently, prayerfully, the first time they read scripture in worship; or in some time of great sadness, when one or a dozen of you appeared at the door with a casserole or a hug; or maybe you just picked them up for a drink at the water fountain. Whatever the exact moment or story, I bet they’ve known for a very long time now that they are beloved children of God; and part of a strong and powerful body.
It is a deeply powerful thing, to know that we are loved.
So powerful, in fact, that we cannot help but be changed by it. We cannot help but be shaped into a new kind of being. When we are loved, truly and deeply, it’s almost like…well, it’s almost like being born again.
And maybe it happens at the actual moment of baptism, like some say. Or maybe it happened long ago for you, in a church that loved you as a child, and called you by name and made you feel set apart and special. Or maybe you didn’t feel the air shift like that until you were much older…maybe you were well into adulthood when you first came home to a church that loved you, just as you are.
Or maybe…maybe you’ve come today, hoping, that this will be that place, that moment at the water for you.
The Spirit moves in this way maybe only a few blessed times in the span of a life, and if we blink, we’ll miss it… this moving, sending, shaping wind that makes us new, and makes us bold with love for the world.
I don’t know how or when it comes for you. What I do know is what happens after. What happens, once a group of people know that God is alive among them; that Christ is embodied within them; and that the Spirt moves them through the world. What happens then, is that the world’s body image gets turned up on its head. When faithful people say together,
“we were made for more than guns and bombs.”
“We were born to be more than target demographics and lifelong consumers.”
“We are moved by more than fear of terror; and more than the myth of scarcity.”
“We were called up out of the depths, for far more than an anxious week and an overbooked weekend.”
“We are gifted by the Spirit, to embody good news in our time and place.” When we can say those things together, then:
We are the one voice; defying those who claim to be the head, when in fact, they only want the poor to work harder for their selfish gain.
We are the hands; that lay down weapons and plant more trees.
We are the feet; that will travel rocky ground to meet a distant neighbor.
We are the body—that moves and works together, made new in the love of Christ.
(Knowing that we are loved…it’s a powerful thing.)
From that first cool drink to the full body immersion, the view from the water’s edge is spectacular.