Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany January 24, 2016 Preacher: The Rev. Bret B. Hays
Some of you might remember a couple of years ago, Annette was working on something in church. Every Sunday, she would do a little more work, choosing colors and designing patterns based on our stained glass windows. She was creating something that was literally the fabric of the parish. I’m glad when people feel comfortable knitting or crocheting in church; it doesn’t bother me — I don’t even pay much attention. So I was bowled over when she showed me the finished product, and told me she was giving it to me.
Just as Saint Paul described, she was using her personal gift for creating beautiful fabric crafts, drawing on one element of the church and giving it to another. In turn, I use it to show hospitality, setting it out as a bedspread in my guest room, and my guests always appreciate its beauty. But Annette’s afghan symbolizes Saint John’s in another way. In the many bright colors arranged in intricate patterns, I see Saint Paul’s metaphor of the Body all over again. As a parish, we are knit together by the Holy Spirit. She draws us together not despite our differences, but precisely because of them. Indeed, some of our differences are themselves the work of the Spirit because she blesses us with different gifts, different interests and skills.
The world always pushes some people to the margins and tells them they have nothing to offer. The Spirit causes the church to do the opposite of that. In church, every one of us has something to offer, and every one of us has something to gain by participating in our common life of worship and service. They are always different things, but that’s okay because what knits us together and gives us value is not our skills, but our prayers, and our God. And together, when we choose to follow the lead of the Spirit, we can accomplish wonderful things, far more than we ever could alone.
Some people are uncomfortable with the traditional and Biblical emphasis on corporate life, sensing a threat to their individuality, but the same Bible shows how individual and corporate life support each other. We may read Paul’s metaphor of the Body and imagine it as a plea for agreement or emotional harmony, but it’s more like a reminder of our shared purpose and identity as followers of Jesus Christ. Paul is not so much obscuring our differences or hoping they will go away, but celebrating our heterogeneity while insisting we look beyond ourselves, with the promise that we are part of a greater whole which is all the more beautiful for its stunning juxtapositions.
We also know from experience that when one part of the body is injured, the function of the whole is impaired, and the whole body has to work together to achieve healing. When I was in Denver, I broke a glass when I was doing the dishes, and I was using so much force that I jammed the severed stem into the palm of my hand. It never occurred to me to say, hand, you got yourself into this, you get yourself out. You’re on your own. Good luck. No, I used my other hand to clean the wound and stop the bleeding, and my feet to walk to the urgent care clinic, though my injured hand had to cooperate with all of this. How many of us have experienced the support of the church as a healing community, either with concrete assistance or symbolic acts like the laying-on of hands in healing prayer.
In our Anglican tradition, our whole way of worship is symbolic of this unity. Our Book of Common Prayer is the foundation of our liturgy and our theology, and it is designed to unite people of different and strongly-held opinions. Christians have always needed help setting aside our too-human tendency to divide, judge, and exclude — why do you think Paul had to write at such length about unity in the first place?
The same Spirit who inspired Paul, who had to overcome his own tendencies to divide, judge, and exclude, continues her work with us. She fills us with the power of divine grace. In this way we can become Christ, and like him, we are anointed to bring good news to the poor, to to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Remember that the Prayer Book provides that immediately after we are baptized, we are anointed with Holy Chrism, aromatic oil that has been blessed by a bishop, whose ministry and order is the unity of the Church. Every time we celebrate our gifts, using them according to the purposes of the Giver, we, too, fulfill this scripture.