Sunday, January 27, 2019

"Greater Gifts: Being Needy & With Love" - Sermon, January 27, 2019

Community UMC, Quincy
“Being Needy & Gifts of Love”
Rev. Andrew Davis
January 27, 2019
1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a
1 Corinthians 13: 1-13

            Whenever I think of the parts of the body, I keep hearing that song from preschool about the hand bone being connected to the arm bone, or foot bone being connected to the leg bone, head bone being connected to the neck bone, etc..  Or I hear Marty Haugen’s song, “We are many parts, we are all one body, and the and the gifts we have we are given to share.  May the spirit of love, make us one indeed, one, the love that we share, one our hope in despair, one the cross that we bear.”[i]Even the choir anthem that was just sung expresses the ways our gifts are interconnected, such as coming together like the colors of the rainbow.  Music is a way for things come to light for me; or anything visual, such as the Jenga game with the kids help us to see what Paul is saying as we continue exploring some of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and as we conclude our series “Greater Gifts” as we consider how our gifts are interrelated and how we use our gifts with love.  Just to review, we began thinking about the gifts we have when we considered God’s gift of grace and the gift of baptism, then last week, we learned about how each of us have spiritual gifts that are unlocked by the Holy Spirit.  
            As we engage with the two texts this morning, we are still in the twelfth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, as last week, the apostle Paul talked about spiritual gifts that we have, but now in this morning’s lessons, Paul talks about how each gift is isninterconnected as a part of the whole body, kind of like that song about the bones being connected, then talks about doing everything in love.  In 1 Cor. 12, Paul is not using something original, as 
The “one body, many members” metaphor was a commonplace in the Greco-Roman world; one can even find versions of it in which, as here, the different parts of the body argue with one another.  The metaphor is aptly chosen for Paul’s purposes because it maintains a claim for unity – one body – while recognizing and honoring differences – many, differences.[ii]

            I think it’s safe to say that sometimes parts of our body do argue with each other the older we get, although we do see members of the body of Christ argue with each other on occasion, or frequently in other churches. That’s because we have ideas and we have things we care about, some very strongly and we all want what we see as best for the body as a whole.  Yet, we may all have a different notion or approach of how to accomplish something or what’s best for the body.  And yet while we may find ourselves in tension with each other here and there, maybe a little ticked off with each other here and there, the differences we have are healthy differences and we still have interrelated gifts that can still come together because it’s about being the body of Christ and fulfilling our mission here on earth.  
            As we talked about last week, Paul is writing to the Corinthian church because like what happens today, members of the church in Corinth were bickering with each other, sometimes undercutting one another in power grabs.  Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to become more united, as they would oftentimes use their gifts and riches for status or power, more for themselves instead of the body as a whole.  Paul takes the use of spiritual gifts a little further by continuing with his encouragement to see these spiritual gifts as interrelated, even telling the people that all these gifts and each person in the church in Corinth is needed in the greater community.  Thats what we get at when we talk about being needy in the context of this morning’s lesson, as it’s about how we need each other in this body of Christ.  Even today in our church, each of us have gifts that are different, yet we are still interrelated through our love of God and when we followJesus.  And we need each other on that journey, difference and all. When we think of what Paul is saying to the Corinthians and thinking of how we need our gifts and each other, “in this mission, there is no room for ego, belittling, or looking down upon the gifts of others.  When we are all working together to make and grow disciples, no task is less important than the other.[iii]Another song that comes to mind is one by Hezekiah Walker and what stands out is the message of the lyrics...
            In our church, I mentioned last week how I see many gifts that are different, whether it’s teaching Sunday School, singing in the choir, ringing in the bell choir, working with children and youth, knowing how to diffuse/de-escalate a tense situation, mowing the lawns in the spring or summer, or shoveling snow, sharing your faith with someone you might not know well, praying with and for others, helping others through a difficult time, etc., these are all gifts we use to build up the body of Christ, the church while keeping our focus on Christ.  And yes, there are times we might not have a particular gift, in which it’s okay to ask another person’s help when we have a need.  For instance, if I have an electrical or major maintenance problem at my home, I’m calling the property owner, as he has gifts in handling maintenance issues and knows a little bit more than I do about electricity or major building maintenance.  It’s better than me being electrocuted or having a mishap that could be costly because of me trying to do something I’m not gifted in. It’s especially crucial to know that “when it comes to recognizing the interrelated nature of our gifts, we must come to terms with our own vulnerability and dependency; and we must declare that it is okay to need one another.”[iv]It’s about how we need each other and with “honesty and love,” know that when we may not be able to do something ourselves, there’s someone who can and could be willing to help, whether it’s here in the church or in our home life.  
            As we use our gifts and consider our gifts, we must ask the question, are we using our gifts with love? When we look at the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians and if you’ve been to a wedding in recent years, you’ve likely heard this passage.  Once again, Paul is using a little technique here to send a message to the Church in Corinth, even though it’s not as in-your-face as some of his letters.  It’s more like a passive-aggressive message or little hint.  By using himself as a negative example, Paul is able to “lay out some stern warnings to his [hearers] without risk of unduly offending them and with the added advantage that his application to himself allows, even subtly commends, that others apply the same test to themselves.”[v]In the body of Christ, love is the foundation of everything and although we want love to be warm and fuzzy, or patient and kind, love can be tough too.  In seminary, I occasionally got some tough love from close friends or professors, or in ministry in general, I’ll get some tough love or   sometimes,I have to dole tough love out too meaning there are times I have to be your pastor and not your friend, as harsh as that may sound. Even if I ever have to drop the hammer or go nuclear in a very rare event, it doesn’t mean that I don’t love the person or group I had to do so with because they didn’t do what I asked the first time or consecutive time.  Thankfully I haven’t had to do that, and hopefully I won’t every have to. Similarly, when I find myself in an argument with a good friend or colleague whose views I don’t see eye to eye with, it doesn’t mean that I don’t love them, as I care abut their well being even though we have different ideas on what is good and what is just and could span a myriad of topics whether it’s over something for our town or a moral position.**  Nevertheless, “love is always hand in hand with justice.[vi]We need to do everything with love because the greatest of anything is love.  
            Even though we are seeing all those heart shaped items at the stores with Valentine’s Day coming up, the love that Paul is getting at is agape love, which is love in a brotherly or sisterly sense.  J. Paul Sampley explains that 
The love of which Paul writes so eloquently is a love that does not originate in one individual and reaches out to another. Rather, the love celebrated in this text comes from God, claims us and through us reaches out to others, not simply another person whom we wish was our spouse.  The love about which Paul writes then, can never find its sole object in another single individual but reaches out through and beyond that other person.[vii]

            And we have that same love when we reach out to others as well. It’s the love of God that’s in each one of us is when we apply our spiritual gifts that have been unlocked by the Holy Spirit, even when we may need the help of others or when they may need us because each of us has a part in the body of Christ.  Ultimately, like our closing hymn will indicate, we want to be known and should be known by our love,as we are called to love God and neighbor, even if we don’t agree with our neighbor.  Love needs to be the foundation, as it’s easy to get caught up in and distracted by other things.  To throw a little caution into the wind here (and take note of this too), 
It is easy for us to begin to value the wrong things: productivity over spirituality; effectiveness over a caring heart; people in the pews over lives transformed; being members over being disciples; power and position over service and servant-leadership.  We can even begin to think so highly of our gifts that we forget to love.  Paul reminds us that it does not matter how “successful” we are as a church if love does not flow through everything that we do.[viii]       

            I’ll admit some of these cautions are some of the same things I’m still un-learning, especially when it comes to productivity or effectiveness, although I hope a caring heart will be considered effective too. And perhaps when I feel like I could go nuclear because an expectation wasn’t met, perhaps I need to check my expectations and do a little soul searching and I hope everyone here will take the time to continually practice self-reflection and examination, especially so we can all perfect ourselves in love.  Nevertheless, when each of us needs to check our priorities and do some soul searching, it requires love in everything we do as the body of Christ both here and in this world.  We even need to show love for ourselves, just as we need to show grace with ourselves too. 
            As we move from accepting God’s gift of grace, allowing the Holy Spirit to unlock and activate our spiritual gifts, as we apply and interrelate our gifts with the body of Christ, and do them in love, we will be shifting our focus from our gifts in a couple weeks to how we apply our gifts when we get out there and engage with the people we meet and with everyone who comes through our doors.  We take all of our gifts and we apply them to our love of God and neighbor in the ways we use and share our gifts with others.  Even when things might feel like the churches that Paul wrote to, in which there’s disunity and all the parts of Christ’s body aren’t working in harmony, we have this reminder that we need each other, despite our differences because there are greater gifts that each of us have which can transcend any difference we may have each other when we use our gifts with love.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say…AMEN!!    


[i]https://www.topcatholicsongs.com/we-are-many-parts
[ii]J. Paul Sampley, “1 Corinthians 12: 14-26 Commentary” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. X (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 947.  
[iii]Jeff Campbell, “Preaching Notes, Year C.” Accessed 26 January 2018, https://gbod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/legacy/kintera-files/worship/SeasonAfterEpiphany_Greater-Gifts-2019-Series_YearC.pdf
[iv]Ibid.
[v]Sampley, 952.  
[vi]Ibid., 956
[vii]Ibid., 957
[viii]Jeff Campbell

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