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A More Excellent Way

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 ~

Last week was our grandson Riley’s birthday. I cannot believe he is seventeen years old? I literally ask myself, “Where did the time go?”

Reverend David Weekley standing at the pulpit August 16, 2015.

Prefer to watch this sermon on video? Click the image above.

I remember when my children were very little; every new thing they explored, every skill they mastered assured me of how special and wonderful they were; and how smart they were.

Of course these things are all still true!

It’s just that, way back then I thought they were the smartest, the youngest geniuses in the world.

Today I simply smile, perhaps with a bit of nostalgia, as I listen to new parents making similar observations and predictions about their toddlers.

Some of the comments go something like these:

“My Lucy could read The Cat in the Hat by age three and wrote her first letter to grandmother in kindergarten!”

“You should see Andrew. He made all-district in baseball and got all A’s this year in middle school!”

It is so amazing to see where children will go with gifts and creativity.

A few years ago I came across what was then an amazing example of a young person developing an array of individual talents in the field of music and entertainment in the form of a teenage girl named Kaitlyn DiBenedetto.

Kaitlyn taught herself the drums at age 5 and picked up the guitar at age 11.

After playing supporting instrumental roles with a number of local New Jersey rock bands, she broke off on her own in 2010 at the ripe old age of 16 to form the band, “Just Kait.”

Just Kait is a band featuring, well, just Kait!

She literally plays and records every instrument- drums, bass and guitar- and lays down her own vocal tracks as well.

As a 17-year-old high school senior, Kait released her first CD in August of 2010.

In Just Kait’s music videos, Kaitlyn changes her wardrobe, including glasses, hats and wigs, as she is filmed playing all the instruments and singing all the parts. It really is an amazing act and display of individual talent.

But wait a minute: doesn’t the very word band imply more than one person? Doesn’t it mean a group of people coming together around a common purpose- to create music?

What happened here? Did Kaitlyn grow up unable to play nice with others?

Was the first word she learned “mine”?

I do not know the answer to these questions, but when I googled Kait to see what she is doing these days, well, she is still doing music, but more as a studio musician again.

Somehow the concept of a one-person band did not catch on.

But the point here is not to diminish the talents of people such as Kaitlyn DiBenedetto.

She clearly has musical talent and ability to be able to accomplish everything she has hoped for in the world of pop-music.

I am referencing her this morning as an example of what our Scripture text is not about.

As Paul points out in this first letter to the church in Corinth, in some Christian communities there’s a serious problem; you might say it is the problem of some people trying to play all of the instruments.

Paul is attempting to teach this young church, as well as followers of Jesus today, that all of us are in the band and we all have an instrument to play.

The quality of the music we produce as a church depends upon each one of us, as individuals, using our gifts for the benefit of the whole.

It also depends upon us not diminishing or negating the gifts others bring.

As I recall, many of us in band camp debated whether it was superior to read treble clef, or bass clef. Those among us who studied keyboard boasted they knew both, which obviously made them superior over us all.

This is the same old human condition Paul addresses in this letter.

Rather than the example of a band, which did not exist in the time of Paul, he uses the example of the human body to make an important theological point.

Paul tells us that if the body were all an eye, it would be a monster and could not function at all.

As one commentator writing in Homiletics expresses it: “The message in terms of Paul’s image of the church reveals two distinct themes: the reality of heterogeneity and the necessity of homogeneity.”

When we cannot appreciate this truth, the church often becomes unable to function.

One humorous ditty that addresses when this happens comes from a Vietnamese Christian by the name of Phong Ngo who writes:

Oh, give me pity, I’m on a committee,
Which means that from morning to night,
We attend and amend and contend and defend
Without a conclusion in sight.

We confer and concur, we defer and demur
And reiterate all of our thoughts.
We revise the agenda with frequent addenda
And consider a load of reports.

We compose and propose, we suppose and oppose
And the points of procedure are fun!
But though various notions are brought up as motions
There’s terribly little gets done.

We resolve and absolve, but never dissolve
Since it’s out of the question for us.
What a shattering pity to end our committee.
Where else could we make such a fuss?

I deeply appreciate Phong Gno’s comments, although I do value and understand the importance of church committees; they provide stability, accountability, continuity, and hope for the future.

This is one important reason we have reformed an Administrative Council at St. Nicholas.

These meetings not only bring an important level of communication to our congregation, they also provide minutes, comments, and conversations about the needs of St. Nicholas for future generations.

In the Greek language heterogeneity literally means many.

It may be one of the most overlooked words in this passage, and with that simple word “many” the idea that the body of Christ is supposed to be diverse; is intended to be diverse.

A faith-community is composed of many members.

Even a place such as St. Nicholas that concretely acknowledges such diversity we are sometimes overcome by how each person is unique.

And as Paul points out, every one of the members matters to the same degree; without each one a part would be missing.

I was thinking about this last week when I stopped at Starbucks to get a cup of my favorite coffee, the “coffee of the day, with an added “shot.” I asked the person working there why no matter which Starbucks I go to, I can always be confident that my order will taste the same.

She told me that Starbucks puts its employees through rigorous training to ensure that every venti, no-whip, sugar-free Caramel Macchiato is precisely the same as the next one, not only in the same shop but at any Starbucks in any location.

Starbucks wants loyal customers who know that they will get the same exact order and taste at the Safeway or the airport or the local corner Starbucks café.

This type of product uniformity is great for coffee drinkers like me, but I believe it’s terrible in producing healthy and vital ministry in our church.

If every person were a visionary leader, nobody would complete a single project.

If every person were administratively -minded and conversations about program and budget lacked input from creative-minded people, you would end up with well-organized committees that are detached from the needs of the local or broader community.

Without those who are servant-minded, nobody would count the offering, mow the church lawn, plant and care for the trees and flowers, or take care of the Communion vessels and elements.

Paul reminds us that there are as many gifts as there are members, and each of us has a unique gift to offer God and the community of Christ in what we know as the local church.

The Greek word Homogeneity means something like ‘sameness’ or ‘oneness’ and is difficult to discuss in church classes and congregations.

The apostle Paul discusses the idea of homogeneity in the Christ-body in terms of the unity of a shared vision and purpose.

In modern language we might say it is, “being on the same page.”

But the truth is that local churches often do ministry through committees, boards and teams, and these are not exactly synonyms for unity and cohesiveness.

Why? Because different gifts, life experiences and perspectives often lead to different agendas, trigger points, and the interpretation of life.

We need passages like this one from 1 Corinthians to help us move beyond dissension to what Paul describes as the more excellent way–the way of true Christian love, a love that is willing to engage in honest, vulnerable conversation to arrive at, and ultimately to achieve true unity in Christ.

We can read these words quickly and agree at a superficial level, but trust me, they are not so easy to live out.

The kind of unity Paul calls us to moves beyond calls us to a place that is deeper than personal experience and personal agenda;

Paul asks us to put Christ first in our individual lives and in our common life in the church.

Paul reminds us to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice [Romans 12:15].

The writer of Hebrews encourages us to “provoke one another” to love and good deeds.[Hebrews 10:24]

Why? Because we are not a one-person band, we are not called together so our particular gift can take over: we are called to take our place for the health and well-being of the body of Christ that is our faith community.

In describing a healthy church Paul says it takes both diversity and unity: heterogeneity and homogeneity.

Serving in the church and living out our gifts-(and may we all do both, because it is all good) if we do it for Christ- whether it is vacuuming the floors, serving meals, creating art, singing in the choir, counting the offering, meeting as committees, volunteering for major fundraisers such as the Lobster Dinner- it is all good, if we do it for Christ.

This is the ultimate point Paul makes.

This is the more excellent way.

Paul reminds us that God made “All” of us to be the “Many” for the “One.”

I am grateful for the many beautiful ways we work together as a congregation, and for the growth and new learning that takes place whenever we gather, worship, and work together as followers of Jesus.

May we continue to offer our gifts and ministry in ways that reveal how your beautiful diversity may be held together through the unity of your Spirit.

Amen.


Originally delivered August 23, 2015 by Rev. David Weekley at St. Nicholas United Methodist Church.

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