Text: Luke 4:14-21 (Revised Standard Version)
14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, and a report concerning him went out through all the surrounding country. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; 17 and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written,
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
20 And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
1 Corinthians 12:12-31 Revised Standard Version (RSV)
One Body with Many Members
12 For 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. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single organ, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, 25 that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
And I will show you a still more excellent way.
In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.
Given that today is the day of our annual meeting, I think it’s downright providential that the lectionary Epistle and Gospel lessons are the ones we just heard.
Also, take a second and glance at the cover of this morning’s bulletin. It shows a picture of a crowd of people taken from the back, and over the crowd, in big letters, we read “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” That’s verse 27 of the lesson from I Corinthians.
We are the Body of Christ, also known as the church. And we, as individuals, are members of it.
Well and good – but underlying all of this is something very important – and that is: Being a member of the Body of Christ relies on faith. Even though the word “faith” is not mentioned in either of these lessons, it is the integral component that underlies both of them.
In the case of the Gospel lesson, we read about the singular lack of faith on the part of the people in the synagogue. They were unable to get past the thought that this young man who had just astounded them with his statement that, in him, the promises of the Scriptures had been fulfilled was just that hometown boy, the carpenter’s son they’d watched grow up. Their religion was just one of old conventions and traditions – faith to them was simply making sure that those conventions and traditions were followed. So, when the “real deal” showed up, they were utterly unprepared. More than that, they were openly hostile. The men in that synagogue – and of course, it was always only men in such groups – many of whom had known Jesus since he was a child, who had played with him, gone to school with him, whose parents knew Mary and Joseph, “rose up and hustled him out of the town. They took him to the brow of a hill on which their town was built, to throw him down.” (NRSV) They were, in short, prepared to do murder. A faith that relies solely on outward forms while not having any inner content is really no faith at all, and it shatters at the slightest challenge.
There is a warning there for us. What is Christian faith? Unlike the men in that synagogue, for us it’s first of all honoring traditions while not becoming slaves to them. It is being open to the Spirit and allowing the Spirit to work in us and through us. I think there’s no better summary of what Christian faith is than what we read in Hebrews 11:1-3: ” Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the men of old received divine approval. 3 By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear” (RSV).
When Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, he was writing to a group of people he knew personally, people whom he had personally brought into the Body of Christ, people who, as he writes, were “consecrated to Christ Jesus … who have been called to be God’s dedicated people in the company of those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus – their Lord and ours.” These were people who had accepted the Gospel message and, though they were having some real issues at the moment, were nonetheless trying to live out their Christian faith. Paul stressed that every one of them had gifts, many different gifts, that they could share; and above all, he was at pains to write that all these gifts were of equal value.
The same is true of every single one of us. We all have gifts to share with one another and with the world at large by way of living out our faith. The word we use to describe this is ministry.
Ministry calls for many types of people and gifts, but as Paul affirms, all these are joined together as the body of Christ. We are all in this together.
Maybe a good yardstick by which we can determine whether or not we’re living out our Christian faith is by how, or whether, we minister to those around us.
Ministry is not a spectator sport. It is not something that someone else does while we either cheer them on or criticize them for not doing it quite right. As I’ve said before, we can’t sit on the sidelines, because there are no sidelines. We are all on the field.
Scripture tells us – and I truly believe this – that the day will come when each of us will stand alone as individuals before the Throne of Judgment to give an account of how we did our part to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and help to usher in the Kingdom of God.
Well, as far as this group of Christians is concerned, I don’t think you need to worry. I have had the privilege of being your Pastor for just about six and a half years now, and knowing what I know about all of you, I can truthfully say – and I mean this with total sincerity – that all of you, individually and as a group, will do very well in that interview. The list of the ways in which you have all risen to address whatever need presented itself is long; and the number of times you have gone the extra mile is a very, very big number. Can we do more? We can always do more. Can we do better? There’s always room for improvement. But, at the end of the day, nobody can fault St. John’s for not doing its duty.
I have described St. John’s as “a small church with a big heart,” because, to me, that’s exactly who you are. People in our community know St. John’s, respect St. John’s, and appreciate St. John’s for all that not only happens here, but happens through the efforts of each of you. I think that St. John’s does more ministry by accident than some churches do on purpose!
And this is all very good news.
How many times have you heard me say that “no act of kindness is too small”? Most of the ministry that happens in the world happens in small ways – small acts of love and kindness, small examples of unexpected generosity, a kind word, a supportive pat on the back at an opportune time, a phone call, a friendly note. All of these examples might seem small to the point of insignificance, but these acts, and the billions of others like them done by people just like us all over the world, are what “move the needle,” so to speak, and bring the Kingdom of God just a little bit closer to full realization.
Think of the times in your life when you have felt lost and alone, friendless, misunderstood, maybe even ill-treated; and you wished, you prayed, that the phone might ring with a friendly voice at the other end of the line, or that there might be a knock on the door with a friendly face on the other side. Jesus’ mandate to us is: Be that friend.
That is ministry, friends. That is how we help the Kingdom.
None of us can do it all. That’s one reason why we are all in this together. Today, especially today, we need to remember this. We need to ask ourselves, as individuals and as a worshipping community, some important questions. Some of these questions are pretty basic, like “why are we here?” “Why do we do what we do?” “What is our purpose?” We all have answers to these questions, but I would guess that there as many answers as there are people asking them. But the questions that Jesus places today before us are these: “Are we healing the brokenhearted?” “Do our works bring the Good News to the rejected and the forgotten?” “Do we show forgiveness?” “Do we live compassionately?” “Are we willing to speak the truth, even though it might not be popular?”
Jesus’ mandate calls on us to, quite simply, follow not only the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” but also the prayer of Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
If we dare to do that, we’re definitely living out our faith and ministering to the world around us.
Sisters and Brothers of St. John’s, let us join together with renewed resolve to make a more beautiful and compassionate world. Let us strive always for the greater gift of love. If we do, then this scripture will indeed be fulfilled this day, in this place! And the echoes will ripple down through the centuries unto all Eternity!
In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.