06042017; 1 Cor. 12:3b-13; Pentecost Sun.
Much of my life was spent waiting on the Spirit. I confess I was not the brightest light in the closet, when it came to such churchy things. I eventually learned the Spirit had been there for me all along, but I was too distracted to embrace it. I guess you could say I was diverted by other worldly spirits. When I got to seminary, I was amazed that there were twenty-somethings who had already found the spirit. They were conversing about things that I had never heard of.
But the spirit has a way of seeping through the cracks. And the world I was living in had a lot of cracks. It wasn’t long before the cracks got wide enough to let the spirit in. It was a hard time in my life that enabled me to say “enough”. I don’t know why it took so long for me to say “enough.” I guess I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t all that self-reliant.
I must confess, I get a little melancholy when I think about such things. I think about all the things that might have been. There are so many good things I might have done. But I’m not a saint, and of that, I am quite certain. The real miracle in my life has been that I was captured by the spirit, and it wasn’t my own doing. The spirit came at the perfect time for me, when I finally made the time for it.
That is the beauty of Pentecost. The spirit came into the world, with God knowing that we’d reject it. But then again, the spirit isn’t changed by how we might perceive it. The spirit is an ancient thing, as we’re told in Genesis. The spirit hovered, over the very waters of creation. And it was eventually released into the world by the resurrected Jesus.
If we were Pentecostals, we’d probably be dancing in the aisles. But we’re not, and so we act Episcopalian. We like to keep things tidy and there’s nothing wrong with that. The thing is, the spirit is far from being tidy. It seems to thrive on change, or perhaps in making changes happen. The spirit goes where it wills; it’s not confined by what we know of the things that we call science.
Now I admit, the spirit is hard to wrap one’s mind around. How does one define a thing that can’t be seen? St. Paul chose to focus on an organic model, utilizing parts of the human body. It was a stroke of genius on his part, because it was a model that everyone could relate to. The actual gifting of the spirit became secondary to the fruits the gift produced. The gift of the spirt produced an organic model of the church. As each part of the body contributes to its health, all the parts are needed, no matter how seemingly insignificant they are.
As I’ve gone to various churches, I try and see how this works. According to Paul, the best model of the church is when all parts work together. When parts are missing, the body becomes less healthy. And as a body becomes unhealthy, it becomes vulnerable to disease. And like our human bodies, diseases if untreated can sometimes lead to death.
For me, Paul’s model makes a lot of sense. Think of the different churches you’ve all been in. In some, there might have been many folks sharing their gifts with others. In other churches, there might have been just a few folks doing all the work. Some churches delegated too much power to the clergy. In other churches, they might have not given them enough. Dominate personalities may have ruled the roost.
As I’m sure you heard me say before, I have few skills in fixing things. I am what is charitably called a klutz. I can wreck things pretty well, but I can’t fix things that I’ve broken. On the other hand, there are things that I do well, as I’m sure you all do. Sometimes the hardest thing in churches is to unplug someone from a skill they don’t really have, and connect them to a job they have the skills to do.
Paul refers to the harmony found in organic churches in this way: “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.” Each member using their spiritual gifts builds up the Body of Christ.
I believe that this analogy was Paul’s greatest gift to the church. It means that every member of the church has a skill to contribute. Some may have more than one, and some have skills that will develop as they mature, and have time to serve the church.
In another diocese, I served on a committee that worked with troubled churches. As we traveled through the diocese, one thing we often noted. Someone was doing something in the church that they had few skills in. Sometimes it was because no one else had stepped up to do it, and in some cases it was because they refused to give it up. Some of those churches, sadly, are no longer with us.
St Nicholas is a healthy church. Many of you are involved in different ministries. Some of you have stepped down from things that didn’t feed you. It’s a sign of the spirit working when you know you’re doing something you’re not really called to do.
As we enter this time of transition, I would like to ask each of you to pray over Paul’s model. Cantankerous as Paul might have been, he knew the ins and outs of churches. Perhaps we might have a discussion group to discuss his model in more detail. It seems to be a timely thing to do, as we plan for our autumn rally day and the time of my transition.
Cookie and I love y’all and we dearly love this church. May the spirit grow in all of us as we walk this path together.