June 14, 2020
1 Corinthians 12-13
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore, I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says, ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
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. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to 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. And if the ear were to 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. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 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.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now, we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
If gardening wasn’t teaching me enough humility, this week Eric and I bought a house in the country, North of Loch Raven Reservoir. In the coming weeks and years, home maintenance projects and caring for a yard will no doubt provide me plenty of opportunities to realize just how much I don’t know. I secretly love home improvement projects. I’m not particularly handy, but I enjoy learning new skills, researching how things work like wells, septic systems, and water softeners, solar roofs, rain gardens, and the best rechargeable battery-operated lawn mowers. Buying a home has been quite the learning experience for Eric and me. We’ve enjoyed discovering how we work together on house projects, a new source of delighting in one another, discovering new ways of being a team. We have different gifts. This week though we’ve been realizing how much we both enjoy learning and growing, working together and laughing. It’s amazing what we can accomplish together. But I don’t think it’s because we’re particularly gifted at housework and gardening and designing, although I got to say we’re not bad. I think it’s because we love each other, and we’re excited to be able to offer hospitality to our friends, and family, and when it’s safe to do so, inviting you all to our backyard for a cookout. There’s a vision for our lives, animated by love, that reminds us why we’re figuring out how to install a new mailbox. Yesterday we were in the backyard, after working on a few projects. I had spent time pulling garlic mustard and raking leaves that had broken down and created some beautiful borders that will soon have Maryland Native Wildflowers growing in them. I laid down on the grass, and just stared at the sky. The cool evening breeze rustled in from the trees behind the house, the shade was dappled as the sun began to set, and almost all I could see was the blue sky, with just a hint of green in my peripheral vision. I felt content, loved, and full of love for Eric, and our families, and you all, everyone who had a part in making this possible, and all those I look forward to welcoming to our home. With love, it’s not about what we are able to do, it’s about what love makes it possible for us to be empowered to do. When our striving is motivated by love, ingenuity and adaptiveness are in great supply.
The Early Church struggled, much like many of us still do, with the challenge of remembering that it’s not what we can do that matters. We’re more than what we can do for the community. We’re called to experience that we are loved by God through the person of Jesus, and when we need to grow for the health of our community, we can be transformed through God’s love for us through the Holy Spirit. But it’s hard to remember that our new skills, our spiritual gifts, they’re not the end in and of themselves. The Holy Spirit doesn’t equip some to teach or preach, to care for the hungry, to strive for liberation, as the end goal. All of this is important, but it’s the How. The why is rooted in The ultimate goal of the Holy One; for us to experience God’s love, the love of others , and to be moved by this experience to love one another and God. It’s an inexhaustible gift, that endures all things, anchors our faith, hopes mightily, endures the cruelty of human systems that attempt to dehumanize us and our neighbors.
When we strive to love and experience love, not only are we able to do what is needed, but we also escape the trap of thinking our value, or the value of others, rests solely on what people produce. We’re not valued by our utility in the Reign of God. Instead we are opened to strive for how the world should be, if indeed it is true that God loves us, other people love us, and we are capable of loving, even when this love feels imperfect.
Beloved, our congregation has been able to accomplish many incredible things in our over 60 years, and during this pandemic. Each week our building hosts the packing of 150 bags of farm fresh produce purchased from the Black Owned Three Part Harmony farm, that is distributed through community organizers in Station North and Greenmount West. We’re delivering groceries to folks in Woodbourne-McCabe through our long relationship with the neighborhood and our support of the Assistance Center of Towson Churches. We’re embarking on a journey to revive our Music Ministry in the new realities of the Age of COVID, we’re moving forward with ways to support the spiritual nurture of our families with children, and staying connected while being physically apart. The Holy Spirit is empowering us to do incredible things. It’s been surprising too to see gifts we didn’t know we would need emerge, from Millennials and College aged kids being asked to step up to work in food distribution, to our more senior folks comfort with making phone calls being a huge asset that is suddenly needed. But we’re more than what we can do. We’re a community where we can experience and practice love, of ourselves, one another, our neighbors, and God. We’re empowered to be able to see the way the world is, catch God’s vision for how the world should be, and move our society towards a brighter reflection of Jesus’ dreams for us all. There’s a lot we don’t yet know how to do, but we know how to love. At times it’s imperfect, but with the Holy Spirit it’s more than enough. May we rest in that knowledge this Sabbath day, trusting that God’s love is sufficient for the challenges that lie ahead.
The Holy Spirit’s Love has gotten us to today, and She’s beckoning us forward. Right now, a national debate has been started by community organizers about shifting our understanding of public safety. For far too long, attempts to reform the institutions of police departments to honor, preserve, and protect the sanctity of Black Lives have been met with inaction, stonewalling, and superficial changes that the numbers show have not decreased the deaths of unarmed black people. Institutions change slowly, and often only when they are forced to when the world they function in changes before they do. In the past few weeks, we have seen a shift in our national understanding, one that has taken white people embarrassingly too long to even begin to acknowledge. Unsurprisingly, when conversations have emerged about shifting financial resources from systems that utilize physical, emotional, financial, and criminal violence against people of color, those systems have tried to defend themselves. How would it work to reduce the funding of police departments and shift services to social workers, mental health professionals, community leaders, trained conflict mediators, restorative justice practices, domestic violence prevention, addiction treatment, economic opportunity, and the like? We’re realizing that we have greatly undervalued the gifts and skills of so many people in our communities who have been empowered through their love of their neighbors and their communities, and themselves, when those are in fact the exact gifts God has given us to live together. Instead of focusing though on the How, our religious tradition reminds us to ask the question of why. Why should we consider reforming our police departments, decreasing funding for models that disrupt communities of color with incarceration? Why should we consider creating new systems? When we are motivated by the need to love our neighbors as ourselves, to Love God through the honoring of the sacredness of one another, then the question of how becomes less unsettling. We’re not in this alone. We have each other, and we have so many gifts, so much creativity and ingenuity, when we are empowered by love, to figure out how to live as a healed and made-whole human family. Starting with the question of Why keeps us from falling into the trap of lacking imagination. Asking why forces communities to become aware of voices long silenced and Gifts of God that are overlooked.
May we be practitioners of love, more interested in learning how to show love and affection for one another than being noisy gongs that are impressed by what we can do, while overlooking the gifts of our neighbors, and their inherent dignity. May our ingenuity and learning remind us that we are not self-sufficient, but part of communities that make it possible for us to grow and live and learn. My prayer is that, as a Nation, we focus on loving our neighbors as ourselves, instead of being afraid that we don’t have all the answers. Because when we love others, when we risk admitting that the status quo is not working, inevitably we discover that in our community, we have had the Gifts God dreams of us sharing all along.