Sermon Transcript 5.7.23 "The Body of Christ"
I started the service with what I think is the one story that Paul tells about Jesus' earthly ministry. Paul certainly knows these stories. I believe when Paul visits cities and founded churches across what we call the now call the Middle East. That those are the stories he told - of the healings, of the teachings, of the miracles. But in his letters, he doesn't refer to that a lot in part because the audience he's writing to already knows those stories and he's responding to particular questions or particular conflicts. The Epistles are closer to meeting minutes of our administrative board, not our worship service. That's what those letters are. But our worship should fill our meetings our correspondence, our daily life. Mary Brooks, last week pointed out that that's how we use our gifts - in our daily life. And what we normally do. If we know how we have been gifted and called to glorify God, that's what we do. We find that sweet spot.
Paul had been a persecutor of the church. As you probably know, he had this miraculous experience a vision on the road to Damascus that transformed his life. Didn't convert him from one religion to another. It changed how he worshiped God in his daily life. He came to understand that the God that he had worshiped as a Jew, as a practicing Pharisee, as one well educated in both philosophy and theology. That One God was being revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, whom had been crucified and yet lives. Is risen… IS risen. And so Paul came to understand worship of the one true God in the name of Christ and him crucified.
And evidently, what we just did was so crucial to Paul that became a center of his own ministry That's how we know we are Christians, Paul says. What I received I passed on to you. We gather at the table. We become the body of Christ and then we go forth to love the world as Jesus loved the world. As God loves the world. We are filled with the Holy Spirit. We are Spirit. That we might be like Christ. That we might be the body of Christ.
To the best of our knowledge, Paul and Jesus in his earthly form, in his human life, never sat and talked together. But Paul writes to the Corinthians that he has received this from the Lord and he passes it on to them. I believe Paul believed that. I believe Paul experienced that. Both in vision and in Christian community.
When he had his vision, Acts tells us he was completely helpless for 3 days. Struck blind, utterly dependent on those he had set out to persecute, to be brought into the community, to be baptized, to be healed, to be taught, He insist that what he learned comes from Jesus and I believe that is true. And I believe that Jesus acts through the gathered community, the church. I believe that we can transform lives. The lectionary reading this day is John 14. I love the Gospel of John. I would say a third of the funerals I've ever done in my ministry. I have quoted this passage. The first part of John 14. “I go to prepare a place for you. If it were not so, would I tell you that I go? In my father's house, there are many dwelling places”, even mansions. Some translations use the word mansions. These are glorious dwellings! A place for us, with God!
It is a powerful word of assurance and I believe that it is true. But that's not everything John 14 has to say. So often in hymns and scripture, we seize on that promise of some future hope. Future hope. And we take it as license to ignore the here and now… and that is not what Jesus is saying to his disciples. Remember that John 14 comes right after John 13. The gospel of John, interestingly, does not tell us the story of the Last Supper. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all do. Paul does. John tells us about a meal at which Jesus kneels, wraps a towel around his waist, washes their feet. He takes on the role of servant. And he says, “do you know what I've done to you? You must do likewise.” This is what following me is about. And he some says some very challenging things in chapter 13 about betrayal, about his death and suffering. About denial. Those closest to him are told that they will fail.
And we go back to John 14. This is a word of assurance. I go to prepare a place for you. And Thomas pipes up. Now, we normally think of Thomas in chapter 20 and I preached on chapter 20 recently and I identify with Thomas a great deal. But clear back here in chapter 14, he's asking questions. “Lord, we don't know where you're going. How can we know the way?” Jesus responds. “I am the way, the way, the truth, The life.” The life. I am the way. I am the way. Following me is the way. Becoming the body of Christ is the way, the truth, the life, the life, the life.
And too often we take that segment by itself. And we twist it to make it “you have to believe exactly what I believe or you're not on the path.” It's not what Jesus said. It's not about what I believe about Jesus. It's about following Jesus. Jesus who calls people from different walks of life, from different understandings, from different traditions and vocations. And says, follow me. Or sometimes says, go and show yourself to the priest or sometimes says, stay here in the village. Different people get different instructions from Jesus. Why would we ever think that everybody has to be like us?
We do, however, have to follow the instructions we have received our call, our vocation, our gifts, our uniqueness. Jesus is the way, the truth, the life. There's a story told of a seminary professor. This happens at most United Methodist Seminaries. Most seminaries of other denominations as well. Comparative learning is part of the coursework. You will study other faith traditions. You will hear from leaders of different practices. I think the best ones actually have instructors from different traditions and understanding of Christianity and beyond. And the story is told that an intro to ministry class, a gathering of young, zealous folk who have the audacity to think that they are called to preach the word of God and the instructor brings in a Buddhist monk as a guest speaker. I had that happen in seminary. This story I'm telling was not exactly what happened in my class, but I believe it to be true.
The Buddhist monk makes this presentation about his tradition, his understanding and practice, and one particularly zealous young man stands up and says, “but Jesus says, I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Right, right, right, right. You have to follow Jesus. And as the muttering quiets… there's this silence, this pregnant expectation.
The monk appears deep in thought for some time. And energy begins to move in the room. The young man and others begin to think, “did we just convert this guy?!”
And finally, the monk looks up at the man that asked the question. He says, this is absolutely true. The way of Jesus is the way of service humility, love, even of enemies. Yes. Do this… Follow him. and the Buddhist monk leaves. This is the way. Service, humility, love. Present in God the Father and Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit in ways that defy our ability to define it with words… and yet we who are Christian are called together to take a bit of juice, a bit of bread… to be the body of Christ. To show the love of Christ, the faith of Christ to the world, that they might find their path, that they might share their journey. That they, together with us, might be the body.
We're not all the same. The ear cannot say to the foot, I don't need you. We have different purposes, different skills, Yet together, we are the body. And when we are doing our jobs correctly, we encourage one another, we challenge one another, we correct one another. But most of all, we love one another.
We love our neighbors as ourselves. We love even our enemies. Everyone you will ever meet is beloved of God. They will either be your neighbor or your enemy. And our task is to love them. To feed them, to clothe them, to liberate them, to help them see not what we see but see Christ. That is our task. To be transformed. To reflect the beauty of God. To see the beauty of God in creation. And especially in humanity. In our differences and our diversity.
Paul writes to the Corinthians. “Now, concerning spiritual gifts brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.” This is crucial. We are each called to particular service, to particular gifts. We are equipped in different ways. “Are all apostles, Are all prophets? Do all work miracles? No. Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” No. No. But together, the body of Christ, the church does all of those things.
Our task is to know ourselves well enough to learn what our skills and our gifts are. to share them others, to know others well enough to help them find their skills and their gifts. The first people that ever suggested to me that I should preach, I laughed out loud. I was terrified of public speaking even with full notes. I couldn't do that. But they kept praying. They kept encouraging. They kept creating opportunities. I kept praying. I kept wondering. I kept trying to escape. And yet here I am. And at least occasionally, some of you tell me I do a pretty decent job. More importantly, some days, I recognized that the Holy Spirit is moving among us and it's not so much about what I said but the space that we create, we together created, that God could work on someone. That they are encouraged, that they recognize, they are equipped, that they go on to do greater things.
Together, we find our sweet spot. Our unique gifts, what we do with them to make a big deal out of God. I'm not sure that's the phrasing I would have chosen but that's what Lucado used. And to glorify God, to magnify God. To worship God. With everything we are in our everyday lives, not 1 hour on Sunday morning and then we go back to the routine but by everything that we do. If we're doing it right, it comes fairly easily, not without cost or effort or preparation but we're energized by it.
Where are you energized? Some people leave a meeting and they are drained. Some people leave a meeting and they are energized or gathering or a task. Find those places where your effort and your preparation change other people's lives and leave you energized. That's your sweet spot. And I'm reminded a few weeks ago, I had my friend Dustin here and he talked about the parable of the talents. There's no guarantee that we do - the effort and the preparation. When we put ourselves out there – there’s no guarantee that it will go well every time. I have preached some really, really awful sermons. But more often than not, when we make the effort and the preparation, good things will happen. The investment God has made in us will grow. If we hide it, if we try to bury it, nothing happens.
Our call is to use the gifts we have been given. Money, time, talent, the skills and abilities we have at every stage of life. Your gifts and your graces and your abilities may be different now than they were 10 or 15 or 20 years ago. They may be different still in another 10 or 20 years. What are you called to now? How are you being equipped now? What are the opportunities inside and beyond these walls now? Where you are the answer to someone else's prayer?
The Holy Spirit is moving among us. I can feel it. I hear from some of you that you feel it. Very truly, I tell you, Jesus says, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and in fact, they will do greater works than these.” Can you imagine it? The stories of Jesus are not things that happened a long time ago that we have to believe in the right way to get to heaven. The stories of Jesus are an example of what we can do together if we are moving in the power of the Holy Spirit. If we are working in the name of Christ. That's right. Not using name for our glory but working in Christ's ministry. Greater works. People are fed. People see. People are healed and clothed and liberated. Communities are formed. Hope is planted and spreads. We become the body of Christ for others. We become the body of Christ together. Yeah. For others. We become the body of Christ for others. That's what I believe. Thanks be to God. Amen!