1 Corinthians 12.12-31a
We are nearly there, the journey which we have been on since the start of November – a journey which started with advent where we waited with excited expectation, enjoyed parties and twinkling lights, where we waded through online and physical shops looking for gifts and food in the build-up to the “big day”. In our household, we counted down the days with an advent calendar – each day another figure of a nativity scene was added, and chocolate coins were distributed – one for mummy, one for daddy and one for each of the children. And sometimes we would have to restrain ourselves – wanting to skip ahead and have tomorrows treats today – patience can be difficult for adults, let alone young children – but we did it!
Then finally after all that waiting, Christmas was revealed in all its magical splendour, and we began those 12 days of celebrating that God had come among us in human form - that tiny baby which has so radically transformed our lives, and the lives of millions over the centuries.
The final part of our journey has been over the past month, where we have been traveling through the season of Epiphany, where we take time to think about how the coming of Jesus has been, and continues to be revealed to people, and what difference that makes to each of our lives. I wonder, what that difference is for you?
During Epiphany we have looked at several different ways that Jesus was revealed and recognised during his lifetime:
Epiphany is about recognising Jesus, or to use another word – it is about discernment – recognising and naming Jesus for who he is.
This links with our other reading today from Paul’s first letter to the Church in Corinth. Corinth is ~50 miles West of Athens in modern day Greece. Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth because they were having trouble. They were struggling with each other, and the extract we have today follows on from last week, and what Jackie was telling us about the ‘gifts of the spirit’. Today’s reading is part of how Paul is teaching the Corinthians to recognise the diversity they had as a strength, and to discern those gifts that were around them.
I wonder how discerning we are here in this place of All Saints.
How do each of you recognise people’s gifts, encourage, affirm and foster in them a sense that we are part of the body of Christ which extends beyond these walls and out across the whole world and down the ages.
Paul’s letter here expresses the diversity and inter-dependency we as a community have, just as the first Church did. Diversity is a wonderful thing, and being as you are here, part of a Church expression which affiliates itself to the Inclusive Church network, I hope this is not a new idea to you. Just look at the people around you. All unique and individual, and all loved by God.
‘Discerning vocations’ is a phrase I’ve heard quite a lot over the past few years going through my selection processes for training to be a priest. But it’s not reserved only for those who are called to Authorised forms of ministries. It’s for every baptised member of the church. We are each called in our diversity – as the eyes, ears, feet, hands or what ever bodily analogy you wish to use for yourself – to find our place in the wider whole.
And not just to be there – for it is no good if the eye is there, but it does not see; or the ear there and it does not hear; or the feet are there, but do not walk; or the hands there, but do not bless.
Our gifts need to become actions. Faith without action is no faith at all – it is hypocrisy. I’d argue that some of the most important words you’ll here today, are the ones said right at the end of the service each week by the Deacon– who’s nature and calling is service, who sends us out in peace to Love and Serve the Lord.
So how do we serve the Lord? For me, God is in all those moments of kindness, generosity, self-giving, of looking past the dishevelled and smelly exteriors and seeing a fellow child of God, who is loved without question or measure or list of criteria. Paul speaks of how we need to value the least in our societies – the ones that others would reject and think of as value-less – those are the ones that we are to treasure:
v22-23: The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with great respect.
I wonder who these weaker and less honoured people are for us today? Who are they in our world, in our country; who are they in High Wycombe, and who are they in this Church community? Who do we look down upon or wish were not so bothersome to us and our time? What happens when one of these people walks into our Church building – do we clothe them with greater honour and see them as indispensable children of God? Do we see it as an opportunity to reflect God’s love which has been given to us freely by offering them our gifts and talents and time in generous hospitality?
An example, let us suppose a homeless person comes into church on a Sunday morning as we are gathering for worship, and starts asking around for some change to buy a cup of tea. What is our response?
Of course, I hear you cry – we would take them to our well stocked cafeteria and offer them not only Tea, but coffee, Juice, hot chocolate – and yet more, something to eat – a biscuit or two, or some of those mince pies which have been left over from the excesses of our Christmas celebrations. And yet still we would go further, an opportunity for a conversation, a blanket perhaps or other provisions they may need. We offer them the time of day that simply says you are honourable - and you matter - and which gives them Dignity as a fellow human being.
Or do we tell them to stop bothering people, and to be on their way out into the cold of the January season, with not so much as a “by your leave”, only for the rest of us to be commended moments later to the gluttony of left-over mince pies which are to be found at the back of the church.
Which of these do we profess, and which of these do we practice I wonder?
Here me though brothers and sisters, when I say that our sins and transgressions are not what hold or define us. Ours is a faith of death and resurrection, sin and death do not have the last say, and that hope, forward change and potential are ever present. And from what I have seen so far here, there’s so much potential in this place – in YOU.
We need to keep encouraging one another, looking out for the new person and helping them feel welcome and comfortable. Stop thinking that someone else will do it and start doing it ourselves. Joy and excitement are infectious, and the more we practice our generous hospitality, the more God will be at work in us, and be made visible in his world. The more we will make visible the joining together of the body – of the different parts to form a community of love-centred relationships.
So how are we to form this body? What is the glue that knits us all together? For me, it’s what we express as the love of God – or rather that God is Love.
One way we show our being joined together is through shairing Holy Communion. We are joined as one body through the Eucharist – celebrated here for many hundreds of years, and in Churches and places of prayer across our world. “We are all one body, because we share in one bread”. All are welcome at the table. This is a response to our faith, an action to display the outward sign of an inward grace. That in a nutshell is what a sacrament is. The Eucharist, along with Baptism being the cornerstone sacraments of our Church. And these can be an outworking expression of our faith.
Faith needs Action. Faith without action is no faith at all. The words you say today during this service, do not get left behind at the door as you depart, or as you log-off your computer screen, they go with us into the week ahead. As we ‘Go in Peace to Love and Serve the Lord’ - Love is the marker of our God, and through it, it will be the marker of how others recognise God in and through us.
I finish by reminding and encouraging you with the Inclusive Church Statement:
“We believe in inclusive church – a church which celebrates and affirms every person and does not discriminate. We will continue to challenge the church where it continues to discriminate against people on grounds of disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, learning disability, mental health, neurodiversity, or sexuality. We believe in a Church which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ; which is scripturally faithful; which seeks to proclaim the Gospel afresh for each generation; and which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus Christ.”
Chris Knight, Ordinand, Ripon College, Cuddesdon