Sunday, January 27, 2013

Where Were Hearing Here?

Where Were Hearing Here?
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
January 27, 2013
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
1 Corinthians 12:12-31 

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

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 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.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would 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 would 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 the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, 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 members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 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; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

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 deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, 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 in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.[1]  

As I was struggling to think of a way to open this sermon I looked over at facebook and noticed how many of my football players as their main picture on their profile, had different shots of the season. It's easy to say that even three or so months after the season is over, winning the state championship is still very much a part of the lives of those boys, and probably always will be, and they worked so hard. But as I was procrastinating and looking through their pictures, with this scripture passage running through my mind, I couldn't help but see the connection. In my ten seasons of coaching, looking back on them all, the good seasons and the seasons that were absolute struggles, one thing is certain, that though talent is a big part of success, it is not the only part. I've coached teams that were much more talented than this team, but one major thing separated our championship season from all the others, and it wasn't talent, it was trust, and we grew into it. It wasn't there at the beginning.
Much like Paul is describing in this passage about the church, a football team counts on varied talent. It does no good to have all 11 of the same player. You need fast players, big players, leaders, followers, aggressive players, creative players, players who do what they are told, and others who can go beyond and apply teachings and make their own decisions in an immediate situation. Too much of one type, and any omission of one of these types and success is hard to come by, even impossible. The other truth I've learned as well is even if you have all the roles covered, without trust you're sunk.
If this year our team over achieved, which we did, two years ago we underachieved. The talent of the two teams was very similar, and one could certainly argue that the team we had two years ago had more talent, but that team did not even make the playoffs. We had a number of great players, six or seven of them are playing in college, one started for Clemson in the Peach Bowl a few weeks ago, but two years ago that team lacked leadership, and from lack of leadership we never grew the needed trust. All the players began to try to do each other's jobs, and they let their own slip. They did not trust that the other could do it. The guard was covering for the tackle, the fullback wanted to be the tailback, the tailback wanted to be a receiver, and the receivers wanted to be playing basketball, so with all the talent in the world, and roughly the same coaching as this past season we ended 5-4, missing the playoffs by one game and a half point. This season we focused on each position player doing his job, and were successful, but I have to ask the question, which came first the success or the trust? Or did it happen together a little bit at a time because there were moments throughout this season where I thought, uh oh, here is where it falls apart, here is where we start losing it, here is when we lose trust in each other, here is where the players all wish to be ball carriers, where now were the blockers, or here is where all receivers want to be quarterbacks, where now were the receptions, or as Paul wrote, "if the whole body were the eyes then "where were the hearing."
Yes that is the King James Version of verse 17. Where were it? I loved it so much I made it the title of this sermon, "Where were hear here?" In other words, where do we all fit in here? What are our roles? Does everyone have one? What are they?  Does everyone have a place? Has everyone found their place? What is it like here? We're not all eyes, but we're all something.
Now I have heard tons and tons of sermons on this topic through the years, and I knew it wasn't just me. Most weeks go by when at least one person at school asks me what I am planning on preaching on, and this week was no different. Each time, though, this week, when I mentioned the scripture, talking about how we are all parts of one body the church, everyone knew exactly what I was talking about, and behind their eyes was the little eye roll that said, "yes I've heard that before." It is a common sermon topic, because there is never a year goes by where a church is not looking for volunteers for something, and this passage seems to speak to that very exact and constant need, and we are no different. We need folks to help. We need everyone to find their place, and fulfill a role, large and small, eyes, ears, feet, hands, minds, hearts, etc., but what do I say new? How do I make such a familiar passage new and fresh, inspiring and effective?
I started by thinking about the body parts. How do they work together? Is there anything important and symbolic behind the idea of ears, eyes, noses, hands, and feet? Is it that they are all extremities, is it that they are all sensory centers? Did Paul choose those as metaphors because they are our filters for new sensory information? Think about it, seeing, smelling, and hearing, all go without saying, but think about if you want to feel something, you use your hands, and if you don't feel like bending down you use your feet, so we got all that covered, but what about tasting? Why not the mouth? Wouldn't the body of Christ need a mouth, too? Is there something significant about that omission, I remember something about how it is the things that come out of the mouth that defile, and so we don't really need that defiling mouth in the church. What does that say then about preachers? It may say something about the proper length of the sermon at the least.
But seriously, if only for a minute, how do you know what body part you are, or are you supposed to just leave the metaphor at the point where you just realize that we all have different gifts and leave it at that. I wasn't sure, so like I do I tried to put my thoughts in rhyme and see where it would lead. It's a spiritual discipline I've done for some years, it's more of a brainstorming tool than a real exercise in poetics, but sometimes it works. I think it did this time, especially because it took a turn that I hadn't expected. Take a look, what came out of it became the Prayer of Preparation. I started with a question, added the requirement of meter and rhyme, and then let the meaning go where it willed. Let's look at it:

Lord, am I a foot or a finger? Am I an eye or an ear?
I think that I can, but my doubts give me fear.
My tongue and my hand I could sever today:
Is it my heart or my head that pushes you away?
My eyes look to others, who seem so well built,
But I look back on my life with regret, and find guilt.
I asked you please Lord to show me my worth,
And your star led to Bethlehem to witness a birth.

Okay, you may be saying to yourself, I like the rhymes it sounds good, I like that he ended with Christ, but what in the world is he talking about? How did you get from here, eyes, feet, and fingers,  to Bethlehem? How do I know that is what you are asking, I don't, but that is what I asked myself when I was done. I wondered why did the words lead there? You may be thinking, you should know, shouldn't you, I mean you wrote it, if not you then who would know? That's the crazy thing about adding rhymes and rhythmic requirements to words, they seem to take their own life, and go their own direction. I've always been in awe of how many times I've tried to write a story in prose that goes no where, and then add rhyme to it and it takes new life beyond any plans I could make. So I have to afterwards try to make sense out of it, try to get an understanding about what it is saying, what I was saying, as if I were a reader and not a writer. One of my favorite songwriters, Townes Van Zandt said once that he didn't write his songs, at least not the good ones, he was just there to collect them and pass them on. I think I know what he was trying to say.
So I look at this poem, asking myself in the first line, "What am I?" What are my gifts? In line with Paul's metaphor, am I a foot a finger, an eye or an ear, this was the planned starting point from which I would go where the words led. . . Then I had the word fear, knew I could rhyme it with ear, but how to get there? Isn't fear at the heart of my problem with, knowing who I am? Where is my place? What are my skills? Do I have enough faith? What about my doubts are they okay? Hmmm and commitment can I really do this can I fit it in? What does the future hold? These are some common fears, are they our fears? are they your fears? only you know. . . Then the poem shifts to the source of those doubts, and I wanted to return to the body part theme because perhaps I had moved too far afield, and that was where I started. But now it's not about being used as a body part of the church, but how our body can separate us, again as the source of doubt and fear. Christ said, if your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off, and it is our tongue that defiles, but then in the next line you have the heart and the head getting in the way, which is the source of our fear, is it our talent, our doubt, our heart or our head. Is it that we feel we can't do, or that we think we can't do? or are afraid that others think we can't do? Possibly. . . but where do we get the sense that we are not good enough, is it that we look to other people, do we see others who are doing and get intimidated by them, by their talent, by their piety, by their perceived relationship with Christ, do we fear that we don't measure up on our own because we are not like them, and have different talents? . . . Have we been doing other things? Are the things we have done, and the people we have been stumbling blocks for who we are, what we can become, and what we have to give? . . . So then the poem prays to God, and so we pray for God to show us within us why we can do it? why we are worthy? Why we should care, why we should give, why we should serve? Where our talent comes from, and of course he doesn't show us ourselves, he doesn't show us anything within ourselves, he doesn't show us our skills, he doesn't show us our accomplishments, he doesn't show us, not us at all, he points toward a new star on the horizon, that stands above not a palace, but a humble stable, where our reason for being was born into this world, where our worthiness is created, and our purpose became. And we remember the source. Christ in us and us in Christ, and all things are possible. The logistics disappear, the doubts fall apart, and the excuses, and all that is left is you and Christ, and he will direct your path if you are willing to follow.
So that was my poem, and I began this with sermon with the need for trust. At the center of that trust is our trust in Christ. That Christ is working within us, and that Christ is calling us to serve with and for him. This is the beginning of our trust. It is a crucial starting place. Without it there isn't a whole lot of purpose, and without it we don't have the tools to achieve that purpose, but instead all of the possibility and potential flows from that trust. The second piece of the trust is to believe, not only that Christ has called you, but also that Christ has called others, and this is sometimes just as hard. It always takes more faith to believe that someone else can serve and fill a role, especially when their style is different, especially when their skills are different, especially when their understanding of things are different, but it is essential to trust that Christ is working in them as well. May Christ help us to see and to trust.
I've tasked the new session members to work hard to get help and to function as committees rather than doing everything themselves. It's harder that way, but at the end we are a stronger church because more people are involved. We are not just all eyes heading in one direction without being able to hear what surrounds us. We have the depth and diversity to function as a community of Christ's servants.

Take a look at the Committees as they are outlined in the bulletin insert.
(Briefly introduce each one, especially the new ones. . . )

·         Buildings and Grounds

·         Fellowship

·         Worship & Inreach

·         Mission & Outreach

·         Christian Education

·         Finance

 Then allow Christ to lead you. He will. In the next few weeks the elders may contact you, prayerfully consider their request, or better yet, before they do, go to them. Come forward with an idea. There is much we all have to offer, and the reasons for not doing so, will fall to the wayside as each new star rises in the east. Amen.

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (1 Co 12:12-31). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.