The Church in Stories
1 Corinthians 12: 4-7; 12-22
The Church in Stories
We’re continuing our sermon series today on the tales of God and the story of God in the midst of the stories we tell each other. And we’re doing that by looking at the various story types, the different types of stories that are told such as trying to conquer a monster, or the rags to riches story, or the Gospel story, or a fantasy story.
I think it’s very important that as Christians we learn the ability to do this; that we learn the ability to find lessons of God in the secular. I think that when we don’t have that ability we do ourselves a disservice, and we do our children a disservice if we are raising children. We have to be willing to teach, and learn, how to engage without losing ourselves. When I was younger the big thing was Harry Potter. And Harry Potter is ultimately one of the Christ stories that we talked about last week. It’s one of the stories that shows us what we talk about next week in the fantasy world. It is a story that’s primary theme is that love and friendship are more powerful than any magic, and more powerful than evil. But a lot of my friends did not get a chance to learn that lesson from that book because their pastor was afraid of the word witchcraft in the title of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And they were sure, without probably ever having read an inch of the book, they were sure that this book would teach their children how to be witches. Or they were afraid of having to have a conversation that would help their children differentiate real from fiction.
We must be able to receive something in our world and separate the wheat from the chaff. We must be able to take what is good, toss what is bad and be able to move forward. Otherwise we will lose ourselves as Christians. Because it is incredibly difficult, it might even be impossible, to seclude ourselves from everything. You would have to go full Anabaptist like that the Amish people, except I’m not even sure they seclude themselves from everything. We need to be able to look at something that is in front of us and see the lessons of God that are within the ordinary and every day.
One way we can do that is to have a very solid base and knowledge of what is in scripture. To have an idea of the things that are there. Maybe you can’t pull it up chapter and verse without pulling out your phone and going to Google, but you at least know if there is a story in there about what is in front of you here. Today’s story parallels Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth that was read. And you probably know the verses that were read, it is a very popular image for the church.
Paul tells the people of Corinth how to be the church. They had received the Holy Spirit when Paul was there before, and Paul told them that they would receive spiritual gifts. And they have this list of spiritual gifts, and they begin to rank them. And they all wanted the big ones, the cool ones, the flashy ones like being able to speak in tongues. And that’s what they all wanted to do. And that was OK; it wasn’t great, but it was OK. But then they begin to look down upon those who could not speak in tongues; the had’s looked down on had not’s. Paul writes for them in his first letter to the church of Corinth to say, “You can’t do that. You can’t look down on what the Spirit has decided to give to your brothers or sisters.”
I would like to say that we have outgrown this in 2000 years, but if we’re candid with each other we know we haven’t. In some churches they still look down on people who haven’t been able to speak in tongues; they’re still doing this quite literally. But in all churches we do this at least to some degree, in someway. Maybe it’s the one who’s able to pray elegantly, and we all want to be that person who is able to pray. Maybe it’s the pastor; we all wish that we could preach that way, or pray that way, or live that way, or greet people that way, or just have that aura about us.
Paul is saying here that we need everyone, with all the spiritual gifts that the Spirit has chosen to give this church. We cannot all be Batman, we have to have a couple Robins around as well. What good, Paul will go on to say, is it if I had everyone speak in tongues and no one was there to interpret? We would all just be sounding like a bunch of babies speaking gibberish. We have to have that person there who is able to interpret what the Spirit said in the tongues, or it’s of no use. It might be flashy, but it’s worthless. Being an interpreter of tongues might not be flashy, but it’s vital. We need the preacher, and we need the one who could pray, and we need the one who can lead, but we also need the one who’s willing to count money, and willing to go through the hard work of a spreadsheet, we need the person who is willing to get down and do the dirty work, to clean the toilets, to clean up around here, to make this place welcoming and inviting physically and keep it up-to-date. Everyone has spiritual gifts they can offer, and we need all of them.
Today we launch an opportunity to remember what this church has been, to remember the spiritual gifts that the Spirit has given to us in the past. We have an opportunity to write our stories up on the wall. Today we welcome new members, with their spiritual gifts, that will only serve to enhance and enrich this congregation even further. And as part of that joining process, I have asked them to make a commitment in their minds to furthering their spiritual development, to cultivating those spiritual gifts, and maybe even using them from time to time for the church. And if you were a member who joined before I got here, then I extend that challenge to you. We need your spiritual gifts, whatever they are, in order to be the church the Spirit wants us to be; in order to fulfill our duty to the Kingdom and in order to play our part.
And our type of story today has the same crux and main point. Today I look at ensemble stories. These are typically movies, but these are stories where you don’t have one main character per say, you have a group of characters that are the main character. Typically the lesson is that they have to put aside their differences and work together in order to cover each other‘s weaknesses and enhance each other’s strengths. An example of this would be the newest reboot of Jumanji, where they’re literally shoved into a new world and each person is given a list of strengths and weaknesses, and they have to cover each other and work together. Each person has to play his or her part.
But perhaps the best display of this type of thing came from the movie Sky High, which came out about 10 years ago. If you haven’t seen this movie, go see it; you will not be disappointed. But this is a movie where we have heroes and we have villains in the world, and everyone who shows supernatural ability is invited to come to Sky High where they can learn to save the world. Maybe. You see, on the first day of school they are asked to show their powers, and then they are ranked as either a hero or sidekick based upon that power’s specialness. Or in the words I used with Paul, that power’s flashiness if you will. And the heroes are taught how to save the world while the sidekicks are taught the proper way to sit in a sidecar or the best way to get their hero’s coffee. You know, sidekick things.
As the story progresses, three people in the hero class turn villain, and they take over the school; and they incapacitate all of the heroes, and all of the teachers, and everyone who could help except for five sidekicks: our ensemble. The sidekick group has powers of: being able to glow, being able to turn into a puddle, being able to turn into a guinea pig, a child of other heroes who didn’t show any powers, and one that refused to show her powers and be categorized as flashy or not.
The sidekicks work together but the villains do not, and as a result of the fact that they are able to work together the sidekicks are able to save the day, beat the heroes-turned-villains, and they teach everyone at Sky High that a sidekick can be powerful, and that a sidekick can save the day too. The intentional lesson is one of teamwork overcoming individualism, even if it appears that the team started with worthless abilities.
That was Paul‘s lesson to the church of Corinth, and I would dare say that Paul might look at the church in the United States of America today and say the exact same thing: “You’re focusing on the wrong things. You need to work together.” We are all one body. Where would we be if we all were Methodist? Where will be if we all were Catholics? Where will be if we all were Presbyterians? We’re all the church. And the Kingdom needs all of us.
Today is World Communion Sunday, which is one of my favorite days of the year. This Sunday, the first Sunday in October, every one of the 2.2 Billion Christians in the world, that’s billion with a B, get together and celebrate what unites us. We join together and say, “I commune with all of you.” Today, on World Communion Sunday, we live out this vision that Paul had of a true Body of Christ; we live out our ensemble. And we recognize that the Kingdom needs all denominations, and it needs all the local congregations, in order to do the work.
We recognize this day that we work best as a large C-Church when we work together. That there are those who need the rigid structure of a high church, which has the incense and the organ, and the Latin and the same words every week. And there are others who need the Pentecostal, free-flowing Spiritual worship, with the guitar in there and the praise band up at the front. And there are people who need a kind of mixture of that, like ours. There are people who need the intimacy of a small congregation like ours, where everyone can know everyone else, and we all can be there to surround each other and support each other. And there are people who need to be able to be lost for a few weeks and have no one talk to them in order to experience God again.
The Kingdom needs all of us. The Kingdom needs every church with the ways each individually has been blessed in order to spread the Good News to the Ends of the Earth. So today let us celebrate with all of our family of Christ, and with the Communion of Saints that offered their gifts here before us. And let us rejoice together. Let us celebrate who we are, not what we don’t have. Let us celebrate how the spirit has blessed us, not pine for the flashier gifts the larger congregations. Let us rejoice in the gifts we have and offer that for use in the Body of Christ that we see displayed today; the Body of Christ we saw displayed last week at Fall Festival. Let us rejoice in this. And let’s remember that we are a piece of a larger puzzle, and that that larger puzzle is Christ’s Kingdom come on earth, and that is certainly something to be thankful for. Amen.