Introduction to the readings for the second Sunday after Pentecost, May 29, 2016.
This morning, in keeping with our forum after worship that invites connection with the wider community, it seems appropriate to go off lectionary for a change.
At a first glance, we might be tempted to go with the Micah 6, verse 8 reading about seeking justice and walking humbly with God, words from Scripture that inform our vision statement and our New Directions document.
However, nudged and guided by the winds of the Holy Spirit at work in our midst, this morning’s readings were chosen instead from the apostle, Paul’s letter to those gathered as the early church at the Greek port city of Corinth.
Mired down in conflict, biblical scholars describe the Corinthian community as one with "little hope for itself beyond this present life”. As such, key leaders turn to Paul for guidance and support.
Reminding them of the Spirit’s unifying presence, Paul encourages the beloved Corinthians to be about the work of celebrating their unity in diversity at the same time as lifting up key values of mutual care and respect for all.
Listen carefully to how these words written so long ago might also guide and support our faith community as the Spirit takes us in new directions.
Reading from the New Standard Revised version of 1 Corinthians, we begin with Chapter 12, verses 1-7 “Spiritual Gifts”
“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 Sprit, for the common good.”
Moving on to more specific counsel on what Paul understands the community needs to function effectively, we continue on with verses 12-27: “The body of Christ”
“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 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. 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. 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 honourable we clothe with greater honour, 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 honour to the inferior member, that there 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 honoured, all rejoice together with it.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
The letter continues on to enumerate the various gifts God appoints to the church: apostles, prophets, teachers, deeds of power, gifts of healing, forms of assistance and leadership, and various kinds of tongues. Following on from there, the letter’s author, challenges its recipients to be mindful of their inclination to try to subsume or eclipse one another’s gifts. Instead, he encourages ‘a still more excellent way’.
Listen again to what the Spirit is saying to the church to these words found in Chapter 13, verses 1-13 The Gift of Love:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to move 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 nor resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears 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 thought as 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 shall 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.”
Listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church. Thanks be to God.