1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
“Indeed the body does not consist of one member but of many.” [Children’s message with what that means: The different parts of our body are necessary to help our body - we can’t do very well without each part. Each part has its own function - we can’t eat with our eyes, we can’t sing with our feet. What would happen if we tried? ––––– God calls the church a body, what do you think that means? Each person in the church has their own role and “gift.” We need each person to help this body. We can’t do without anybody here. What do you think some of those gifts are? Some people help read, some people help with powerpoint, some people help by sitting and worshipping. (How do you think that is necessary?) Some people help by praying, some help by teaching, some help by organizing. Nobody is called to do everything, but everyone is called to do something. What do you think would happen if someone refused to do what they were good at and insisted they do something they weren’t good at? (Like if I insisted I was really good at handling the budget, even though I am very bad at math? Or if our pianist decided she was really good at preaching? Or if our little lion decided he was really good at changing the sign outside?) God gives each of us a special gift to help the church. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out what that is, and sometimes we need others to help us figure that out, but each of you has a special gift from God, one that’s just yours. What do you think that is?]
When Paul was writing this letter to the church in Corinth, he was writing to a small group of people. Historians estimate that the total number of Christians altogether at that time was somewhere less than a thousand, compared to the over 2 billion Christians in the world now. So when Paul was writing, he had no idea how his idea of us being all members of one body might translate to the 21st century. Today, the Christian body not only has 2 billion members, but there are are somewhere between 30- and 40- thousand denominations, with the number of congregations in each denomination ranging from just a handful to tens of thousands in the case of the Catholic Church. This morning, in North America, there are over 50,000 congregations gathering to worship, all part of the one body of Christ.
And I know that sometimes we are envious of other congregations, or other denominations. We might visit one of these 50,000 congregations and feel that little prick of dissatisfaction when we return to our own church. We might visit a church that has a beautiful building, with stunning architecture, and amazing stained glass. And we might think wow, I wish our building was like that, or I wish Advent had gorgeous stained glass windows. Or we might visit a church that is packed every Sunday morning - with hundreds if not thousands gathering there. And we might think wow, I wish Advent was that thriving, I wish we had the pews filled every Sunday and the place was buzzing. Or we might hear about a church that has wonderful social ministry programs - that serves hundreds out of its doors or inspires its community to change for the better. We might think, geez, I wish Advent could do that kind of thing, and be that kind of model of Christian service. We might wonder in our heads how we might become like those other churches, we might wonder what programs or ministries we might take on that would help us develop into one of those fabulous congregations that we hear so much about.
But we are not called to be envious of other congregations. They are who and what they are because of the gifts God has given them. And Advent is who it is because of the gifts God has given the people here.You see, I think we can take Paul’s image of each person or member having its own gifts and function for the church and apply that to the bigger picture of each congregation.
Each congregation, like each member, is called to its own role in the larger body. Each congregation has a vocation, if you will, that is different from that of its neighbours, that is meant to work for the common good. We can’t all be doing the same things, and we can’t all be doing all things. Even in the ELCIC, in our own denomination, each congregation has a unique role to play, one given to it by God. Some congregations are called to social witness, yes, but not every one. Some congregations are called to the gift of music, and have wonderful choirs, but not every one. Some congregations are called to serve youth, or to serve the elderly, but not every one. As we heard last week, “there are varieties of gifts ... and varieties of services, but the same Lord.” Some are called to wisdom, some to healing, some to truth-speaking, some to faith in times of trouble. But not each called to all things, so that there might be a variety of gifts to make up the whole body.
Each congregation’s gifts and callings come through the unique constellation of members that it has in any given time and place. Each of you here comes with your own gifts, which together make up the unique role of Advent. And this role is constantly changing, as people come and people go. There is no going back to the past, when Advent had a particular role to play in this part of Calgary, since the precise combination of people and gifts who were here forty years ago aren’t here anymore. And there is no predicting the future, since there is no way to know what people and gifts will be here even five years from now. There is only today, to seeing whom God has sent into our midst today, and what gifts they bring for today. That tells us who Advent is called to be today, and what the role of Advent is in the larger church and in the world today.
Now I am not going to stand up here and say, “Here’s who Advent is and here’s the gifts you are called to use in the world!” Sorry, it’s not that easy. That is a gift that everyone discerns together, by looking around, by seeing for ourselves who is among us and what gifts each person brings. But it is easier to see when we take a moment and appreciate what we have in front of us, and give up envying others and imagining how we could be like them. I can clearly see that there are gifts for teaching and learning in this congregation, from childhood education on up to adult education. I can also clearly see that there are people here who have been given the gifts of the arts––visual art, the written word, music. How these, and other gifts, might come together within the congregation of Advent today is not quite clear, but that is not something to worry about. As Luther said in the Small Catechism, who we are in the faith is a gift that comes from the Holy Spirit. God calls each person to be here, and calls each congregation to be here, and therefore who we are right now is a gift from God. Do not be envious or impatient with who Advent is––it is who God intends and calls it to be in this moment.
To be clear, I am not saying that we give up striving or aspiring to be more. But what I am suggesting is that we give up striving to be what we are not. The best way for a congregation to contribute to the body of Christ is for each individual to live fully into the gifts God has given you, and for each congregation to do likewise. Whatever your gifts are––and don’t think that you don’t have any because God gives abundantly to everyone––whatever your gifts are, God has brought you to this place so that you might use them. You are here because God sees that your gifts are a good fit with everyone else’s here, in this time and in this place. You might think you are here because you were born into this congregation, as it were, or because it’s the closest one to where you live, you might think that the reasons you are here are completely practical, but you are here because God wants you here, to be part of Christ’s body here.
It is exciting work, the call to live as a member of the body of Christ. Not because of who we might be, but because of who God asks us to be now––people of God, in all our rich variations, the body of Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.