Hello Sister, Hello Brother

Rev. Earl M. Gould, Westworth United Church, January 24, 2016

When you come in and sit down in the choir loft or in the pew on Sunday morning, do you think of the person who happens to be in your vicinity – as a sister, as a brother, even if you don’t know the person all that well?

Someone has said you can’t choose your relatives, but you can pick your friends! Wouldn’t it be better to think of fellow members in the congregation as friends, rather than sister or brother!?

Of the lectionary readings for this morning I am choosing to focus on the epistle – Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. The specific focus is Chapter 12. Last Sunday’s reading – not used in worship – first eleven verses… Paul begins: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed…”.

Biblical Scholars piece bits of information together and tell us Paul had a rather unruly bunch over at Corinth. They were breaking off into cliques. They thought in very hierarchical terms with regard to what position they held in the church. And they were really pumped about having the ability to speak in tongues – that trance – like state…

So, if you could speak in tongues – that was really something… that put you right up there – far above the person who wasn’t gifted in that way.

It was not a unique idea for Paul to think of the imagery of the human body to get the point across that the members in the Corinthian Church should think of themselves as each making up part of a body. Ancient literature encouraged communities to think in such terms. Yet, what Paul goes to great lengths to stress is that regardless, yes regardless of who they are, or what they can or can’t do – they are part of the body, the resurrected from the dead Christ’s body – which is the church.

And the very significant twist Paul gives is twofold:

First – unlike the ancient literature that would give certain parts of the body more importance than another; for Paul, all parts of the body have equal importance. If you recall the reading this morning – you recall how Paul emphasizes this: ““If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? … 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.””

That is why the early church members started calling each other, sisters and brothers (brethren) (equal). And so it is today.

So, how fond you happen to be of any particular character sitting in the pew or choir loft next to you isn’t all that relevant.

What binds us together is our baptism. Our each accepting Jesus as God among us – the one in whom we live and move, and have our being – is what holds us together as church.

Second – Paul takes the metaphor and goes far deeper with it. Paul says: “You are the body of Christ.”

Paul is saying: The risen from the dead Jesus now continues to live on earth in a unique and special way in and through the church.

Church is a spiritual entity.

The imagery of body is helpful in that we can readily see:

  1. How we each can benefit from all the complexity of the body,
  2. How what we each do benefits the well-being of the organism.

As part of this congregation, if you are feeling overwhelmed today you should take home this calendar – “For Women Who Do Too Much.” Maybe – do a quick catch up to January 24 – and pick up on the remaining daily meditations for 2016. The back cover of the box containing this desk top calendar promises to bring you balance in your life.

As Paul understands and teaches, Christ intends us each to be part of a whole – not all things to all people all the time.

Perhaps in this season of approaching Annual Meeting – you are contemplating relinquishing an office in the church structures, or trying to decipher a sense of call to pick up some task – some ministry within Westworth’s web of committees and responsibilities – some part in the body that is Westworth United?

Pray about it, talk it over with your pastor, with family, with trusted friends.

God never, never lays a guilt trip on us – so do not take on an assignment for the wrong reason, take it on with a sense of joy as being called to be whatever part of the body.

Here, in Corinthians, this instruction on church and roles we each can have in the church congregation cannot be more clear about expressing the reality we each are given our own set of abilities. Personally, I look forward to getting to read scripture once in a while on Sunday morning, but I know Debbie will never invite me to sing in the choir!

My spiritual work is to get over being jealous of you who can sing well, not feeling somehow inferior, less of a member of the church because of this reality.

On the one hand I hope we do not look at the children in our midst and say – “There is the future of the Church.” Our children are part of the ministry (the life and work) of this congregation right now – as exemplified in the Chereb Introit in our service of worship here this morning.

On the other hand – if age or health is limiting what you can do in a way that is very foreign territory for you – take Paul’s wisdom to heart and do not discount yourself as worthless. Your role may well be changing – but do not get trapped in hierarchical thinking, evaluating. Bringing a compassionate word to bear, offering some wisdom based on a life time of experience, offering a prayer from the confines of your home or room may be a very significant part of the spiritual fabric of this congregation.

If you are a visitor here today – and are looking for a place you can call home I hope that today is helping you sort out for yourself what you want in a church congregation. You have a right to expect to find a church home where you feel a sense of being nurtured in the Christian faith. And in a healthy congregation there ought to be many varieties of opportunities for fulfilling service.

I have probably not been as curious as I ought, or involved – in the process of charting out Westworth’s future course – as being discerned by you group of people with the strange United Churchy title – “Joint Needs Assessment Committee.” But it is your job to figure out the 2016 version of Paul’s definition of church – to be the Body of Christ – here in Winnipeg, now.

First: What is as true now as then –

Chapter 12 of I Corinthians: “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.”

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

Yes, the 2016 version of the Church shall know for certainty:

We are called into being by the same Spirit

We are called into service by the same Spirit.

We are each cherished by God for who we are. That is all we ever have to be.

We are accepted as we are as part of the body of Christ.

Compared to a generation ago –Westworth has quite different demographics, the fabric of Sunday in our culture has changed hugely. We are a much more cosmopolitan city, and so on.

Yet, our Jesus is alive and well. My friends in Christ, should I say sisters and brothers in Christ, I am confident Jesus has not walked away from church as being a unique and special way for him to be here on earth. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the only way – but we don’t need to know or try to figure out all the ways divine energy can be here on earth.

Our experience is that church is still relevant to us – as a community where we can find God present – for personal guidance and strength and joy, and where we can find ways to reach out into God’s broken and hurting world – to be agents of God’s love in the world.

Sunday after Sunday, we can shuffle into this sanctuary; take our place in the choir loft, or find our way to our favourite pew – secretly hoping no one has taken it because it is where we like to sit.

And even so, something will unsettle us – we’ll look up, we’ll look around with fresh eyes, hear with new ears, feel with a new heart. And before we go out to start a new week we’ll say in our hearts – as we look around “Hello Sister, Hello Brother.”

And somehow that is OK – as you say again silently –

May the Peace of Christ be with you.

I will suffer with you, and I will rejoice with you.

Amen. Amen.