Epiphany 3 – 23rd January 2022
During our most recent Lockdown and prior to the Traffic Light system for managing risk of Covid-19 in our community, I was walking through the cemetery on the way to the church here. I saw a familiar face and fell into conversation with David Wylie.
David, as you know so much better than me, has been around this church for a long time! His family has served our Lord through this ministry for decades. At that point, I had only talked to David briefly at church through those few services I ministered before Lockdown. So on that day, with no pressures of schedule, we were able to chat freely.
During that conversation, I commented to David one of the things I admire about Presbyterian congregations. I admitted that ministers come and ministers go, but elders seem to be always there. He chuckled and said he has seen it all with ministers coming in with fresh “new” ideas and knew it would pass as ministers come and ministers go but members remain.
My confession to David was that my “new” ideas were to revive and retain some of the traditional ways of presbyterianism. Leadership here is learning of my appeal to the Book of Order and its reach into our administration, mission, and pastoral care.
There is no sense reinventing the wheel. We have a faith that has stood the test of time! Why be embarrassed of it? Why try to disguise it? It was there believing the earth was round before Galileo proved it. It was there, promoting practical philosophy before Plato and Socrates were born. Our faith has a substance in historic truth that demonstrates a rational, logical conclusion. Why would we change it according to the every changing fashion of this world’s temporal lusts?
Paul the Apostle was doing something similar with the Corinthian church in our Bible reading today. He was discouraging them from following new doctrine, new practices, and new teachers. He was encouraging them to follow scripture – which at that time was still the Old Testament. If some of the Gospels were written early on in the first century, Paul’s epistles helped the Early Church understand them with Old Testament teaching.
Last week, we spoke of resurrection gifts and were encouraged to go from good too great. This week, I could say, “ditto!” Our Corinthian passage carries forward the theme of unity in diversity and continues to focus on gifts of the Spirit this week. But while last week was to emphasise the unity of the whole community of faith, this week shifts to the individuals who are gifted among the body. We are reminded that individual gifts serve the whole, even in ways that aren’t always seen so readily.
Last week’s text dealt with inferiority complex that many of us have. We might think that our contribution to the whole is not worth a whole lot. Many are tempted to believe they are not equal in importance as the leaders. Perhaps you are one who says, “It’s just me. I’m nothing special. I am not crucial to this ministry.” Last week’s text responded by saying, “Yes you are!”
This week’s text deals with superiority complex. Often within congregations are persons and individuals that believe they alone are crucial to the survival of the Church.
Yes, there is still individuality. “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (vs. 27.) Individually members, meaning you are important, you the individual, you the person, you matter. But we know that best when we engage in the whole, when we act as a part of the community and not just lone rangers. “You are the body,”
My initial divinity studies were taken in the deep South of America. Studying and working in America’s deep South was a culture shock for someone who grew up on the Canadian border. Their accent was so difficult to understand at first; their cadence of speech so slow. But I learned to appreciate some of their expressions and way of saying things.
Now there might be some of you who just heard alarm bells – do not worry – I have balanced out my studies in other locations. In fact, I studied theology in the same place as Margaret Ann around the same time period here in Auckland!
But getting back to Southerners, our Corinthian passage today could be expressed as: “All, y’all are the body.” That is translated as: “All of you are the body”. YOU collectively and corporately are the Body of Christ. YOU are the Church.
Last week’s text taught us that all your gifts go together to make up the whole ministry of this congregation. This week’s text teaches that each gift goes together to make up the whole. Very subtle difference, I know. But the distinction is important. Let me put it another way.
Last week we were saying, “the whole matters; unity matters; the Body matters.” This week, we are saying, “You matter to the whole; your gift matters to the unity of the Body”.
Now I realise, “you matter” is a very popular message today in Western Society. But Paul’s emphasis is a bit more specific. He is saying, “You matter because the Body would not be the Body without you and without the gift you bring.”
That is a beautiful message is it not? “Without the person YOU are, we could not be the Church.”
The lectionary response to today’s epistle is the Gospel passage in Luke where Jesus announces His ministry. The way He chose to do that was to attend a local synagogue and read from the scripture. He read a passage from Isaiah that ties in so closely with the way our Nehemiah text ends. He announced He has good news for the poor, the hurting, and the oppressed.
Like Jesus told us, during worship we can pray for workers because the harvest is plentiful. This is not to guilt people into service, but a reminder that these individuals are not to carry the weight for everyone, but to be an example of service that invites others to share their gifts as well. There is no gift that cannot be used to build up the body.Rev. Dr. Derek Weber
We are left with some questions to ponder as a local church.
- What ministries do we have that bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recover sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free?
- How does our approach need to shift, change, expand, or grow? How can you encourage others to do likewise?
Instead of closing with those questions, would you allow me to comment about Nehemiah’s passage instead? Rather than end today’s message with an encouragement to work together to bring others into the church – something we all know to do and desire to happen – let us close on a different note: “Why were they crying during Ezra’s reading of the bible?”
During the Lockdown, I was newly inducted and had not yet met all the saints associated with this congregation. I still haven’t! This is only the second Sunday I stand before you as the sole minister. It was a stressful time to sit back on the sidelines and wait for restrictions to be lifted. Especially as there was no sense of when that would happen!
I began communicating to the Session through daily reflections. 60 days in a row those emails were sent. I then encouraged the weekly Bible study to resume via Zoom and challenged Faithbuilders to do the same.
Along the way, a brand new website was built. It automatically converts to your device for ease of display. If you subscribe to the website, you will receive an email every time a new blog post is added and keep you up to date with the latest information.
But one of my favourite blessings was the creation of the weekly podcast. It is called “Lectionary Light.” You can access it on the website and Spotify, etc. Every Thursday or thereabouts, a 2-3 minute summary of the lectionary readings is delivered. The feedback has been tremendous. It is hard to believe that there are almost 7 months of recordings now available!
I titled the podcast for today’s readings, “Community Building”. In last Thursday’s podcast, the following was noted:
Ezra, the priest, sits before the people and reads to them out of the Bible. They stand for hours and hours listening to its words. And they weep. Why? We can only conjecture as it is not necessarily stated. Was it nostalgia hearing about the “good old days” under Moses and Joshua? Was it shame as they heard the laws read they broke, leading to their exile? Were they tears of joy because they are reclaiming the promises in the reclaimed place of peace?
Why were they crying?
As I close this message, I won’t be able to answer that question. But I can encourage you with Nehemiah’s response:
We are St Johns church. We have survived 4 lockdowns in these past 24 months. We have endured ministerial transitions a dozen times. We have shifted locations and completed several building projects. We have received St Philips Papatoetoe and Cook Islands Otara into our number.
No matter the circumstance, our faith survives. Not because of any one person or even our collective strength – it survives because of its origin. The founder of our faith is Jesus Christ. Jesus is our Head. Christ is our faith. And in God there is joy through sorrow; peace through tribulation; strength through weakness.
“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Now THAT is a message we can take into this new week!
O God of steadfast love,
at the wedding in Cana
your Son Jesus turned water into wine,
delighting all who were there.
TranGive us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Saviour Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.