First Congregational Church of Wareham MA (UCC), January 20, 2019
I Corinthians 12: 1-11 — 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.
John 2: 1-11 — On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Seth Godin asks: do we have a chocolate problem, or do we have an oxygen problem?
Run out of chocolate, and that’s a shame. Run out of oxygen and you’re doomed.
Sometimes, we overdo our reliance on chocolate. It’s better in small doses–too much and it loses its magic. And sometimes we confuse the thing we want with the thing we need…
If your day or your project or your organization focuses too much on finding the next piece of chocolate, you might forget to focus on the oxygen you actually need.
Do you see what he means? Do you ever see yourself having trouble telling the difference between the oxygens and the chocolates in your life? How about in the life of our church?
One of the hardest decisions I make, all the time, is “is this book necessary?” – is it a “chocolate”? Or is it “oxygen”? Is it essential to my life?
Because the work I do is almost entirely with churches like ours, churches that are facing a changing world, trying to tell the difference between the chocolates we love so much and the oxygen we need.
A few churches ago, I worked with a congregation that, like this one, had a beautiful worship space. However, at some point, they’d taken out the original pews and replaced them with new, more comfortable ones. Nothing wrong with that – and probably when they did it, it was more of an absolute necessity – oxygen – than any kind of chocolate.
But, they’d made a mistake when they did it, and the pews were too close together. It was impossible to get into a pew if you used a walker, and not real easy if you used a cane. The pews were close enough, back to front, that if you were bigger, taller, heavier than average, it was difficult to get into them. When I realized the problem, we talked about it. People thought about it, agreed that it was a problem, and then they said, “well, no one who comes here uses a walker, so it’s not a big problem, is it? Let’s think about it.”
Removing a few pews would have solved the problem, but it turned out that keeping everything the way they’d always experienced it was an oxygen need for the people who were there. They couldn’t see how opening the pews up was an oxygen problem for the people who literally couldn’t get into the pews. And of course, people who couldn’t comfortably fit in the pew only ever came once.
So – part of the challenge is not just telling if something is oxygen or chocolate, but discerning, figuring out, just whose perception is the most important.
In today’s lesson from First Corinthians, the apostle Paul tells us there’s more than one right way to be. Some people, he says, have this gift, while others have that one. Each gift is important; all the gifts together make up the whole. It’s a big challenge to balance all that, and sometimes we get caught up into thinking that someone’s spectacular gift makes them more important, gives them more power – but Paul says that’s not so. Paul tells us that every gift, every person, matters. He says, over and over, that we are not whole when we live in ways that exclude people.
The other day there was one of those “oh so common” kerfluffles on the news – the Vice-President’s wife is teaching at what she calls a Christian school in Virginia. The problem is not that the school claims to be Christian but that it bars anyone – adult or child, who is gay, lesbian, transgendered. In other words, in the name of Jesus Christ, the school says that some kids are not worthy to be educated. That’s not Christianity, it’s bigotry – and that’s why the Vice-President’s wife is being criticized. And the justification is found in today’s lesson – where Paul says that diversity makes us stronger. Our differing gifts bring us together, make us stronger.
We need every person’s gifts, and every person has a gift. Maybe your gift is the ability to welcome people with a genuine smile. In my first church after seminary, we had a man who had that gift. He’d stand at the door and welcome people – if they were new, he’d make conversation with them and then take them to sit with someone who shared some connection – if the newbie was from Ohio, she’d end up sitting next to someone from Cleveland. If they had just bought a place near Ernie, they’d end up sitting next to Ernie. If they liked to quilt, they would meet one of our quilters. Now that’s a gift!
In the same church there were other people with different gifts – one had the gift of leading meetings; another had a gift for working with children, and so on. Together, they made a whole church. Not only did they have the gifts they needed, but they were committed to recognizing and supporting those gifts.
And that brings us back to ourselves, here, today. Paul says each of us has a gift, and the church needs all of us to be whole. It’s important for us to name and claim our gifts, and important for us to work together, to support one another. So, it’s not just about my naming my gift, but my naming your gift, my respecting your ability to do something that we need, something I cannot do.
Each one of us bring something important to the table.
Each one of us has a call from God to use their gifts to create and sustain a community of love.
Each one of us makes the world better.
© 2019 Virginia H. Child