Scripture and sermon from the Master of Arts in Ministry alumna.
1 Corinthians 12:3-13
3Therefore 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. 4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
12For 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. 13For 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.
A Sermon Delivered on May 31, 2020
Friends, today is Pentecost Sunday. On Pentecost, we often read the scripture in the book of Acts, in which the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples 50 days after Jesus has been crucified, resurrected and ascended. In this moment, hundreds of disciples who are tasked with following Jesus and living out his teachings and ministries experience that moment that we, in the modern church, call a conversion moment. It is that moment in which the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, moves through us as individuals.
The breath of God doesn’t just move through us, however. It moves us to follow Jesus in the same way that it moved the first followers to continue Jesus’ ministry. It is what moved Paul to go from persecuting and arresting Jews who were going against the law in to being one of Jesus’ biggest advocates.
And in today’s scripture, we have Paul writing to the church in Corinth to help them address issues they are having within their very specific community.
You see, the Corinthians were struggling with cultural identity not meshing well with their new-found Christian identity. The Corinthians were struggling to work together, struggling to see how following Christ means saying “no” to what seems like a completely harmless cultural practice. The Corinthians were having a hard time seeing the value of loving God and neighbor when doing so means giving up the often selfish and self-serving ways of society.
So Paul, a Roman citizen, writes to them to address their issues. And in modern terms, he tells them that they are not faithfully living in to God’s work for them as Christians. Rather than claiming their Christian faith, they cling to their identity as “liberal” or “conservative,” “democrat” or “republican,” and it has become an “us” vs. “them” issue in Corinth.
But Paul tells them to knock it off, for there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, democrat or republican, liberal or conservative.
And truly, in God’s kindom, there are none of those labels—all that matters, as far as labels go, are if we are willing to love God and neighbor with our everything.
Paul continues to tell them that we are all different and contribute different things—these are the gifts of the spirit that God has bestowed on all of creation, so that we can work together as one moving body.
And again, in God’s kindom, this is how we function. As Christians who have made those baptismal and membership vows, this is how we are called to behave and care for one another—not only to value the different gifts and functions each and every human being brings to the table, but also to show love and care for our fellow humankind.
So on this Pentecost Sunday, we are brought to this scripture to see how, indeed, we ought to act as Christians who profess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior despite our many differences with one another.
And friends, even though we have the road map for how to live with our kindred in Christ, we continue to fail.
If Paul were here, he would be writing a similar, strongly-worded letter to the church in the United States.
Six-years-ago or so I was in New Jersey working on my Master of Arts in Ministry at Drew University. One day I woke up, a day much like today or yesterday, and I read the news headlines for the day, “Cop tried for murder of Eric Gardner acquitted.” It shocked me—I was sure that the cop would be charged, because the video was such solid evidence—and yet, he was acquitted. As I made my way over to the chapel for worship to start, I was troubled but not overcome with grief. I was able to compartmentalize this tragedy. And then I ran in to a friend who is African American. Without thinking, I cheerfully said, “Hey, how’s it going?” to which he replied “Not good,” as he walked past me without even a glance.
At first, I was shocked and hurt—why would he respond like this—I was just being friendly. But the truth of the matter was, Eric Garner’s death didn’t affect me, not comparatively at least. Don’t get me wrong–I grieved, I was angry. But I’m not black, nor do I know what it is like to have 400 years of abuse and public lynchings of my people.
As I dealt with the initial hurt and anger that my friend could be so wrapped up in his feelings as to blow off my friendly hello, I realized that none of this was about me, and my many black brothers and sisters were tired of being scared, living in fear of the system that is meant to protect and serve.
In his letter from the Birmingham Jail, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. responds to a few of his fellow white clergy who chastise him for protesting and causing unrest in Birmingham, AL. They denounced the unrest Dr. King was causing, to which he responded:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly… you deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations in to being… I would not hesitate to say that it is unfortunate that so-called demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham at this time, but I would say in more emphatic terms that it is even more unfortunate that the white power structure of the city left the Negro community with no other alternative.”
And friends, this was over 50 years ago, and we are still struggling with the same issues. Perhaps we are officially desegregated, but the issues of injustice have never left our society, and we find ourselves in the same situation we are in today, with our country on fire and riots happening everywhere.
And as the church, and as Christians, we are called to look at the injustices that are happening around us and speak up. As Dr. King said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” What a perfect way to describe us as a church during the Pentecost season.
And, we are paralyzing our Body of Christ, stunting the work of the Holy Spirit, when we fail to show compassion for our black siblings.
We are paralyzing the Body of Christ and stunting the work of the Holy Spirit when we do nothing and say nothing because our lives aren’t immediately affected by the killing of George Floyd.
We are paralyzing the Body of Christ and stunting the work of the Holy Spirit when we condemn the protests and desperate cries from the mothers who can no longer look on the face of their children because of an unjust system.
We are paralyzing the Body of Christ and stunting the work of the Holy Spirit when we label silence as peace.
We are paralyzing the Body of Christ and stunting the work of the Holy Sprit when the church and its members make vandalized and burned buildings more important than the lives of our brothers and sisters who are dying daily from an unjust system.
We are paralyzing the Body of Christ and stunting the work of the Holy Spirit when the church and its members would rather stay quiet than speak out in the face of sin.
For those of us who identify as white, we must be the better church—the church that doesn’t fail to be the Body of Christ.
So friends, this week, let us remember that our faith in Christ calls us to extreme and radical love for God and neighbor. And during Pentecost, especially, as we feel the breath of God move through us as the Holy Spirit, as we look upon our kindred in Christ, let us find the strength within us to be the church as God calls it to be, to speak up and to show compassion.
And friends, let us continue to feel the loving breath of God move in and through us, lest we become the ones who can’t breathe. Amen.