s170e01 Somerton Park 21/1/2001 Sunday 3
I am having this morning off preaching. However a few thoughts today about 1 Cor 12:12-31
"Strive for the higher gifts" 1 Cor 12.30
CS Lewis in his Chronicles of Narnia has a passage about not trusting creatures that are trying to be something else. It is Mr. Beaver in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (chapter 8) who says: "No, no, there isn't a drop of real human blood in the Witch ... Take my advice, when you meet anything that's going to be human and isn't yet, or used to be human once and isn't now, or ought to be human and isn't, you keep your eyes on it and feel for your hatchet ... that's why the Witch is always on the lookout for any humans in Narnia ... " (page 76,77)
We have, in our epistle reading for today an exhortation to contentment, with oneself and with others around us. There are weaker and there are stronger members in our community - there are people with gifts of upbuilding within our fellowship of faith and those with gifts of upbuilding for those outside our fellowship of faith. We have our full share of ministers and ministries, and if we don't, it is more likely it is because we have not seen the contribution other people can make and in all probability are making already that we don't see. In particular I think it is more frequent that Anglican congregations are fearful of the contribution newcomers might want to make, rather than welcoming them.
But there is contentment and contentment: I rejoice that the sentiment of Mrs. Alexander: "The rich man in his castle, The poor man at his gate, God made them high or lowly, And order'd their estate." have been omitted from modern renditions of her children's hymn "All things bright and beautiful". ("Hymns Ancient and Mouldy" Standard Edition 1924 # 573) I suspect that Jesus real concern would be that the rich man ought not to be content with the poor man at his gate ... The poor man is hardly likely to be able to raise his conditions in life unaided, it is often hard enough, even with help, content with his lot or not.
In the list of church officials, it might seem that the most important ones are mentioned first, the apostles, prophets and teachers ... And sometimes I think St. Paul's words about striving for the higher gifts can lead some to want to be apostles, prophets, teachers ... There is indeed a good deal of training and testing that goes on to ensure that ordinands have appropriate skills and calling to fulfil these functions, and the Anglican Church (as well as others, of course) has always insisted on this training and testing. One does have to strive for these things, they do not fall into anyone's lap easily. One cannot preach, celebrate or lead a congregation without this training and testing, this striving. After all, none of us would go to an unqualified doctor.
But I have no doubt that the higher gifts of which St. Paul speaks are those of faith, hope and love, about which he talks so eloquently in the next chapter of his letter to the Corinthians, and which form our epistle reading for next Sunday.
And I think I would want to ask ourselves today, what is the extent of "the body"? (with apologies to Elle McPherson :-) Traditionally we define the body as the congregation, the diocese, the denomination, and perhaps a few others ... Yet I wonder where it leads us if we consider the body is more co-terminal with our community?
St. Paul's description of the members of the body certainly fit the community - there are certainly apostles, prophets, teachers; those who do deeds of power, those with gifts of healing, those able to render forms of assistance to others, those who exercise various forms of leadership, as well as those who, in our multicultural society, speak various kinds of tongues - many of whom do not consider themselves part of the Church and have no desire to be. Yet most of these would also both acknowledge and pray that the gifts and ministries they exercise for others are from God and exercised according to God's will.
St. John exhorts us: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world." (1 Jn 2.15) But this does not say that we are not to love other people who are not Christians, who do not live up to our expectations. The things of the world that we are bidden to hate are quite specific: "the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches" (1 John 2:16). These are things within ourselves which we are bidden to hate - the desire to be someone other than ourselves, to base our happiness on things we might acquire. And there are such things as religious and spiritual riches which we are called to forgo, for others. We can want our congregation to grow numerically without really being concerned for other people and their perceptions.
Jesus talks about not loving the world, and perhaps another way of getting around this conundrum and especially to square this with the ministry of Jesus which was most happily exercised amongst the ordinary people of this world - is to stretch the boundaries of the body, to recognise God behind the ministries of those who do not see themselves as part of the Church.
I guess we have a long way to go however, for we still have the separate missionary agencies in the Church Missionary Society, the Anglican Board of Missions, the South American Mission Society, the Bush Church Aid, the National Home Mission Fund - all competing for the missionary dollar. I must admit I have considerable sympathy for our Archbishop's recent plea to consider the Christian World Service as the agency to support - and I believe the mission agencies would command more respect from the person in the pew, if such was the case. If we distrust those who operate under the umbrella of the "Anglican Church", how will we ever be seen to trust those outside?
St. Paul tells us: "For in the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body -- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free -- and we were all made to drink of one Spirit" - so it is quite clear that the important thing about our baptism is that it brings us into a relationship, not primarily with God, but with the people amongst whom we live and work. We need to recognise that there is a good deal of sympathy with many people who see others as people to respect and assist wherever possible. It is our mission statement - whereas others do it because it is there to be done.
And I find it curious that in St. Paul's words, I would have thought that the normal logic would dictate him saying something like: "If the foot was to say (to the hand) because you are not a foot you do not belong to the body ..." rather than: "If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body". I think that this points to the fact that many people recognise the gifts and talents that they have, but because the Church expects specific and indeed specialised ministries, they consider themselves to be outside the body. But St. Paul makes it quite clear "that would not make it any less a part of the body". So often people do not consider themselves as part of the Church, when St. Paul actually would. When ministries are exercised for the benefit of others, it is God's work, it is done as part of the body.
The higher gift that I think I would commend striving for, is the ability to recognise God at work in other people, to see the extent of the body, well beyond the boarders of our congregation, diocese, denomination, or faith. If and when we recognise the contribution that people like Fred Hollows and other people, as God given, we will be both true to our calling and respected by people. Indeed there may well be some who will begin to consider that just possibly they too might be recognised as having a valuable contribution to make.
A couple of weeks ago, Catherine and I were walking along the foreshore, as is sometimes our want, after lunch. It was the Sunday after the Epiphany, and again we witnessed that delightful Greek Orthodox ritual of the "Blessing of the Waters" at the Glenelg jetty. Catherine lamented that we Anglicans don't have these sorts of special celebrations. The German community have their Scheutzenfest ... The Cornish their Kernewek Lowender ... The Greeks also have their Glendi Festival ... Everyone claims some Irish descent on St. Patrick's Day :-) I suppose our Australian festivals are the Royal Adelaide Show and the Christmass Pageant ...
I would be the last to criticise the various ethnic groupings of people a celebration of their life and culture - indeed I think now most Australians welcome such celebrations. The Greek Blessing of the Waters is a unique way of affirming God's blessing of the whole of creation, and it is especially appropriate for a country which rejoices in sandy beaches and the sea in which to swim and surf.
It is in some senses rather more difficult to celebrate the full extent of "the body", for of course "the body" does not belong to Anglicans, but to all people. We cannot celebrate the body apart from the other people who make up such a valuable part of it. In South Australia this includes the Greeks, the Italians, the Germans, the Cornish, the Vietnamese, and many others, as well as those we more immediately associate as being part of our community, the Aboriginal and the English. I suppose it is as we appreciate these different ethnic groups and their celebrations that we express the corporate nature of our society that we most want to convey.
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