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Reflections on the Gospel, Week before February 3rd, 2013

Corinthians 12:4 - 13:13

Chapter 12

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. 14Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The 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.” 22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Chapter 13

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

What I am Learning:

Typically we have been reading the Gospel lessons but I feel the need for a break from that. So I am putting the Second readings for January 27th and February 3 together - so strap yourselves in for a Mega-Pauline reading and reflection this week.

Jesus was inviting people to an alternative way to be human and humanity - he called this the kingdom of God. We express this as "God's Way of Mutuality.

In typical Roman culture at this time each male and and his family spent most of their time trying to defend and increase their status in the larger community. Life was a competition for honor. The image of the body was often used to describe a whole town, province, or nation. They tended to use this image to talk about how some parts of the body are inherently more important than others. Some were the head and some were the finger nails on the body and thus dispensable.

Paul used the image of the body very differently. He argued that each part of the body is of equal status, interdependent, differentiated, a part of the "same spirit."
In other words, Paul was encouraging the church at Corinth to be a part of Jesus' alternative community and to live differently from the culture around them.

But to this point their behavior was more in tune with Roman domination-dog-eat-dog culture than God's Way of Mutuality. The wealthy, high-status people would arrive at worship in the early afternoon and eat their fill of the good wine and bread with all the other "good people." They would be gone by the time the servants and farmers and workers would arrive for the dregs of the meal.

Paul argues that their worship was not the way of Christ - the way of being mutual with one another. He argues that they need one another in ways that they cannot imagine. Each one has a unique gift to bring and to receive.

As you know, the idea of TCC is that each house church will discern some kind of nonviolent public leadership in the larger world. I think that many congregations have  often sacrificed the baptismal calling of people on the altar of congregational politics and "niceness." Many congregations have withdrawn from important public issues in order to maintain their membership and budgets.

In other words, in order to survive as they are, many congregations have lived more like their surrounding culture than like Jesus.

So we are trying to develop a way to be church that gives people the freedom to follow their baptismal calling even if that calling is deeply challenging to the larger culture.  But now comes the second part of our reading. Paul, I think, would say that all the nonviolent public leadership in the world is worthless unless it has love at its heart.

This kind of love includes self, the group, the larger culture, and the whole creation. This kind of love includes seasons of listening, activity, reflection, and rest. It includes sabbath for soul and body and family.

The nonviolent public leadership of TCC house churches are formed by the the root of all spiritual gifts: faith, hope and love.

Faith here is not a list of things we say we believe in church. Faith is a risking-trust in God's continuing creation and healing of the world.

Hope here is not optimism - that things will get better on their own. Hope is a vision of a future for humans and all creation that draws us to meaningful action toward that future - to live as if that future is already here.

Love here is not warm fuzzy feelings. Love is the risking, self-giving love and willingness to risk to address the real condition of ourselves, others, and the creation.

Sometimes of course, we find ourselves living more out of our own culture, which tells us that who we are is dependent on what our fame, job, address, bank account, or stock fund. Just as church in the last 60 years has been tempted to just get along with the larger culture, it would be easy for TCC to get into the mindset that our worth is determined by what we accomplish. It would be easy for us to get competitive with other churches, and other house churches.

But this kind of competitiveness would be just as bad as the Corinthians worship practice - just another way to search for status.

We trust, though, that by the gift of God we see dimly in the mirror the image of God in Christ, and the image of God that God has made in us.

We trust that as a good parent revels in the halting steps of a child that God rejoices in our hesitant steps to recognize that love is the very ground upon which we walk.

We trust that we are loved by God today and that our nonviolent public leadership is only a joyful response to God's love.