November 17, 2019
Making Christ’s Body Whole – November 17, 2019
Sermon for Sunday, Nov. 17
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
In the announcements over the past few weeks, you may have noticed a new request about those blue and white cards in the pew racks. In addition to asking you to share your prayer requests and pastoral concerns, we’re asking you to let us know who’s missing. I have to admit that I am terrible at noticing who is and isn’t here on a given Sunday. I have some gifts and skills, but that is not one of them. So, on those prayer cards, we’re asking you to share who you’ve been missing, so we can check in and follow up.
That’s important because it helps us do better pastoral care, but it also illustrates a theological truth: that the body isn’t whole without each of us. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, just as each of us has a body that “is one and has many members” – hands and feet and eyes and ears – “so it is with Christ. … You are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Cor 12:1,27). We, together, make up Christ’s body in this congregation and Christ’s body sent into the world, equipped with the gifts God specifically wants to share with this world God loves, all those gifts empowered by the same Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:11).
The young man you just heard from, Brandon Kirmer, is a case study. Without Brandon – without his presence with us these 18 years, without his ability to play a mean tenor sax, without his work as an Eagle Scout, without his service as an acolyte, without his presence in youth ministry, without his heart – our congregation and our world would be so much the poorer. Right? And so it is with each of us. The body of Christ isn’t whole without you.
So, the apostle Paul would have agreed with that statement, but he might have added some attitude: “Yes, you’re part of the body of Christ – so get off your behinds and get to work.” At least that’s the attitude I hear in the second reading this morning. Yes, Jesus is coming back, Paul says to the Christians in Thessalonica, but he’s not coming back next week. So, you can’t just take it easy or, worse, diddle around causing trouble in the church. You’ve got to do your part, Paul says. Our actions today matter. Christ has work to do in this world, now, and you’re an essential part of it. So, he exhorts the folks there in Thessalonica to keep their noses out of each other’s business and “do their work,” never growing “weary in doing what is right” (3:12,13). The affliction he sees and names there in Thessalonica is “idleness” (2 Thess 3:6).
Well, if that’s the standard, then we are exceptionally blessed at St. Andrew’s because idleness isn’t exactly a spiritual affliction here. And when I look around and consider the incredibly faithful work being done by so many of you, it’s enough to make me just stop and say, “Wow. Thank you.”
For example: We are blessed with exceptional staff doing exceptional ministry, lay and ordained. They don’t just put in hours but put in hearts and minds and souls for God’s work here. I have never worked with such a collection of people on a mission. And just to call out one, the last person who’d want to be called out: Mary Sanders. Mary is like a juggler who has a new ball thrown at her every day. And yet, she offers herself with an ethos of self-giving the likes of which I’ve seen maybe one other time in all my working life.
In addition to a great staff, we’re blessed here with hands-on lay leadership. You know, in some churches, vestries function as a gaggle of critics. In other, healthier, places, vestries function as a board of directors, and that’s good. Here, your Vestry functions not just with board responsibility but also as parish ministry council, each member taking ownership of some aspect of our congregation’s life, from children’s ministry, to finance, to discernment, to parish engagement. And our executive team, the wardens and treasurer – they put in uncounted hours to help realize God’s call to this congregation, that we would change hearts and thereby change the world. Again, here’s someone who wouldn’t want to be called out but whom I’ll call out anyway – senior warden Melissa Rock, a force of nature in so many ministries here. I am blessed, like no other priest I know, to have colleagues in collaborative leadership.
And we’re blessed with ministry commissions collaborating with staff and clergy in every facet of life here. Again, from youth ministry, to outreach, to adult formation – all the work you see going on here, all the groups you find out about as they host coffee hour – all this work is led by people whom God has raised up and empowered and impassioned to care for this parish and to reveal God’s love.
And we’re blessed with people doing the work of the faithful, day to day and week to week. We have prayer warriors and pastoral-care givers, officially and especially unofficially. We have hospitality volunteers, and folks serving coffee at HJ’s each morning, and people who tend the gardens. And we have the people here right now doing liturgy, which means the work of the people – saints of God singing Good News, and serving us Christ’s body, and proclaiming God’s Word, and greeting folks as they come in, and leading us in prayer. As beautiful and holy as it is to enter into the courts of the Lord here, our worship is no spectator sport. Everyone in the room is part of God’s people called to come together, in common prayer, to offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.
And, we are blessed with people who give financially to make everything I’ve named possible. There is no such thing as “just” giving money in support of God’s work. The apostle Paul named it specifically in his list of spiritual gifts, listing “the giver” right up there with the minister, and the prophet, and the teacher, and the preacher, and the leader, and the one who loves others with deep compassion (Romans 12:6-7).
So, clearly, with all these amazing people doing all these amazing things, we are not afflicted with idleness. And – not “but” but “and” – here’s another holy truth to hold up alongside that: Jesus needs you to make his body complete. None of us has all the gifts that Christ’s body needs, but each of us has some of them. And offering all those gifts begins in the same place: in prayer, in the commitment of ourselves to take a next step, each day, in the process of discovering joy in our journey of discipleship. Every day, each of us can offer to God the gift I think God wants first and foremost, which is simply a conversation. I promise you that as you reach out to God, God will reach back to you. And that giving and receiving of connection is the spark for every other way God longs to come alongside you, to partner with you, to collaborate with you, in making your life and this world reveal love just that much more.
We’re a week away from the conclusion of our stewardship season. Next Sunday is St. Andrew’s Sunday; and in addition to wearing tartan, and hearing bagpipes, and singing our St. Andrew’s hymn, and everything else on that wonderful day, we’ll gather our pledges of giving for 2020, and we’ll bless them here on God’s altar. Those pledges are sacraments, outward and visible signs of your connection with God and outward and visible signs of the Body of Christ alive and well and changing lives here.
Our goal is that every household will make a pledge. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. If you already have made a pledge, thank you so much for that. If you haven’t yet, let me ask you please to do so. Like I always say, the amount of money you pledge is not the point. I would absolutely love for us to receive hundreds of new pledges to give $1 in 2020. The point is not the amount. The point is your commitment. The point is the outward and visible “yes.” The point is the unbelievable, even shocking, truth that God desires every last one of us to offer precisely what we’ve been equipped to offer, warts and all. The point is this: that Christ’s body isn’t whole without you.
So, I’m tempted to ask you to chant that together. But I imagine many of you probably would react to that like I would, muttering it dutifully while resenting being asked to say something out loud when you’re not sure how you really feel about it. So, let me invite you to do something else instead.
In a few minutes, we’ll come forward for Communion. You’ll come here to God’s altar or there to a standing station, and members of your parish family will serve you bread and wine. But, of course, we’d say it’s not just bread and wine that we receive because Jesus is really, fully present in that bread and wine, and in the assembly of all of us gathered here. When we come to the Table, we receive nothing less than the Body of Christ empowering us to be nothing less than the Body of Christ. As St. Augustine said about the consecrated bread and wine, “Be what you see; receive what you are.”1 So, here’s my invitation: When you come forward and put out your hands to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, pray this stunning truth: “Christ’s body isn’t whole without me.”
And then – when our worship is over and our service begins – go out and live that way.
- “Augustine on the nature of the Sacrament of the Eucharist: Sermon 272, Latin text with English translation.” Available at: https://earlychurchtexts.com/public/augustine_sermon_272_eucharist.htm. Accessed Nov. 15, 2019.