Sunday, January 31, 2016

3rd Corinthians (1st Jerseyans)

3rd Corinthians (1st Jerseyans)

         Dearest Sisters and Brothers,
         I have heard that those communities I planted so long ago have spread and changed and popped up all across the globe.
         I have heard that they’ve spawned divisions now called denominations, and movements that I would have never imagined.
         When I brought Jesus’ message from Jerusalem to Rome
—I traveled 1434 miles
—that was an unbelievable length.
It was as if my gargantuan effort to bring the Gospel there
—through shipwrecks and beatings and all kinds of disasters…
It was as if that effort which, the Holy Spirit moved me to do, had brought the Gospel to the entire world.
Now the Gospel is firmly entrenched in such far off places as South Plainfield New Jersey in the USA—which is over 4 times farther away from Jerusalem than my impossible journey was from Jerusalem to Rome.

         I suppose, thinking of my image of the Church as the body of Christ, it is as if the child has become an adult
—the Church has matured. What was once small, has grown large.

         But brothers and sisters, let me be clear
—you are still the body of Christ
—each congregation, each denomination, each piece of you, and all of your gifts, is part of a larger whole.

         In your diversity and in your wide reach, this grand stretching out of the body of Christ
—in this you are still members one to another. Some are eyes, others ears or toes, elbows or nose
—Understand me, you are not a horror show, a bunch of disembodied body parts
—not a crime scene, but a church!
         How we are connected one to another, is extremely significant!
How we foster that connection in love, that is of ultimate import!

         And so, it distresses me when I hear of the recent rending of the body of Christ taking place within the Anglican Communion, dividing the Episcopals, the American manifestation of that denomination, from her English and African siblings. Can you not bear with one another? Are not arm and body connected by ligaments?

         At the same time, I am astounded by the speed by which the Roman Catholics and Lutherans are remembering that they are of one body
—re-membering the body,
 membering again,
making what was once dis-membered re-membered!
That the Roman Catholic Pope will commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation alongside world Lutheranism
—that is astonishing! It is as if the Ear has heard the Mouth and the Mouth realized the Ear is just a few inches from him!
         Or, there are the latest tales of merger from those two Lutheran Seminaries in Pennsylvania who have been feuding like the Hatfields and McCoys since the American Civil War. Out of two, will come one.
Is that not the story of the body,
of union,
of our hope,
being one together
—the creation of something new,
being reconciled to one another and in so doing showing forth the body of Christ?

         And then, there is the work of Christ done in this particular piece of Central New Jersey
—that five churches would recognize one another for each of their unique gifts, seeing them all as gifts of the Spirit in their particular neighborhoods, and at the same time recognize the connections they have to one another!
It’s like the eyes see that the body’s got feet for walkin’ and the ears hear that the arms are useful for more than just picking out earwax!
         What I’m saying, to shift the metaphor, is that God has rooted each congregation in a particular community, and God is calling these congregations to share the burdens and the joys of ministry with one another… I thank God for that!
         As I stated earlier how you live out these connections are significant—if it is done without love, it does not matter.

         If I adhere to all proper doctrine, but do not have love, I am myself excluded.
         If I connect to my brothers and sisters so quickly and fully that every slight either of us ever committed is erased then and there, but do so without love, I have whitewashed myself.
         If I create something new, birth the Christ Child himself, but do so without love, the whole project is stillborn.
         If I dig deeply into a community and the branches of our mutual ministry together reach out and touch the sky, but I have not planted in love, take a chainsaw to me!

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

         For at the end of the day, love alone will remain.
When the fire has cleared out the forest floor, the tiny seeds of love will be all that is left.
Purity and Division. Merging, Partnership, Community
—that’s all fine and dandy.
But the one place I hang my hat,
the only ground I can stand on, the only place I can put my trust
—is love.