Sermons That Work

Although the Specifics of Today’s…, Epiphany 3 (C) – 2004

January 25, 2004

They’re rioting in Africa. They’re starving in Spain.
There’s hurricanes in Florida and Texas needs rain.

The whole world is festering with unhappy souls.
The French hate the Germans; the Germans hate the Poles.
Italians hate Yugoslavs; South Africans hate the Dutch,
And I don’t like anybody very much.

But we can be tranquil and thankful and proud,
For man’s been endowed with a mushroom shaped cloud.
And we know for certain that some lovely day
Someone will set the spark off and we will all be blown away.

They’re rioting in Africa. There’s strife in Iran.
What nature doesn’t do to us, will be done by our fellow man.

Although the specifics of today’s worldwide political climate are quite different from those portrayed in the 1960s Kingston Trio’s “Merry Minuet,” the undying truth of humans’ ability to divide themselves, one from another, remains the same.

It has always been so. Saint Paul lived in a world defined by class distinction and racism and tribalism and nationalism that tore at the fabric of societal unity. It was a world in which people prided themselves on their separation from others. In the portion of First Corinthians that forms today’s Epistle, Paul referred to some classic distinctions of his day: Jew and Greek; slave and free; man and woman. Into what category a person fell made a great deal of difference, legally and socially.

In our day, we remain torn by separations of black, white, red, brown, and yellow; of rich nations and poor nations; of Muslim, Jew, and Christian; of Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants; of Hindus opposing Buddhists. In our own church, we have “rite oners” and “rite twoers,” traditionalists and modernists, supporters and opponents of the newly consecrated gay bishop Gene Robinson. There is no end to the tribalism that separates us in so many ways.

We separate ourselves because of fear and ignorance and selfishness. Or maybe this is simply because others are different. Humans have always tended to dislike those who are different. Professor Higgins in “My Fair Lady” gives us a humorous view of this intolerance:

Why can’t a woman be more like a man?
Why does every one do what the others do?
Can’t a woman learn to use her head?
Why do they do everything their mothers do?
Why don’t they grow up like their fathers instead?

But for any of us who make such distinctions and who would build such walls of separation, St. Paul brings us to task. In today’s Epistle, he tells us about the necessity of recognizing a central reality of God that is all too easy to escape from or ignore-the truth about human interdependence and unity. He illustrates this with a remarkably clear and precise description of what the church is. His analogy is a comparison of the church and its many parts with the human body and its many parts.

If we can understand our bodies at the most elemental level, we can understand what God intends for the church. No part is more valuable than another. No part can say to the other, “I have no need of you.” If one organ suffers, they all suffer. If one organ prospers, they all prosper. And the whole of the parts is integrally connected to the head.

All this is true for the church. And if it is true for us, it is also God’s sacrament to the world: making it true for every human community, from family to city to nation to the global village that is our world.

We can only live into the reality of Paul’s call for this kind of unity if Christ is our head. From our unity with Christ flows all our connected-ness with others. Because we respond with love to God’s love for us, we can care for others and feel the sense of interdependency that Paul illustrates so clearly.

Perhaps an old, yet ageless poem by John Donne will remind us why we must go home today renewed by the Holy Spirit to eschew intolerance and reach out in peace and love to all our brothers and sisters.

No man is an island, entire of itself.
Every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.

Any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls,
it tolls for thee.

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Christopher Sikkema


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