Today is one of those rare occasions when I have not chosen the Gospel reading to preach on.
Last Sunday we began a five-week series on the Bread of Life discourse from St. John’s Gospel, so we’ll come back to Eucharistic themes several more times throughout the month of August. Instead, please let me share [again] what St. Paul shared when he wrote to the Ephesian community. I’m intentionally using The Message translation so this wording will sound more contemporary to your ears:
My sisters and brothers, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Lord, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God has called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around being lazy. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. Go out marked with a sense of humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.
You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness. But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same.
Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven.
He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, performing miracles, speaking prophetically, and people who have been particularly gifted with patience?
No prolonged infancies among us, please. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.
In short, St. Paul is recruiting volunteers for the church. Reminding us that God has given us everything we need; but we need every part of the body to do its own part. We’re unnecessarily challenged if only a part of us is doing the work. We need everyone to do the part we were each born to do.
I enjoyed reading earlier this week an online sermon about spiritual gifts. While teaching a class, the author mentioned the spiritual gifts that Paul wrote about in our epistle reading, things like: humility, gentleness, patience, prophecy, knowledge, and faith. The students were all trying to figure out which spiritual gift(s) they possessed. Suddenly, the author / now teacher, realized how disappointed she was that her own unique spiritual gifts were not mentioned at all by Paul. Nowhere on the list were the gifts of snarkiness and sarcasm listed. She commented just how unfair she thought that was. Those actually were her spiritual gifts!
Ya gotta love humorous people?
I’ve often shared that one of my favorite things to do is to look out at a congregation and wonder just what it is you all do all week long, both professionally and personally. I remember once running into one of my parishioners in The Situation Room in the White House. For as shocked as I was, upon further reflection, I, actually, wasn’t shocked at all. Grateful, really, that this particular parishioner had this particular job, for the sake of our country’s security at that particular time.
I remember another time when I was pulling into the parking lot at my first church assignment, at St. Mary’s in Fairfax Station. After I parked my truck, I noticed a woman who was standing in a huge trailer with mesh wired sides. From inside the trailer this women was crushing aluminum cans in order to make room for more aluminum cans. (Just like Lucille Ball in the I Love Lucy Show when she was crushing grapes for wine … remember that hysterical scene?) The more crushed cans there were in the trailer meant the more money this woman would get in return for recycling the cans. I introduced myself to her as the newly assigned parish priest. She shared with me that her name was Pat. Pat shared with me that the money raised from the recycled aluminum cans all went to help people desperately in need in the community. Lord only knows how many bee stings this sainted woman endured for helping the poorest of the poor in Fairfax County, Virginia. That same day I found the parish stationary and wrote Pat a note. I wrote,
Dear Aluminum Can Lady, so good to meet you today. I’ll not soon forget the image of you crushing aluminum cans for the sake of others in need in our community. Who you are and what you do is not lost on me. And not lost on God. Thank you for being an inspiration to me and others. Peace, chuck.
Pat and I have remained close friends for over 30 years, and she will always exist in my mind as an inspiration, sharing every gift and talent God ever gave her with everyone else around her.
I can do this all day. Share one inspirational example after another of wonderful people doing wonderful things to love and serve God and one another.
I’m reminded of one of my neighbors out here in Burke. She’s recently retired. Almost every day she helps different neighbors who have different needs. Whether it’s helping another neighbor with walking their dog or walking with the child of another neighbor, in order to give the other neighbor a break, this recently retired neighbor doesn’t seem to let the sun set before helping another person in need. Every. Single. Day.
Sharing these examples of service, whether inside The Situation Room or while crushing cans for Jesus, or walking a neighbor’s dog, hopefully this gives all of us an opportunity to ask ourselves, what specifically are we doing to love and serve God and others?
I’m reminded of our parishioner, Karen, who lovingly manages the Bagged Lunch program, serving, along with her wonderful team of volunteers, hundreds of hungry people here in Alexandria.
And Jennifer, Kim and Lee who oversee our ministry to refugee families … presently serving the Kwi family from Cameroon.
I’m reminded of every member of the Altar Guild who weekly prepare everything here in the chapel and church so that we can come together as a community and share in this centuries’ old Eucharistic tradition.
Not to mention every volunteer who helps our children to learn about God through our children’s and youth ministries.
And Sean who, along with John, traveled several years ago to Haiti to meet with members of our partner parish and while there, willingly and knowingly, ate goat’s eyes which were floating in the soup. Mmmmmm. Mmmmmmm. Greater love. Right? They both said they’d do it again. They’d do the trip again. And they’d eat goat’s eyes again too. Yep. Greater love.
Yes, yes, to be sure, the other biblical spiritual gifts are all critical, of course, where would we be without others who possess such gifts as: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, performing miracles, speaking prophetically, and people who have been particularly gifted with patience?
Hopefully today’s homily and message from St. Paul provides us all with an opportunity to consider what is our aluminum can story?
What are we doing to build up the God’s Kingdom here on earth?
How are we each helping Emmanuel Episcopal Church to fulfill our vision and mission?
All good questions for each of us. Thanks for considering these and whatever else God has put on your heart.
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog