Jan23SunA sermon for Jan. 23 (Epiphany 3) January 23, 2022 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
Last week I watched with my kids the new Disney animated movie Encanto.
It deals with a family in a remote village in Colombia, South America, who each have different magical gifts.
One of the daughters has superhuman strength,
the other daughter can make flowers bloom out of thin air,
the other daughter can hear conversations from a mile away.
Without hopefully giving away too many spoilers,
The grandmother exerts too much control:
She is scared that they will lose their magical gifts,
And so she puts the gifts on a pedestal,
almost like the gifts are more valuable than the family members themselves.
the members are valued only for their specific ability,
They have to be perfect and they can’t branch out, and do other tasks,
Like Isabel who can only look and be perfect and only make pretty flowers, but she can’t do other things that she might want to do…
At the end the emphasis on only the abilities and everyone having to live up to unrealistically high expectations,
destroys their house.
Finally the grandmother realizes that the true gifts are actually the individual members of the family themselves,
and the magical abilities are there to help, but they shouldn’t be the idols.
Each of the members of the family with their respective gifts are important, and the gifts are there for the benefit of others.
Today’s letter to the Corinthians has the apostle Paul talking to a large family,
the Corinthian church, and reminding them of some lessons that could be found in the Encanto movie.
What does it mean to have many different members with different gifts in the family?
Who is most important?
How do we build each other up and live together in community with much diversity?
Paul reminds us that just as a human body has many body parts that are all essential for its functioning,
like ears, feet, and hands, so the body of Christ, the Christian family,
or specifically the local congregation,
also has a diversity of members,
each with important gifts that are different and essential.
Paul uses an analogy of a human body for the church.
We are all children of God
and no one member is more important than the other.
Just like the foot cannot say to the hand:
you don’t belong, so one member of the church cannot say to the other: we don’t need you.
And even more so the weaker members are indispensable,
and should be treated with more respect.
Those who have less honour, need to be honoured more.
This order is arranged by God,
To reduce quarrelling and dissension,
And so that members have the same care for one another!
So through this analogy of the human body being just like the congregation,
We need to honour the weakest members.
And who are the weakest members, you may ask?
Are they the shut-ins?
The irregular members?
Maybe this month they are those choosing not to be vaccinated
and feeling shunned.
Who needs more respect? Precisely these weaker members.
While the strongest members,
like Board of Directors, Pastors, Committee Chairs,
Well they need to acknowledge that the last will be first and the first will be last.
There cannot be favouritism but there needs to be care and respect and honour for all.
Especially in these tough times of the Omicron wave,
We suffer together, so we must also honour each other together.
If one part suffers, the whole suffers too.
We are in thistogether,
In Good times and bad,
For Better or for worse.
We all need each other because all our individual gifts have merit.
That’s why this image of the human body is so helpful for our church.
For example, if a body doesn’t have any skin:
then it will get countless infections and will eventually die.
Skin is important for a body.
If a body doesn’t have a Circulatory system, with blood, arteries, veins,
Then there’s no way to get the blood and the nutrients to the cells,
and so the body will die.
The body needs Bones too:
else it’s just a pile of flesh on the floor with no structure.
A body needs muscles, otherwise it can’t move.
And so also, a community of faith needs boundaries, a skin to protect from infections.
A church needs life blood to bring energy to its members.
A church needs bones, structure and bylaws and order.
And a worshipping community needs man- and woman power and muscle to get tasks done.
You know, the Body of Christ is not just a nice ideal,
it actually is an
Essential component of the full functioning of that body,
Paul is saying.
Every member is important.
Every gift is valuable.
In society, think about
What elevates someone to a high priority status?
Do they wear an expensive suit or drive a luxury car?
Do they have the gift of the gab,
Or are they a member of a privileged gender, race or ethnicity?
In the church, in the body of Christ,
however, all those distinctions are washed away in the waters of baptism.
All baptized share an equality symbolized by the white gown
that many baptized infants wear.
It doesn’t matter how much you give,
How often you come,
Who your grandparents are.
In the Gift of baptism
All are valued members of the body of Christ.
All members are equal and necessary for the body to flourish.
Everyone is encouraged to attend worship as they can,
To participate in the life of the congregation as they can.
To contribute according to their ability.
When we think about the the gathering of the believers as a body,
We hear Paul’s insistence that Radical individualism
is something that does not build up the body.
Radical individualism preaches that one member doesn’t need the others.
That one’s own needs and desires trump those of others.
But the body of Christ, just like a human body, is an example of interconnected interdependence.
We’re all interwoven together and our individual actions have repercussions on those of others.
For Paul our personal freedoms are less important
than the good of the whole!
The decisions of the group must be for the good of the whole, taking priority over individual rights and preferences.
This debate of course feeds into the argument over
individual rights versus group benefits,
Which has dominated discourse in our society since the beginning of the pandemic.
It started in 2020 with people wanting the individual choice to wear masks or not to wear them, that was the rallying cry in that year,
and of course that’s continued.
Does my individual right not to wear a mask infringe upon the greater good of society, as science has demonstrated that masks reduce both droplet emission and aerosol transmission.
Our politicians and leaders gradually figured out that the greater good of society was served by masks masks obligatory.
And so here at St. Matthews we have a mandatory mask policy,
but still have an optional mask-free area…which has some people relieved, and other people concerned.
And then we get into the hairy debate starting late last year about proof of vaccination and consequences for those who choose not to be vaccinated,
which now has even erupted here at St. Matthews,
a little later than other parts of society and other churches,
but nonetheless it is here as well.
Paul would ask here: well, what is the greater good?
Who are the lesser members, the most vulnerable members that need to be considered, and decisions made to protect them?
Some would say the immunocompromised,
others would say the unvaccinated,
and of course the weak and elderly,
those over 80 are regularly mentioned.
While there are those who would say the merits of vaccines are debatable, the majority consensus of science is that vaccines work as they were designed to.
So when it comes to vaccine mandates, one could argue with Paul’s reasoning that the good of the community is more important than the rights of the individual, or in other words,
That the rights of the individual are secondary to the good of the community.
Individual rights are still important but not quite as much.
Now of course this is a controversial topic,
and rife for much heated debate, as we saw a few weeks ago in dissension amongst families over the holidays as folks were disinvited from gatherings and people just didn’t see eye-to-eye, and shots across the bow and pot-shots were taken over these shots.
The approved vaccines are scientifically proven to save lives and reduce risk of severe illness.
And some might say we are being unwelcoming and exclusionary in mandating vaccine passports in church,
and in a way they are right.
A vaccine passport system where some cannot or will not produce proof excludes those people from worship.
And that is something to be lamented,
anytime someone is excluded from a community,
whether it is because of gender, sexual orientation, race, socioeconomic conditions, and yes, even vaccination status.
And yet, every group need to have certain group norms and boundaries, otherwise it ceases to be a group.
A circle without a defining circumference or line all the way around is not a circle, it is a nothing.
A square without four equal lines at right angles is not a square and so on.
Likewise, every group has a right to define safety of its members,
for the greater good of its members, and has a right to exclude.
For example, there may be an individual right to carry a weapon into the sanctuary, but if it threatens the safety of the members,
then the police can be called to intervene.
If someone harasses, or screams or shouts during a service,
they will be told that such actions are unwelcome, and be asked to leave.
So though God is perfect and God welcomes all,
human institutions are imperfect (just as humans are) and they need to sometimes institute norms of behaviour to protect the safety of its body,
of its members as a totality, or at least to reduce the safety risk.
And so it is with proof of vaccination in my opinion as well,
although you can be free to disagree.
What can we learn from this debate?
I think we need to have a stance of compassionate curiosity,
although some of the arguments of anti-vaxxers baffle me.
I think many of the traits of the anti-vaxx movement are commendable,
Such as the necessity of skepticism,
not believing everything you read,
to use your own judgement,
not always to believe everything your leadership says.
It’s good to question how one does proper research
And where you get your information is as important as what that information is.
I think we do need to be wary of attempts at social control,
But most of the conspiracy theories go too far for me,
and don’t appear to be grounded in any reality that I am aware of.
The lack of trust in government and science is troubling on many fronts, and is something from a larger perspective that needs to be addressed in our society and education systems in particular.
The demonizations on both sides are problematic,
and scapegoating and shaming people is not going to make friends and will alienate even further the most hard-core.
But what is society and what is leadership to do?,
as we’ve seen our governments (esp. provincial ones agonize at every successive press conference over the past 2 years…
We must realize that we are all suffering,
trying to make sense of this new landscape that we’ve been thrust into without our permission for the past 22 months.
We’re all victims of the echo chambers of social media
and its self-fulfilling algorithms that keep us hooked.
If one part suffers, then the whole suffers too,
and so the vaccinated must suffer along with the unvaccinated.
There should be no gloating.
We are excluding some for the greater good and safety,
and this is something to do with heavy hearts and regret,
but I think it was the right move,
also to be in solidarity with our sister Churches in the area who have done the same.
And we hope that this time of separation
(which has of course since the beginning been a time of separation from our most vulnerable and ill members as well)
That this time will be as brief as possible,
Although the community scars will take a while longer to heal.
We need each other’s gifts,
As Church, as society,
We’re all in this together, we’re all interconnected,
regionally as well as globally,
this virus has shown us in unceasing ways.
All members are needed, all gifts are important,
Whether they are gifts listed by Paul of:
Apostles, prophets, teachers, those with deeds of power, gifts of healing, forms of assistance, all different kinds of tongues,
Or the more approachable gifts we see in St. Matthews members like
Property management, bookkeeping, painting, financial oversight, and worship leadership.
And then there are the gifts that will become more apparent in 2022,
with UNA Church and Legacy of Christ Church coming onboard with us
in the building and their gifts of enthusiasm, evangelism, and praise bands to name a few.
You are the body of Christ!
With varied gifts united by Christ, the Lord of all.
I do have some Homework for you this week:
I’d like you to take some time in prayer and ponder and pray about the following;
Where in your life are you asserting your individual freedom and rights where they are in conflict with the greater good?
Where can you reduce what you feel you need,
To make space for the betterment of the whole?
Thank you for taking that to God in prayer this week.
I will too.