• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

You are Connected

Who Are You? An eight-week sermon series for the new year on being and becoming our true selves, preached January 23, 2022 for the 930am Worship

Watch this week's sermon on YouTube


Context

In this new year, Rev. Caitlan and I are doing an eight-week sermon series titled “Who Are You? Being and becoming our true selves.” Caitlan and I combed the scriptures and found eight things to help us remember Who We Are.


Two weeks ago, Caitlan reminded us we Are CALLED. We each have a purpose and a role to play in God’s kingdom. God brought us into being and gave us life, then called us to make earth look more like heaven.


Last week, Paul reminded us we are GIFTED. We all have gifts from God, and we are invited to find our true gifts and use them freely for the common good.


Today, we remember, we are CONNECTED. Let’s listen for the word of the Lord from…


Prayer


Scripture 1 Cor 12:12-31

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.


14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as God chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body.


21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior members, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.


27 Now, y’all are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Instead, strive for the greater gifts, and I will show you a still more excellent way.


Sermon You are Connected

To understand modern American politics, I think the most interesting and revealing positions to look at are not the President or Vice President, nor the Majority or Minority leaders of either wing of Congress who have been busy this week. To see American politics, I look at the political positions called Majority and Minority “Whip” in both the House and the Senate. These “Whip” positions are usually considered to be the second or third highest position in each political party, and carry plenty of clout. Their job is to “whip” their members… mweaning to coerce or to threaten, to reinforce or to punish the members of their party to vote the party line. When either party loses even a few members on a critical vote, it is seen as a weakness, a failure on behalf of the Whip. “Why couldn’t you keep your members in line with the rest of the body?” This system makes is so every member politician cannot be unique, cannot vote their conscience, but must become the same.


Paul understood halls of power, having himself served as one of the leading Pharisees, interpreters and negotiators of the Law, for most of his life. But at some point, he switched parties. Jesus got to him and awakened his God-given faith in ways that helped him see things differently. I’m sure he was resented, maybe even hated by those he left behind. I imagine he was mistrusted and challenged by those he appeared to be joining. So Paul understood very well the pulls and pressures of being and individual in a system of connected relationship, and the challenging demands of trying to hold diverse members together. Paul’s instructions here on how to do church and life come out of that experience.


Last week, we heard Paul speak of the variety of Spiritual gifts and how they come from one God to everyone for God’s good purposes for the greater good. This week, Paul uses the image of individual members in one body.


Paul makes three strong points. He starts with a foot saying, ‘I am not a hand. I do not belong’, or an ear saying, ‘I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’. No body part, no individual member should consider itself not a part of the body just because it isn’t like some other part or member. A foot shouldn’t say, “Well the hand has opposable thumbs, so I’m not very important or needed around hereand then pull itself away from the body. An ear shouldn’t say, “The eye can see. Everybody is always talking about how nice the eyes are. Nobody ever says how nice the ears are,” and then deny its connection to the whole body.


Paul is addressing people who give up on being connected to one another, who remove themselves from the body because they aren’t like other members, or because they aren’t able to do what others do, or because they don’t feel as important or useful as other members, or because they don’t feel as needed or appreciated as other members. Each and every individual, each and every one of us, is a member of a great connected body.


In this church, we probably have some long-time members, a few newish members, some long time visitors who’ve never joined, or maybe some newish, recent visitors. Whatever reason you find yourself here today, Paul is saying, each and every one of us is gathered here by God to be one body. Please don’t remove yourself from the body, give up on being one body because you aren’t like the other members. The unique gift to the body that is you is exactly what God knows this body needs. So don’t remove yourself from this body. That would injure the body, deny your connectedness to the body, and delay God’s plans for your calling and gifts.


Paul’s second point has to do with an eye saying to the hand, “We don’t really need you,” or the head saying that to the feet, “You’re not really one of us.” In a connected body, no member pushes out another member because they are different, think or feel differently, vote differently, serve differently. When we believe we are one connected body, no individual member or small group should pressure others to t be who they are and conform to be like everyone else. Paul says if the whole body were to conform, to be just an eye, we would lose hearing. God arranges the different members into one connected body so the body will be able to enjoy many different abilities and functions. Who are we to force out any other member just because they are different, if God is the one who brought them into the body? The connected body God designs is whole and has full functionality, can see, smell, hear, run, write, speak. Without all of these diverse functions across a wide diversity of members, there actually isn’t a body! To be a body requires we honor these diversities and connections, and try to cut out those who are different, but invite them to contribute their unique abilities for the benefit of all.


For Paul’s third point, he reminds the members who are truly mature or stronger to defer, to give honor and protection and priority to those perceived as weaker. In our connectedness as one body, those with certain abilities use those abilities in service and protection on behalf of the other members of the body that need that. Its why we still wear masks. Some children cannot get vaccinated yet. Some people, even with full vaccinations and boosters, are transplant recipients or have an underlying health conditions where a break through case could be catastrophic. So the rest of the members of this body who are stronger and not as worried about the virus, we defer. We gladly wear masks to protect the wholeness and connectedness of the body. The strong do not do what they want. They defer, and serve, and take care of those other members with different gifts or needs.


So, who are you? You are called by God into life and service of what God is doing. You are gifted, and your gifts are precious and essential to what God is doing. You are connected. You are a unique individual, but you are just one part of a greater whole, so do not think of yourself as greater than any other member, and do put your personal wants or preferences over the others in the body.


God is doing something here at the Presbyterian Church of Chestertown. COVID has tried to get in the way of it. But I sense it. We have new way to reach out to homebound, hospitalized, travelling foks, other parts of the body that cannot be present in worship. We probably wouldn’t have installed livestream ability if not for COVID, but now it’s a gift we give to those who cannot come. We defer and change things here, for them, because we are connected to them. We have new ways of welcoming and including children in the fullness of worship and giving them special time and attention. We defer to them, because they need us, and we want them to feel like this is there safe place where they can be themselves as they mature. There are new relationships forming with sister churches, and community organizations, and mission partners. New connections are being threaded in this wider community when people are asking about us, coming to us for space, wondering if we can contribute or help. God is showing us we are connected not just to one another, but to the whole community around us, and asking us to use our gifts in our calling.


To God be all the glory and honor now and forever more. Amen.


Charge


Benediction

And now, blessing laughter and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the world turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forever more.

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