On Sunday, March 11, Rev. Joey Lee, Executive Presbyter of the San Jose Presbytery, delivered the prompting at our 10:30am communal worship service. There have been many requests for copies of his prompting, so we are publishing the manuscript below:
FPC Palo Alto 11 Mar 2018 10:30am
1 Corinthians 12:20-27
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 member, 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 you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
Becoming the Body of Christ
Normally when I preach at a church it is because I had been invited. This time however, I invited myself. I asked for this time because whenever there is a change in pastoral leadership, as the Presbytery Executive, I try to be in the pulpit as soon as I can.
So thank you for allowing me to invite myself into your pulpit.
Let us pray…
I’ve been thinking about you.
As the Executive Presbyter for the Presbytery of San Jose, I have the privilege of serving the now 36 Presbyterian congregations, fellowships, and new worshipping communities in the counties of Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Monterey. This means among other things, working with our Committee on Ministry to support congregations as pastors come and go.
As you can imagine, sometimes the departure is dramatic and other times it is the normal course of events in the life of a congregation.
So here’s what I’m thinking…while there is much attention paid to the change in pastors, I want to shift that focus from the pastor, to you, the congregation.
Because I believe that congregations are the heart and soul of the presbytery, and indeed the Church, capital C. Congregations are the hands and feet, the head and heart of the Church. I like to remind people (mostly pastors) that a church can exist without a pastor. But a church cannot exist with ONLY a pastor. That’s not a church…that’s just some dude or dudette with an MDiv.
I’ve known your church for a long time. I’ve known each of your pastors since I joined this presbytery in 1991, so that’s 27 years.
This Oct my wife and I will celebrate our 22nd wedding anniversary, remembering that we were married in this sanctuary. We made the request not only because of your lovely campus but my personal desire that if our guests were going to walk around a church and read the materials on the bulletin boards, I wanted them to see notes of inclusion and justice that are on your bulletin boards.
I know you….and I’ve been thinking about you recently.
A mix of emotions
If we’re honest we know that there has been a real mix of emotions in recent times
Happy and sad
Celebration and mourning
Anxiety, relief, disappointment, closure.
Maybe stronger feelings of anger, betrayal, frustration
You might feel, excitement at new possibilities or fear of the unknown that lies ahead.
You might be thinking “Now we can get on track!” Or maybe, “I’m tired and I’m done.”
A valuable resource in my work with Churches…the Bible.
I know it sounds obvious, but really, one the most helpful resources, especially the New Testament, and in particular, the letters of Paul
I used to not like the writings of Paul. I found them not as interesting at the OT, not as important as the Gospels. I didn’t understand him and I disagreed with him. I still do.
But the more I work with churches, the more I appreciated what Paul had to say to them. Don’t forget, his writings were all to churches.
Our text today describes the uniqueness and value of the various members of the congregation in Corinth. The value of unity and not uniformity
He ends this great chapter about the church being like a human body, that it is in fact the body of Christ, he ends the chapter this way “But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way,” and then goes on to write one of the most poetic descriptions of the meaning of love ever recorded.
“4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13)
Paul first reminds us that if we can speak like an angel, but don’t have love, we’re just a bunch of noise. And if we had the power of prophets and had all the knowledge in the world, or if we had so much faith that we could make a mountain move, without love, we’re nothing.
So, the first theologian of the church, the organizer of the first congregations in Christendom, is saying faith that can move mountains is meaningless without love.
He finishes this masterful chapter saying that in the end, all we have is faith, hope and love and the greatest of these three is love.
Most of us know that Paul is not talking about familial love or romantic love, or love between friends or even love of country. It is Christ-like love. It is sacrificial love. It is thinking-of-others- before-thinking-of-yourself love. It is love that goes to the margins and makes it the center.
And why does Paul write this letter?
He tells us why at the beginning. Remember this is a 16 chapter letter that he is writing to a church. In the first chapter, Paul says “it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.” I know, quarrels in the church…hard to believe, right?
He goes on, “12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1)
People were separating into groups, aligned with certain figures…I’m with Apollos…he’s with Paul…she’s with Cephas.
Paul reminds and encourages the church to remember whose church it is.
Was Paul crucified? No, Jesus was.
Were you baptized in Paul’s name? No, you were baptized in Jesus’ name.
The Body of Christ
As I mentioned Paul gives a masterful illustration of Christian fellowship as being like the human body with different parts, some important and honorable, some less so, and the fact that like the body, we’re all connected, and we need to treat one another not only the same, but maybe even treat the less honorable parts with more respect. Paul is no egalitarian here. He is not advocating for equality. He is saying the least, the les honorable should get more honor.
He reminds the church in Corinth, and us today that we’re the body of Christ. And again, if we are honest, we should say we’re trying to be the body of Christ. Which means sometimes we get it right, but sometimes we get it wrong. We can’t help it. We’re people. We have this tendency to mess up. (Love is not irritable? Man, I’m irritated all the time!)
I can think of no better symbol and reminder, than the Communion Table around which we regularly gather. You know the words and maybe repetition has a way of dulling our hearing, but Jesus said, “This is my body, broken for you.”
The table as a symbol and sign of both our brokenness, but also of our healing…of our redemption. Of our being accepted and loved. But it begins with our acknowledgment that we are broken too. If we have faith to move mountains but don’t have love, it means nothing…except that we have work to do.
I hope that for those who have been upset in recent time…lay down your anger.
I hope that for those who have stayed away…return to your faith community.
I hope that for any who may be thinking of leaving…I pray you reconsider and remain. Bless be the tie that binds.
You are about to enter a season of change.
I’ve heard it said that change is inevitable, but growth is optional.
Will it be a period of uncertainty? Yes.
Will there be anxiety? Well, it depends, but, yes.
Will you be without leadership? No.
Will you be alone, navigating unchartered waters? No.
Will you crash against the rocks? People, please…
Rob has left, Annanda is staying. And we’re staying, too. The Presbytery of San Jose, and the Committee on Ministry stand ready to assist, encourage, and support in whatever way we can. We are working with your session to secure pastoral leadership for the transition, and help you to begin the search process.
Since I started with Paul, and claimed that Paul has something to say to the church today, let me end with Paul words as well.
“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” (1 Cor 1:10)
Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.