The Christian congregation in Corinth is an experiment … a laboratory. The question under investigation is this: what happens when you put unlike elements, indeed, natural enemies—say, lions and tigers and bears—into one room and close the door?
In this test, in this experiment of the Christian congregation in Corinth, Jesus has attracted together into one room natural enemies: Jews and Gentiles, slaves and slave owners, women and men. Volatile, combustible combinations.
And everyone is watching. Everyone from God up in heaven to the pagan neighbor next door. Everyone wants to see what will happen … and, they are taking bets on how long this can go on … how long these unlike elements, these natural enemies, can manage together without eating each other …
Everyone, from God up in heaven to the pagan neighbor next door is waiting for the fireworks … for the moment that the slave’s resentment at the slave-holder boils up and over … for the moment the men forget themselves—forget their brand new Christian humility—and revert to their old, familiar roles, by which by size and strength and gender and tradition they are to be served and not to serve.
So there they are—all squeezed together in one room, so much closer together than they are used to … than is natural… pacing and circling, eyeing and assessing each other, each other’s intentions, each other’s strengths and weaknesses … natural fears, competitions, resentments simmering when a young brother runs into the room. He is waving a scroll of parchment and he announces … a letter from Paul!
One of the more literate among them grabs the parchment, unrolls it and reads aloud: “Look at each other,” writes Paul, “take a good look at one another: You are different”, Paul concedes … “different folks of different strokes.”
He concedes this … how different they are, how unlike … he concedes that Jews and Gentiles, slaves and masters, women and men, rich and poor, are unlike … more than unlike: they are enemies and adversaries.
But then Paul says this: that because of one thing … because each of you has met Christ and confesses that Jesus is Lord … because of these three words… you, Christ-confessors, belong to one another. As different as you are … as different as the pinky is from the leg, you are one body … one in Christ.
We are here this afternoon, because we confess that Jesus is Lord, however differently it sounds in each of our mouths, … and because of that … because of those three words, everything is changed … and we can no more extract ourselves from one another, than a toe can willingly extract itself from its foot.
We are here this afternoon: we have been called and compelled into relationship with one another because we have been called and compelled into a relationship with Christ … and because, by God’s and the Spirit’s grace, we are gifted for the purpose of the common good.
Did you hear that, church? Did you take it in? St Paul claims that to each (each and all), to every blessed one of us, is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
Each of us, every blessed one of us, despite our stammering, faulty, halting, broken selves … has been given some gift … not for ourselves … not for our own edification or enjoyment … not for the purpose of making money or making merry… but for the common good…
How cool is that?
So, here’s the question for you: What is it? What did you get? This is like Christmas! Everyone has been given a present. What did you get?
Here is what Paul imagines. He imagines us unwrapping our presents together … surprising and delighting in each other’s gifts. And, since none of us gets to run off alone to our room with our gift to enjoy it in solitude, since it is intended for the common good, whatever you have been gifted with, is a delight to us all.
With what gift did the Spirit gift you? Wisdom? Knowledge? Faith? The gift of healing? Or, are you a miracle worker? Or, a prophet, perhaps? Or a discerner? Or a communicator? Or, an interpreter? A teacher? Are you gifted in generosity, in forgiveness, or mercy … Or righteous anger? Are you a gifted reader? A gifted gardener, knitter or mission tripper? Musical or mathematical? Are you witty or winsome? Athlete or aesthete?
We are here this afternoon because the Spirit and the Church have been unwrapping the gift with which Brent Roger Damrow has been gifted … one gift among many … neither a lesser gift nor a better gift than anyone else’s… but a particular gift … the gift of a sacramental ministry, a teaching and preaching ministry ….
To be honest, to be gifted for ministry is rather a mixed blessing … It is to be biblically and theologically learned, yet accessible. It is to be charismatic, but not sensual; humble, yet exciting; close to God, yet down to earth; holy, yet approachable. It is to be a follower of Jesus without offending those for whom following Jesus is unseemly. It is to be a paragon of discretion and confidentiality, yet wide open. It is to be kind and gentle, yet strong and confident. It is to be forgiving, full of grace, the sort of tender-hearted soul that we would welcome at our worst moments: when we are dying, or when confessing to a terrible sin. It is to be a peace-maker and a bridge-builder, but not without the capacity for righteous anger and not without the strength to overturn tables. It is to witness to the joy that is in us, while carrying within us lamentation for all the grief of our world.
None of us is fit for ordination … any more than any of us is fit for the kingdom. And, yet, for reasons the Spirit alone understands, God sometimes places a huge, heavy, present in front of us, and claims us, despite ourselves, for this work. Feeble and woefully ill-equipped, God whispers into our ears and into our hearts and says, come, follow.
And once that has happened—whether to Paul of Tarsus, or Theresa of Avila, or Martin of Montgomery, or Brent of Boston—well, there is not much we or anyone can do about it. It is a done deal by then … we own the gift and try to learn to live with it … into it.
The Christian Church is an experiment … a laboratory. In this experiment Jesus has attracted together into one room natural enemies: Jews and Gentiles, slaves and slave owners, women and men, rich and poor, housed and homeless, conservative and liberal, evangelical and reformed, Praise music and Gregorian chant, urban and Sub-urban… ONA and no damned way! Those who bring communion to Occupy Boston and those who condemn the movement. Volatile, combustible combinations.
And everyone is watching. The agnostic neighbor next door is watching, but more to the point, God up in heaven is watching and biting God’s lips.
Everyone wants to see what will happen … and, they are taking bets on how long this can go on … how long these unlike elements, these natural enemies, can manage together without eating each other … and we begin to wonder ourselves … and just then someone runs into the room … someone like Brent of Boston and he is breathless with news … Good News! and he is waving a scroll of parchment and he announces … “A letter from Paul!”
The letter is handed to Jonathan. Jonathan unrolls the scroll: And one more time we listen to those ancient words:
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same LORD; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same GOD who activates all of them in everyone.”
And those who are laying bets on this experiment—agnostics and atheists, skeptics and cynics, and God herself—they are looking in through the windows and listening at the doors … and they observe what looks like Christmas … this odd, unnatural, kaleidoscope of different people, rich and poor, housed and homeless, conservative and liberal, evangelical and reformed … Praise music and Gregorian Chant. Urban and Sub-urban… ONA and no damned way! unwrapping presents, oohing and ahhing at the gifts … gifts of the Spirit … gifts given to us, to each of us, for the common good.
Now, how cool is that?
A sermon preached on the occasion of the Ordination of Brent R. Damrow to Christian Ministry