In the shadow of the Apollo Temple sits the Corinthian church. They receive a letter one day from the Apostle Paul. He writes them that they are uninformed. They, who are stellar examples of Roman wisdom. They – who are in the shadow of THE religious place to be and have all the world at their finger tips – They do not know what they’re doing.
Paul explains that the people in the congregation once went to statues and idols who cannot speak, such as the ones in the Apollo Temple… but now they are led to another who CAN speak. Statues and idols cannot testify about a god, but the Holy Spirit of God that is in each believer CAN testify. So whenever someone says, “Jesus is Lord!” you know that person has God within them.
The people likely nodded, yes. This is true. But why bring it up?
So Paul explains his logic… since the Spirit of God is not in a temple or in statues, but it people…
… if John Dough looks different, and talks different, and worships differently… but testifies Jesus is Lord… he has the Holy Spirit in him.
If Jane Dough looks the same as you, speaks the same, and worships in the same place… but spits on Jesus’ name… she doesn’t have the Holy Spirit within her.
The testimony of Christians is not statues. Not crosses. Not churches. But people. We are the Temple of God. We are the body of Jesus. We are the bearers of the Holy Spirit.
People. Among people are where you find God.
The awful thing about that is that people are much harder to get along with than say, tolerating a beautiful temple in the middle of the city… or driving by that quaint church. Seeing a cross is pretty easy. Living the cross is hard. We even say someone is a “Good Christian” to mean they’re a Good Person… but a person living in the footsteps of Jesus is not good… they’re usually causing trouble, rocking the boat, demanding things change, and that the weak should ban together to take the power from the mighty. They’re sitting in protests and signing conscientious objections to war and all the other counter-cultural things that the Spirit leads them to live in to.
Often, they’re at odds with other Christians who have just as solidly held beliefs in other protests, and in going to war.
In Corinth, things were no different. People are people. And people are hard to get along with.
The church in Corinth was much like Saint Michael’s. And like us, they had particular gifts… some things the Spirit leads people to do… that they valued much more than others. We always have music every Sunday. And a sermon. And candle lighters. And a bell. Why don’t we have cookies every Sunday? Or dance? Or puppet shows? We pray every Sunday with words… but when do we pray with our hands? When we do speak in tongues? When do we do art and take long walks in nature?
Now, the church in Corinth began to think that just their way of knowing God was the right way. All the other ways of worshiping, of moving with the Spirit, and knowing the Divine was inferior. “They’re just not wise. We, we’re smart. We’re educated. We’re enlightened. We do it this way.”
Things got even more intense when it came to beliefs and activities. Corinth was fighting over whether or not it was okay to eat meat sacrificed to other gods… because if not… you pretty much had to go vegetarian in the city. They were also fighting about circumcision. And kosher. And just how Jewish or how Pagan a person could be and still be Christian.
Churches with one another and inside themselves are fighting today, too. We’re fighting over whether or not homosexuality is a sin. We’re arguing over how patriotic, or not, a person can be and still be a Christian. We’re debating the role of women in the church. We’re debating the role and place of children in the church. We’re debating what is and in whom and where CHURCH can be found. And we’ve been splitting over baptism for centuries.
Paul steps into the middle of this and says: you’re all different. You’re all different! If he were poetic, he might say: you are each a different wildflower in a field.
But there is only one Spirit in each of you. There is only one sun who shines on you. Because you are all different, you are beautiful. Because you are all different, you are united into community. The differences are gifts!
Our diversity is given to us for the common good.
We’re farmers. We know what monocropping is. It’s very efficient farming. We plant the same exact type of corn for several hundred acres and kill all the other plants. We know just when to harvest all that, we know what kinds of chemicals to use, we know just the machine for harvest. We know the kind of corn or soy or wheat we’re getting and don’t have to sift it out into different varieties and uses.
The problem with monocropping is that if a new virus springs up and eats THAT crop… the entire crop is gone with no back up.
Think… Irish potato famine. Most people in Ireland ate a potato called the Irish Lumper. A blight got into the crop and it spread like wildfire. Combine this with poverty, poor management, racism, and a host of other issues… and you have 2 million starving refugees and 1 million dead in the matter of 4 years. Monocrops are efficient… but risky. They don’t have a lot of flexibility and resiliency.
Diverse crops – like planting two varieties at once, or the old fashioned 3 sisters of corn, beans, and squash in one hole– are resilient and handle more blights, weather changes, and viruses. However, they’re the hardest to manage. Your garden is a diverse crop. It’s okay if its a bad tomato year – the corn did awesome. However, you had to put way more work into that diverse crop than in a monocrop.
Monocrop churches are efficient. Nothing is unplanned. But they’re fragile. Get a blight in there… a poor preacher. A poor organists. A poor parishioner… and things go badly.
Diverse crop churches are chaotic, but strong. It’s okay if something goes bad, the rest is still good. The next sermon or pastor will be better. The next organists or song will rock. I don’t like this parishioner, but I like all the rest.
Paul tells us to welcome the chaos and diversity. It’s what makes us strong. In the diversity of ideas and opinions and ways of knowing God we support one another for the common good. So if one person has an off day, the whole community isn’t ruined. We support the weak until they’re strong again. And if one person feels moved to protest gay rights because of scripture, and another feels moved to protest homophobia because of scripture, then because of scripture they can sit and talk and understand why the other feels so strongly.
For the common good we’re given DIVERSE gifts. Gifts of wisdom and insight. Gifts of intelligence and education. Gifts of healing faith and gifts of powerful prayers. Gifts of prophecy, and discernment, and yes – speaking in tongues and dancing in aisles and interpreting ancient languages and interpreting current affairs. Gifts of being the naysayer who finds holes in plans. Gifts of being dreamers who see what others cannot. Gifts of being a source of humor. A warm hug giver. The gift of holy tears. Gifts of understanding finances, or understanding poverty, or understanding loneliness. And gifts of Holy joy. Holy love.
The holy gift of presence.
All gifts of the Spirit are given for the common good, allotted in different amounts and given in great diversity, make us the strong vegetable garden that with stands whatever crazy weather we get.
Because we are united in the one Spirit, from our one Lord, of our one God. We’ve got one Gardener care taking for us who knows just what the plan of the garden is.
Our lectionary ties today’s reading from Paul’s letters with Jesus’ very first miracle. And it isn’t raising a person from the dead. It isn’t walking on water. It isn’t bread. It’s wine. Turning water into wine.
What a strange gift of the Spirit!
Can you imagine finding out your gift is making wine? What other weird gifts do we have hiding in our pews?
Jesus has a strange gift, but he knows just what gifts are supposed to be used for: the common good.
And so, that’s how he uses it.
There’s a wedding in the little village of Cana. The groom and bride are supposed to provide wine for as long as people stay and party with them. It’s tradition. Its good luck. Most importantly, its hospitality. Usually guest bring along a little wine or food for the party too. Think of it like a potluck. But, for whatever reason, the wine has run out. The party is going to be over early. The couple are going to start their wedding on a bad foot.
In the course of the world, its very small. An auspicious start to a wedding. So what? No one will die. No lives are ruined.
In the course of the world, most of us are very small. And our gifts are small. What good is a talent for cooking chili? Or a talent for understanding how to program a TV remote?
Jesus is reluctant to share. But Mary encourages him. There’s no silly gifts! ALL gifts are given for the common good of us all!
So Jesus goes and asks for the jars of water. And wedding servants… not the bride and groom, not their parents, not the guests… witness Jesus’ very first public miracle. Along with his disciples. Plain water, in jars meant for washing hands and dishes and ritual cleanliness, turns into the sweetest wine.
When the gift is shared, the sweetest delight is spread among the whole community. From God comes abundance! From God comes diversity! From God comes all good things!
The wedding’s party in the community is saved, and people continue to stay together happily.
The disciples begin to believe in Jesus after this. They begin to believe he IS heralding the in-breaking of God into the world in a brand new way. They begin to understand the generosity of God, the hospitality of God, and perhaps even the joy of God.
God rejoices over us!
When we’re sticking by each other, helping one another, using our gifts for one another – the heart of God is joyful!
For among people is where God delights to be.
And God delights to make each of us unique.