Sermon for Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 5, 2012
My TV watching habits have been highly uncharacteristic in the last week because I’ve been hooked on the Olympics. There is some intangible quality about these sporting events that makes them riveting. Whether it’s water polo or weightlifting, basketball or badminton, tennis or track – I have been watching whenever I get a chance.
Part of my interest in the Olympics stems from my own athletic experience. I run quit a bit. I’ve lifted weights before, and I can ride a bike. I know how to swim, and I can shoot a free-throw. But those men and women, the best of the best, competing at the highest level, is both awe-inspiring and humbling. I can swim, but I’m no Michael Phelps. I can play basketball, but Kevin Durant can play basketball.
Take Jamaican track star Usain Bolt for example – the fastest man alive. Sure, I can sprint a 100 meters, but he breaks world records for fun. Now take a moment, and think of what Usain Bolt requires of his body to run 100 meters in under ten seconds. First of all, Usain Bolt has to trust his ears. If he starts running before the starting gun, then he’ll be disqualified. Then Usain’s legs have to explode out of the blocks and push forward with incredible force – force enough to bring his whole body up to a running position. Of course, his arms have to work pretty hard to in order to run that fast. And don’t forget the other parts of the body that Usain has to rely on: he needs his eyes to see the track, he needs his mouth and lungs to breathe, and his heart to pump. He needs his pre-race meal to be digesting properly and a hundred other little things that we amateurs probably don’t know anything about.
It is not Usain Bolt’s legs that smash world records. It is not his arms or his ears or his eyes or anything else individually. For Usain Bolt to win gold medals in the 100 meter dash, he relies on his entire body.
A lesson that is not lost on the apostle Paul. In writing to the Ephesians, Paul says “there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.” He goes on to say that anybody who is in Christ is given gifts of grace. “The gifts God gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.” Everybody in the Christian community has different gifts. Some gifts are not better than others, because all gifts are necessary to build up the body of Christ. And that is us! We are the body of Christ.
Paul ends this passage with an image that is not far removed from our example of Usain Bolt. The whole body is joined and knit together by every ligament. And when each part is working properly, then the health of the whole body is promoted in building itself up in love.
Then question is then: which part of the body are you? Are you an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a pastor, a teacher? What are you?
Sadly, it happens too often that when somebody says, “I want to do the work of ministry,” we send them off to seminary in order to become a priest. Our language about Christian gifts and ministry have been wrapped up into our ideas about the clergy.
But that’s not the way Paul is thinking about it. Paul is reminding us that everybody who is baptized is a minister. It’s baptism, not ordination, that sets people apart for the work of ministry. Now sure, there are different kinds of ministry. Not everybody, thank God, is called to be a priest. In the same way, not everybody is called to teach children’s Sunday School, not everybody is called to serve on the Vestry, not everybody is called to visit the sick. But if you have been baptized, then you have been commissioned by God for some work of ministry.
Figuring out what that ministry is can be difficult. Honesty is required as you reflect on your life with God. But that’s not the hardest part. The hardest part about living in the Body of Christ is trust. As Christians, we have to trust one another. We trust that the teachers in children’s chapel are teaching our kids about Jesus. We trust that the Vestry is being responsible with caring for our finances and property. You trust that I dedicate myself to teaching this community. I trust that each one of you will pray and work, in your own way, for Holy Comforter Episcopal Church. Even though we don’t see what everybody else is doing, as the Body of Christ we trust that everybody will do their part.
Usain Bolt wouldn’t win a single race if his eyes were always checking on his feet. He would never smash world records if his legs didn’t trust his ears to know when to start. Usain Bolt needs his arms, mouth, eyes, ears, heart, lungs, and feet to win a foot race. They all have different functions, but they all work together for the common goal.
Christians are the same way. When all parts of the body are working together,when each of us do our ministry, then we maturing and strengthening the body of Christ. There is simply no other way to go about it. We can’t do this thing alone. Legs don’t win races by themselves. Priests, or senior wardens, or Sunday School teachers are not the only ministers. The whole Church, everybody, has a ministry. God doesn’t look at your age, your race, your gender, or anything else about you; God doesn’t care if you were baptized fifty years ago or yesterday. But God does care that you are using the gifts you were given.
And finally, doing the work of ministry and building up the Body of Christ is a marathon, not a sprint. When you were baptized, you signed up for the long haul. Usain Bolt runs his races in under 10 seconds. But as Christians, we run our race, and do our ministry, for as long as we have breath.
So lace up your shoes and get a drink of water. It’s going to be a long run. Your work of ministry won’t take place in a season, but over the course of a lifetime. And think of every week as a lap on the track. Each Sunday you celebrate that you ran your lap, so refill yourself with Word and Sacrament, and go out and run another lap. And don’t burn yourself out. Set a pace that you can maintain for the rest of your life. Because it’s not a race. There is no prize for being the best evangelist or apostle or prophet or teacher. If you finish before everybody else, you aren’t going to receive a gold medal. Your run, your work of ministry, is marked by trust and cooperation, not competition.
Jesus has called you to run a marathon. And along the way, along this long and arduous journey we call ministry, Jesus expects that we trust one another. When we are thirsty, Jesus asks that we give one another a drink. When we need help doing our ministry, when the task is too big, Jesus asks us to trust that our brothers and sisters will help. And of course when, not if, we fall and stumble, the arms of Jesus – which will be the arms of your fellow Christians – will reach out and pull you up. It’s a long run we have before us. But we’re not alone. Look around this church – here are your teammates, here are your running partners. Here is the Body of Christ.