All Crew, No Passengers
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Sunday, January 23, 2022
When you move into a new home, part of the settling in process is getting used to all the new sounds. The washer and dryer, the dishwasher, the street traffic – it all sounds different. But those are the standard noises in a house. There was one noise that we hear in our house that I was simply not used to hearing. It was this series of loud, low, horns. I ran out to the front door to see what in the world was going on. And of course, silly me, it was the cruise ship leaving port. You can see them coming and going from our front porch. Our house is so close, that other clergy in the Episcopal church who are going on cruises will now call me and ask if they can park at our house. I should probably start charging.
Anyway, that first time, I stood out there and watched that cruise ship leave. And you can see the people, standing up on the decks and in their windows waving and drinking and partying and dancing and having a grand old time. From the looks of it, they are having a blast without a worry in the world.
But you know where my mind goes – there are lots of people working to make sure the passengers don’t have to worry. You can’t see them, but you know they are there. The captain and the officers. The people cooking the food, serving the meals, cleaning the cabins. The crew down there in the bowels of the ship, running the engine. The truck drivers who delivered the supplies, the people at the port who fuel up the ship; there are thousands and thousands of unseen people, crew in some sort of capacity, that are responsible for making sure the cruise actually happens. It takes a lot of people working hard to make sure the passengers hardly have to work.
It takes a lot of people to make this thing called “church” go, and yet on Sunday mornings, we hardly see them. We don’t see the Treasurer and the bookkeeper balancing the books or cutting the checks. We don’t see the Vestry and Staff meet, pray, make plans. We don’t see the Altar Guild set the table, we don’t see the Sunday school volunteers and nursery workers raise our kids, we don’t see the choir and organist practice. We don’t see the building staff come in early to unlock the doors, turn on the lights, and, most importantly, make the coffee. It takes a lot of people, often working behind the scenes, to make this thing go.
This is just another way to say what Saint Paul has already said. “Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 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. 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. 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? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 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.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 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; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (I Corinthians 12).
The captain of the cruise ship can’t do anything without the lowliest mechanic in the engine room. Without both of them, the cruise wouldn’t go anywhere. The rector of the church can’t do anything without every member ready and willing to serve. Without all of us, without the entire body, without all of us, doing our parts, this whole thing just wouldn’t happen.
As the parish and congregation of Trinity Church gather for our Annual Meeting today, we must keep this image in our mind. Every single one of us has a gift from God. But these gifts are not the ones that we can keep to ourselves. These gifts are supposed to be used for the church, for each other.
Especially after these bizarre last two years, we need you. I am asking for your renewed presence, your gifts, your commitments to this church. Without you, this thing just won’t go. You’ll hear/You’ve heard me enumerate some of those needs during our Annual Meeting. They are many. Just as the challenges and opportunities that face us are many. But I believe that God has given Trinity Church all that we need to thrive in the years to come. And what God has given us for this thriving, for this ministry is not our historic building, it is not our financial assets, it is not our traditions – it is you; the Body of Christ gathered for worship and for each other.
In other words, what I’m asking for, is that we would be all crew, no passengers. God has given each of us something. But that thing, that talent, that spiritual gift is only any good if you use it for someone else, if you use it for the Church. Or, to use Saint Paul’s image of the body, we are all critical organs. There will is not appendix among us.
Every person, every role, is critical. And this is what I promise you, as so many of you already know. The measure you give is the measure you get back. That was one of the things I discovered when I was in your place, when I was a lay person in the pews. When I showed up, when I started exploring and learning about my faith, when I started serving, and giving, and offering myself to the Church and to my brothers and sisters, the wildest thing happened. It’s not that the Church took my life, it’s that the Church gave me life. An abundant life, a more meaningful life. Trinity Church has work to do – we need to restart our youth group, we have to oversee a school, we need revitalize our mission and service to our local community, we need to bolster our worship with choir and servers and acolytes, we need to think about how we can partner closer with St. Vincent’s House, we need to think about overseas missions, we have medical students to feed and care for, we have committees that need to make sure the church runs. The list goes on and on. This thing called Trinity Church has some places to go. To get where we’re going we need all crew, no passengers. And that’s you. The future is bright, and with God’s help, you will make it so.
Allow me to end with a story, a story from my first Sunday here. We had a great worship service and we had lunch and the bounce house and all that outside on the lawn. But, you know, I noticed things. I noticed the trash cans filling up, the trays of food, the dishes that needed to be cleaned. I noticed all the little things that would have to be done before I could go home. See, in other churches where I worked, I had to notice these things. I’m not too proud to move tables and chairs to a Parish Hall. I’ve hauled trash bags to the dumpster. Goodness, back in Virginia, when the church basement flooded, it was me, the Senior Warden, and the rector digging an actual ditch around the church. So as things were wrapping up on that Sunday last August, I went to one of you starting asking all those questions, “who are the volunteers to clean up? Where do these tables go? How do we lock up? Who’s going to take care of all this stuff?” And one of you looked at me and laughed and said, “oh, we have people for that.” It’s amazing, we do, like I said, have an amazing custodial staff that does that sort of thing.
But now that I look at everything we have to do in front of us, I’m going to turn that back to you – “oh, we have people for that.” You are those people. This work in front of us, this ministry, is something that we must do. I’m not asking you to sacrifice yourselves. I’m not asking you to spend every waking minute working, worrying, doing something for the Church, I’m not asking you to dig ditches. But I am asking you to remember that you are part of the Body of Christ, and no matter how large or small, how seemingly important or insignificant, you have critical part to play. Without you, this thing just can’t go. We are all crew, no passengers.