Last week I spoke a bit about how there are no insignificant people and no insignificant ministries in the Church. Given that before I made that statement I had said that I found it frustrating when people give me “yeah, but . . . “ about their own insignificance, one might well have thought that everyone would avoid that phrase in light of another. Boy was I wrong. Those who came to argue a bit were full of “yeah, but”’s. I get that the statement may have come out of the blue. One minute you are reading about the calling of two Apostles, the next moment you are being reminded that you are greater than John the Baptist. I get it. Thankfully, so does Paul. And so do our lectionary editors, whose selections this week help us continue that discussion.
I want you to look at this week’s reading from Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. Although he does not start with the reason for their or our significance, Paul certainly covers the ground later in the passage. It is clear from Paul’s letter that the church in Corinth is having issues. Let’s be honest. The letter will reveal that the church in Corinth has subscriptions. Paul starts off by writing that Chloe’s people that they are quarreling in the church. Yes, even in the early church there were fights and disagreements.
This one seems to be about the significance of the baptizer. Apparently, the Corinthians are placing significance upon the one who baptized them. Rome was a highly striated society, and everyone knew their place. My guess is that those in the church in Corinth were trying to determine their place in this new organization based upon the importance of the one who initiated them into the faith. One group is claiming they were baptized by Apollos; another is claiming to have been baptized by Cephas (Peter); yet another group is claiming to have been baptized by Paul. It would be like you all fighting that because some of you were baptized by Richard, others were baptized by Slavin, and others were baptized by Kathleen. It may sound silly to our ears, but we do not live in an honor bound, strictly striated society like Rome. Or do we?
Some among us would argue that there is class warfare afoot. The have’s want to keep the have-not’s without, or the have-not’s want the have’s to pay for their wants--that would be the two ways that is described by those who see that as a battle being fought among us. But even brushing that one aside, how often do we see ourselves divided among racial, educational, professional, gender, or age lines? I see the squirms. A bit of a spiritual wedgie, eh? In other parts of the country, those divisions may seem even stronger. Maybe you can think of a few more divisions that I have left unaddressed.
Divisions are bad enough in a country that likes to consider itself a melting pot. But in the Church? Paul writes the Corinthians and us that we should have no divisions. The Cross of Christ has done away with the old ways of understanding how we see ourselves and one another. None of those who did the baptizing did anything for the baptized. Neither Paul nor Apollos nor Peter was crucified for them. Only Christ was crucified, and only He has the power to redeem their very lives! In other letters, Paul will remind us that, as a consequence of our baptism, we are now adopted into the family of God. The moment that we are baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, our identity is forever altered. Our significance, our value, is found in the fact that He has saved us. Our worth is that He loves us! What’s worse, when we continue the divisions of the world along economic or educational or even sacramental lives, we revert to trusting the wisdom of the world instead of the foolishness of God.
Now, the idea that those in the Church ought to be without divisions probably seems clear to all of us. What may not be clear, given this week’s discussions, is how that same identity informs the significance of us and of our callings. If we truly become part of His Body, and if He truly becomes a part of us, it really is His Body doing the ministry. To put it in sacramental language, even in the Eucharist, we believe in this unity. When I say the words “Unite us to Your Son in His sacrifice, that we may be acceptable through Him, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit,” for what are you praying? Are you not praying to be unified with Him and all others who claim Him Lord? Are you not asking our Father to see His Son in you and you in Him?
Now, if our Father sees you doing ministry to His honor and glory, ministry to which He calls you, can you ever imagine Him considering it inconsequential? Can you ever imagine Him thinking any task to which He calls you is “meh?” Taking it a step further, if He sees His Son in you, how can you ever believe that He does not value you tremendously? Every time He rests His eyes upon you, He sees the visage of His Son. Let that sink in for just a minute. Actually, let yourself basque in that thought.
And it is in the blurring of distinctions, that blurring of divisions, that we begin to see His love, His value, of us. In fact, before the great AMEN we will pray that we will all enter the everlasting heritage of who? His sons and daughters. And how is that inheritance accomplished? Through the work and person of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, it seems somewhat out of place to me that we should need to spend a couple weeks reminding ourselves that our ministries are valued every bit as much as we are individually loved by God. There is much incredible work for the glory of God done around here. It pains me to think that so many place so little a value on their contribution. Hear this, and hear it well: the ministry that occurs at St. Alban’s requires each and every one us. Like the wider Body of Christ, this parish requires the gifts and talents of each and every one of us to accomplish His mission. Perhaps your contribution is financial, perhaps your contribution is an outflow of your talents or passion, maybe your big contribution is a gift of some of that time of which the world tries to convince us that we do not have enough. It does not matter how big or how little that ministry may seem in your eyes. What matters is what He intends to accomplish through your efforts. He places the value on all our ministries, just as He values each one of us. Our baptism, brothers and sisters, gives us all the identity we need or could want. His wisdom and His power, give all our work on His behalf the certainty of success, even in the midst of our seeming failures or our seeming insignificance.