January 27, 2019 – Is Any Body Out There? – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000117
What did you do in the year 2018? I don’t lead a very exciting life, so it’s not too hard for me to come up with a list of accomplishments and activities for the past year. I actually travelled somewhere in 2018, which was very unusual for me – I spent two weeks in Dublin, Ireland. Aside from that, I did what priests do: I celebrated Eucharist about 65 times, I officiated at X number of funerals, I visited people and prayed and blessed dogs and cats and led meetings and studied and cooked and cleaned. And I also did what wives and moms do: I cooked hundreds of meals and baked dozens of loaves of bread. I did a couple hundred loads of laundry and washed thousands of dishes and fed cats and dogs and re-arranged the furniture a few times. I prayed, and I picked out birthday presents and wrote letters and spent a lot of time on the phone trying to keep in touch with people who live way too far away.
But that isn’t all I did this past year. Because I am a complex living organism, just like you all, I’ve been busy with all kinds of things I wasn’t even aware of. According to a Reader’s Digest report, in 2018 I processed more than 315 million bits of visual information, I took about 8 million breaths, pumping almost 6 million mL of oxygen into my lungs. My heart beat about 40 million times, pumping close to 800,000 gallons of blood through my body. I produced 63 million million new red blood cells. My kidney filtered over half a million liters of blood. And here’s the real stunner – each and every one of the 200 billion neurons in my body sent 31 ½ billion signals to my brain. I can’t even do that math. Just being alive is way more of a full-time activity than most people ever realize.
This week, I have been occupied with remembering and recording the accomplishments and activities of this Body of St. Philip’s, the Body we call the Church. At the same time as I was getting ready for this Annual Meeting today, I was filling out the required paperwork for the Parochial Report that we have to send in to the Diocese and to the National Church every year. It’s pretty interesting to look back over a whole year of life as this local Body of Christ. We are a small church, but you’ll be hearing from several people at the luncheon that we are busy with a number of good things. I’ll let them share their stories with you, but in addition to the ministry reports you’ll be hearing there are a few other things I wanted to share with you.
At the heart of our life together we remember that we came together every week to sing and pray, to hear the Word of God read and opened up, and to share the food of our common life together, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. That’s so normal that maybe we don’t even think twice about it, but it is as important to us as eating and drinking and sleeping are to our physical body. And of course there is so much more to our life together.
One important thing we do together is to study and learn. Over this past year, our Tuesday morning Bible study has continued to meet faithfully. We’re a small group – about 7 of us, usually. This year we have studied – or kind of meandered, you might say – through the gospel of John. It was so enjoyable I think most of us felt like we’d like to go back to chapter 1 and start all over when we got to the end! There are about a dozen of us who are also working our way through a wonderful book called Walk in Love, which talks about it means to be Episcopalian – what our specific beliefs and practices are, what this Book of Common Prayer is that we spend so much time with, and sharing our experiences before we came to the Episcopal Church. Sue and Andy Smith have graciously opened their home to us for these monthly classes, and we’ll be continuing on with the study in 2019. I love and value books and reading a lot, so reading and study is something I especially love to bring to our life together.
Another thing that brings great joy to me personally is feeding people. And so, another of our ministries that is dear to my heart is our monthly Community Dinner. Each month of the past year we never knew whether we’d be feeding a multitude, or just a few neighbors and friends, but we always seemed to have an abundance, all seasoned with love and served up with grace. Some people come in real need of a good meal. Other people come in hungry for some company, a friendly face, a listening ear. We’re here to feed hearts and spirits as well as stomachs. We have a lot to offer, and we do.
Certainly one of the most exciting happenings of our past year – really several years – is that we have had the great privilege of being part of Helen’s journey through discernment towards ordination as a Deacon. We have all been blessed many times over as we have watched Helen grow in so many ways – in confidence, in compassion, in understanding, and in faithfulness to her Lord. And this coming year we expect to come together to celebrate Helen’s ordination right here in this very sanctuary, the fruition of so much prayer and study and hard work, as well as the abundant grace of God.
The numbers of the Parochial Report tell us that we have grown a little in membership this year. The mystical figure we call the ASA – annual Sunday attendance – is up by three! But life in the Body of Christ, like life in a human body, is made up of so much more than numbers and activities and meetings. And thank God for that. Whether we think about it or not, being the Body of Christ isn’t something that only happens from 10 to 12 on Sundays. We don’t become the Body of Christ when we step onto the hallowed grounds of our Church property. We don’t begin to be the Body of Christ after the opening prayer of a Vestry meeting or a Bible study. Just like our physical body is breathing, and pumping blood, and processing information, and sending out signals continually, whether we are aware of it or not, we are the living Body of Christ at all times and in all places and in all circumstances.
Paul came up with this metaphor of the body, to help us understand what the Church is, and how it functions. And it’s a really good one. It is pretty easy to assume that the Church is just another kind of social club, organized for religious purposes, and there are a lot of Churches that seem to function like clubs. People look for a church that is “like-minded”, where everybody thinks about issues in pretty much the same way. They want a church that gives them what they feel they need: Sunday School for the kids, a singles group for singles, bouncy, enthusiastic worship music – or maybe good old traditional hymns. And they want a Church where their gifts will be recognized and valued. Now that people aren’t rooted in one neighborhood like they once were, there isn’t any need to be tied to a local church or parish – we’re free to pick and choose, or float around if we wish, to get what we really want.
But Paul paints a rather different picture of how the Church comes together. First of all, he says, we aren’t here as discerning consumers. We are here, Paul says, because we have been chosen by God. Peter uses a different image to make the same point: “As you come to Jesus, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves, like living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
It goes against the grain, in our society that values free will above pretty much everything, to say that we are here in this room not primarily because we have chosen to be here, but because we have been chosen. But think what that really means. You belong, not because you want to belong, but because you are wanted. And not only because you are wanted, but because you are essential.
Just as each organ of your body has a special purpose without which you wouldn’t be able to be fully functional, so every one, absolutely everyone, in the Body of Christ is special, and uniquely valuable. “If everybody was an eye,” Paul says, “how would the body enjoy the scent of roses or freshly-baked bread? If everybody was a hand, how would the body walk, or run, or dance? And if everybody was a foot, how would the body tie its shoes?” There is not one person here who is not absolutely essential to our abundant life as this living organism we call the Church.
And that means that who we are, and the gifts we each bring into this community, are not for our own benefit. Back to the nose – the nose doesn’t have the power of receiving lovely scents because it is the one organ that really enjoys good smells. No, when the nose picks up a scent, it immediately sends some of those billions of messages up to the brain to say, “Hey, there’s some bread just ready to come out of the oven.” or “The Church is full of the aroma of incense this morning.” or “The dog just came in out of the rain.” And when the brain gets the message, the whole body responds, by slicing some hot bread and slathering it with butter and devouring it, or by settling quietly into a quiet and holy time of prayer, or by running to get a towel to dry the dog off. That wonderful olfactory gift that only the nose has is there to serve the whole body.
Your gifts of kindness, or skill, or wisdom, or strength, they are for me, and for all of us. My gifts of being a bookworm, or a mom, or whatever other gifts I might posses, such as they are – they are for you. That’s how the Church works. It is a beautiful system, designed by the very One who designed the human body itself, the One who knitted each and every one of us together in the womb of our mother. It’s not a Sunday-morning thing. It’s a way-of-life thing. It’s not what we do. It’s who we are.