A Celebration Of Wholeness
1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 14-22
A few years ago, I had a book entitled I Am Joe's Body. It was a compendium of articles from the Reader's Digest about different parts of the body. One was called "I Am Joe's Eye," another "I Am Joe's Spine," another "I Am Joe's Liver" and so on. I tried to find the book, but apparently it was the casualty of a move. It would have made a wonderful illustration of Paul's words to the Corinthians about the many parts of the one body and how they function together in such a way as to exalt the whole.
The chapter called "I Am Joe's Pituitary Gland," for example, probably said something like this: "I am Joe's pituitary gland--a small, oval endocrine gland attached to the base of his brain. I secrete hormones that influence many other functions of Joe's body, such as his growth, his metabolism, and the activity of other endocrine glands. Joe could not function without me, although I am very small indeed, and he is unaware of my presence until something goes wrong with me.
This was Paul's point to the Corinthians, who had apparently been having trouble getting along with one another in the church because some of them thought they were more important than others. "There are many parts," said Paul, "yet one body. The eye can not say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you."' All the parts are important.
Dr. Paul Brand expounds on this in his book Fearfully and Wonderful Made. When I listen to music, says Dr. Brand, I can detect sound frequencies that flutter the eardrum as faintly as one billionth of a centimeter. That is only one-tenth the diameter of a hydrogen atom. This vibration is transmitted into my inner ear by three bones known as the hammer, anvil, and stirrup. When the middle C note is struck on a piano, tin piston of bones in my inner ear vibrates 256 times per second. Farther in are individual cilia, like the rods and cones of the eye, that transmit specific messages of sound to the brain. Whenever anything goes wrong with any part of the ear--with the hammer or the anvil or the stirrup or the cilia--hearing is distorted or destroyed. Even the smallest parts of the body are important to the body's total well-being.
Paul was trying to accomplish two things with his analogy--he was trying to encourage the more modest members of the congregation at Corinth to feel and behave like significant parts of the whole and he was trying to bring a little humility into the lives and attitudes of other members who tended to think too highly of their contributions to the whole. In other words, he was trying to bring harmony into their fellowship by emphasizing a celebration of wholeness in the Spirit of God.
Maybe there were no really large churches at the time when Paul wrote to the Corinthians, and apparently there were no churches with professional staffs such as we know today. Had there been such churches and staffs, I wonder if Paul would riot have advised the members of the church,--"look at your staff members and try to get along with one another the way they do," for staff members in a church function as a kind of church within the church. They have to get along like the parts of the body or they are not able to function at all.
We have set aside this Sunday, which is "Church Vocation Day" in many denominations to honor our church staff. They are here today wearing nametags for identification, because, in a large metropolitan church like ours, many of you have never met some of them. Although they play an important part in our functioning, some of them work almost anonymously, without any visibility in the congregation. We want you to know them, to recognize them and the part they play in our life, and to have a chance to visit with them. Following the service, they will be in the forecourt, to mingle with you during a reception time.
All of them-the custodians, the housekeeper, the secretaries, the records keeper, the financial secretary, the business manager, the business manager's assistant, the communications director, the receptionist, the music coordinator, the manager of the Thrift Shop, the clerks in the Thrift Shop, the women's coordinator-are invaluable parts of the whole. When one of them is ill or absent, we know it. The body doesn't function the way it should. They are important to us as persons, and they are important for the functions they serve.
I want to speak of three of these functions:
First, these dedicated workers take care of the practical matters of the church. They keep the church clean, they see that the bills are paid, they prepare and mail our newsletters, they type and send the hundreds of communications, they answer the phones, they coordinate the meetings. They do things. I have always had a healthy respect for people who can perform basic functions.
So did Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great American philosopher. once Emerson. and his son were engaged for half an hour with trying to force a calf into the barn so they could shut it up for the night. They struggled and wrestled, they pushed and pulled, but the stubborn calf was too much for them. When at last they gave up, a farmhand who had been watching in amusement walked over, stuck in his finger in a milk pail, then placed it in the calf's mouth. The calf, seduced by this maternal imitation, placidly followed the men Into the barn. Emerson went into the house, washing the bovine smell from his hands, and wrote in his diary: "I like people who can do things."
People who can do things are priceless assets to any church. I once watched a woman arranging flowers in Worcester Cathedral in England. She was doing such a deft and beautiful job that I had to compliment her. "Oh," she said, "it's just a little thing-I can't do important things like preach and teach, so I fiddle with the flowers." I looked at the great stone pulpit next to where she was working. It had a carving of St. Paul on the side of it. In the centuries, one of Paul's hands had been broken off. "But it's appropriate," I said to her, "that you are doing what Paul has no hand to do. He can preach, but you make the surroundings beautiful!"
I have on my shelf a set of biographies of famous people I have had for years. One is called Living Biographies of Great Composers Another is Living Biographies of Great Poets. Another is Living Biographies of Great Scientists, and so on. I have long wondered why there wasn't a volume called Living Biographies of Great Secretaries, for I don't know whom the world would be if it hadn't been for all the faithful copyists and typists and filers and receptionists who have kept our organizations going all these centuries.
I have had three secretaries in my lifetime, and every one has been a jewel. I could not have continued to work for a year without them. I know why George Bernard Shaw purchased a monument for his housekeeper and gardener when they died, and said they made, it possible, by doing everything for him, for him to write the great plays he wrote. I feel the same way about the secretaries I have had.
Our staff members take care of things.
Second, they also provide spiritual help to people. We may think of the ministers giving the spiritual help and the other staff members providing only the logistical support, but this is not always the case. Many people find real personal assistance, of the kind they need for living, from various members of the church staff.
There are people who have told me they sometimes call the church merely to hear the pleasant voice of our receptionist, when they phone. It's true-I know I really shouldn't bother her," said one person, "but there are times when I get lonely and her caring voice makes me feel better."
I have watched the school children reacting to our custodians from time to time. Some of them have a playful relationship together. I know that when those children graduate and leave our school, their lives will be enriched and influenced by their memories of those custodians and how friendly they were.
Many people go to the manager of our Thrift Shop with their problems. Maybe it is the setting--people feel comfortable in talking about themselves in an environment of old clothes and old furnishings. But it is also the personality of the manager. She listens and cares. She is a sympathetic ear,
And secretaries cannot tell you how many times people have said to me, sometimes people all the way across the country, "Oh, your secretary was so helpful to me when I called. She was so cheerful, and I felt better after talking to her." Often I receive letters from people with little appendices asking me to say hello to Virginia or to another of the secretaries who has talked with them when they have called and needed something,
Last is ministry. We may be paying these people to perform basic functions, but they also ministering in the name of Christ and this church.
I remember the secretary of the church where I grew up and experienced the call to ministry. Her name was Lillian Vaughan--Miss Vaughan. If there was ever a woman who was married to Christ and the church, she was the woman. No nun in a convent was ever more devoted than she was. Miss Vaughn was the surrogate minister of the church to many of us young people. She was always at her desk, as regular as clockwork, and we were always welcome to drop by after school or in the summertime to see her and talk about whatever was on our minds. Sometimes she continued with her work, if she was under a deadline, but she always had an ear to listen and a heart to counsel.
Years later, I dedicated a book to Miss Vaughn. She meant that much to me.
I know there are persons on our staff here who mean that much to other people too. They are the unacknowledged, unordained ministers of this congregation.
Third, and finally, our staff members model the body of Christ in our church. They exhibit in their interactions from day to day and week to week the kind of behavior, the kind of respect for one another and one another's gifts, we want to exist in the church as a whole.
Last fall I was invited to address a conference of United Methodist church ministers and staff members; on the interrelationships of staff members--how they should regard and behave toward one another. The conference was canceled only a few days before the date it was to meet, so I never got to give my speech. But what I was going to say was that a church staff should be a family, and that it should model for the church as a whole what the family of God truly is.
If God is not honored in the relationships of the church staff, then where will God be honored in our society? If we cannot be a family, and treat one another as members of the family of God, then how can we expect a congregation, that is much larger and more diverse, to behave as the family of God when they come together?
So I expect our staff to perform the theological function of modeling the family of God, and I believe, by and large, that we do it. If you could feel the hurt when one of our members is sick or having a problem, or the joy when something good happens to one of us, you would understand what I mean. We are brothers and sisters, or we parents and children. But we are all family. We are really here for one another. We try to do little things that make one another feel good about life and about ourselves.
David Finn was a good friend of Henry Moore, the great British sculptor. Once he was with Moore in a hotel room In New York when Moore opened his suitcase and saw how neatly his wife Irena had packed it for him. "That's what true love is all about," Moore said gently.
We see a lot of true love around the church--far more than I'll wager is seen around most offices and corporations.
And that is what St. Paul said is the outcome of being parts of the body of Christ. He gave his analogy of the body in 1 Corinthians 12, and it is only a preface to the famous l3th chapter, which begins: "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." This famous "Hymn to Love" goes on to say:
Love is patient and kind; love is riot jealous or boastful it is not arrogant or rude. Love does riot insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Cor.13:4-7
You might say this is the motto of our staff, and we honor them today because of what they do for us, both physically and spiritually, but most of all because of the way they model for us the beautiful family of God, where love is the atmosphere that makes everything possible.
Dr. John Killinger First Congregational Church of Angels
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