Archive for Saint Paul

“Boasting In the Cross of Christ” (September 13, 2015; The Installation of Paul M. Quick as Head of Ascension Episcopal School, The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Lafayette, Louisiana)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , on September 14, 2015 by montgomerybrandt

“May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

Galatians 6.14[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

During the course of my final year at my previous parish in Tuscaloosa, a couple of my campus ministry students and I took a trip to see the Roman Catholic Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, located 104 miles northeast in Hanceville, Alabama in Cullman County. While walking up one of the outside porticos, we came upon a tall crucifix affixed to the wall at its end. Although I had seen many other crucifixes before, the one that we saw that day was unlike any other. Whereas a majority of crucifixes show Christ hanging on the cross with a look of agony that is restrained and somewhat romanticized, this particular crucifix exhibited Christ in an agony that was not at all restrained, totally devoid of dignity, and in which the emotion made the worst kick in the gut that I had ever felt. Our Lord’s body was completely covered in scars, so much so that it looked like there was hardly any skin left on His body. Every part of His body, from head to toe, was covered with dripping blood. There were gapping wounds and pulsing veins. Looking at this crucifix, I said to my companions, “In all the times that I’ve thought about the crucifixion, I never imagined Jesus looking like this.” “How do we know that it wasn’t worse than this?” one companion responded.

Just a few minutes earlier, right up front, we heard Saint Paul say to the Galatians, “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” For us here in 2015, I doubt that we are shocked to hear such a thing, being that the cross has been the most well known and looked to symbol of Christianity since, at least, the second century AD. But for people during the years of AD 40-60, hearing Saint Paul say such a thing was more than likely quite shocking, primarily due to evoked real-time images similar to the description I just made of the representation of our Lord’s own crucifixion. In the Greco-Roman world, crucifixion was an execution method principally reserved for slaves, violent criminals, and political rebels.[2] It was capital punishment meant to degrade and show its victims as conquered enemies.

Yet in spite of the culture’s repulsion of the cross, Saint Paul says what he says, quite emphatically and with great seriousness. That is because for Saint Paul, Jesus Christ, the visible face of the invisible God, while hanging on an instrument meant to shame and convey weakness, took that same instrument and redeemed humanity back to God the Father, making it the instrument of our salvation and the sign of God’s ultimate defeat of sin and death. It was through the cross of Christ that “the ruler of this world”—Satan and his forces of evil—was driven out.[3] Saint Paul boasts in Christ’s cross because it gives him life, inspires him in his daily living, and he realizes that by it, Jesus has ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven him. The cross of Christ is the cross of victory, not defeat. All who have come to believe in Jesus through faith have been “baptized into his death…We have been buried with him by baptism into death” and “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father…we too…walk in newness of life.”[4] Because of the blood that was shed by Christ on the cross, He has spared us who walk in His light from the condemnation of sin.

So how appropriate it is that we, the Episcopal Church of the Ascension and School, gathered together to install, pray for, and give our support to our new Head of School, have as our focus this evening the cross, the symbol that unites us all together. We proclaim, “Ascension Episcopal School is committed to academic excellence in a Christian environment.” It is a mission greatly dependent on the cross, that victorious instrument from which come the governing principles of that Christian environment we seek to form our students within. The cross drives Ascension to be a place where its students, faculty, and administration are gentle, generous, truthful, and kind to one another, brave when facing adverse situations, and reevaluating the priorities of the heart. The primary avenue through which this takes place is corporate worship—the regular rhythm of daily chapel and frequent Eucharist—where the honing of such environment comes by way of an acknowledgment of God’s mercy, reflection on His Word, and regular reception of the Eucharistic sacrament. Through our focus on the cross, Ascension strives to be a school whose environment reflects the commandment that Jesus Himself has given us: “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”[5] Because of the cross and what Jesus has done, Ascension is committed to forming its students to love all of their neighbors as they do themselves and have courage to go forth from Ascension and make positive differences in the power and Name of Jesus Christ.

“Now you are the body of Christ,” Saint Paul says, “and individually members of it.”[6] Although, as Saint Paul also says, “each of us was given grace according to the manner of Christ’s gift” and that “the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped…promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love,”[7] the driving force that is charged with keeping Ascension School focused on its mission of being an intentionally Christian school committed to academic excellence is the Head of School. In defining its general role and responsibilities, the National Association of Episcopal Schools states that the Head of School serves as an important spiritual leader, embracing, articulating, and advancing the school’s Episcopal identity.[8] Tonight, Paul M. Quick, our friend and brother in Christ, ceremonially takes on the role as Head of Ascension Episcopal School.

When his immediate predecessor’s resignation was announced and it was decided that Paul would assume the role of Head of School effective July 1, 2015, I noticed a general affirmation of the succession plan. Perhaps the reason why that was is due to the fact that the Rector and school board, faculty, staff, administration, and school parents saw within Paul a similar and seminal quality that was also possessed by the New Testament apostle of the same name. Just like Saint Paul, Paul Quick is not ashamed of the Gospel.[9] To be in any sort of meeting with him, either it be one-on-one, Administrative Operations and/or Administrative Support Team, all-campus continuing professional education, and so on, an incorporation of the Good News will find some way into it. That is because Paul wholeheartedly believes in the Good News. Just like Saint Paul, Paul Quick boasts in nothing greater than the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. It has given him life and inspires him to live his life daily for the Lord Jesus. Paul openly acknowledges himself as a ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven sinner, that God has done a marvelous work in his life, and that in all that he does, it is the Lord Jesus that orders his steps. Paul is a man who not only talks the talk, but also walks the walk, doing so as only in the best way he can, which has endeared him to the Church and School community as a man faithful to his word and an effective witness of the Gospel among us. It is by grace and our trust in the Holy Ghost that we are here tonight to affirm Paul, offering our prayers and support for him, and in which Paul himself enters into the office of Head of School, with all of us, together, engaging in the work of ministry.

Paul, my friend, my brother in Christ, everybody here tonight is here because they love you and they support you. There are many others who unfortunately could not be here, but love and support you just the same. I love you and support you and am glad to be a member of your team. As you prepare to ceremonially take on the responsibility of Head of School, a piece of advice that I would like to give you is this: continue to boast in nothing greater than the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Continue looking to the cross; continue looking to Jesus. By boasting in the cross, Jesus boasts in you and will walk with you during every step you take in this journey. By continuing your gaze upon Jesus, you will be a witness for Him to our students, being used as a vessel for His Good News, planting the seed to the truth that God does, indeed, love them. As Moses once said, “Be strong and bold; have no fear…because it is the LORD your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.”[10] Know that as you prepare to enter this new chapter of your ministry, you enter with our love, sincere prayers, and support.

May our Lord Jesus Christ, by His grace, uphold you in the service he lays upon you.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.  

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] Frank S. Matera. Galatians (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1992), p. 231.

[3] John 12.31

[4] Romans 6.3-4

[5] John 13.34

[6] I Corinthians 12.27

[7] Ephesians 4.7, 16

[8] “Headship.” National Association of Episcopal Schools. National Association of Episcopal Schools, accessed on September 12, 2015.

[9] Romans 1.16

[10] Deuteronomy 31.6

“The Front Lines” (May 16, 2015; The Ordination of Peter Nathaniel Johnston to the Sacred Order of Deacons–The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Lafayette, Louisiana)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , on May 17, 2015 by montgomerybrandt

“For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”—II Corinthians 4.5[1]

To the Right Reverend Jacob Owensby, Reverend Father in God, Bishop of the Church in Western Louisiana; the Reverend Joseph Daly, Rector of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension, and the Reverend Dr. Duane Peterson, Associate Rector; all my brother and sister clergy; the Ordinand and his family; all the Christian faithful gathered, greetings in the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

On an October evening in 2011, my New York mentor, Father Andrew Mead, then Rector of Saint Thomas Church (Fifth Avenue), invited myself and a member of the parish staff to the Saint Thomas Rectory on Park Avenue for a chili dinner (being that his wife, Nancy, was out of town and he wanted to have some company to hang out with). While my fellow invitee drove his car through the maddening Manhattan traffic, Father Mead and I walked the several blocks that lay between Saint Thomas Church and the Rectory, giving us an opportunity to talk, mentor to mentee. As we began walking, Father Mead asked me a Commission on Ministry-type question: “Brandt, what is it that you feel called to do as a Priest?” I had a mapped-out vocational plan: “After finishing my required two-year curacy in Alabama, I’m going to go back to graduate school, get a Ph.D. in American religious history, then, hopefully, teach at a seminary or in a college/university theology or religious studies department.” “What about the parish?” Father Mead inquired. “It’s not that I have anything against parish ministry,” I said defensively, “but I just feel this strong call to live out my vocation as a Scholar-Priest.” “But many great Scholar-Priests also serve in parishes, Brandt,” replied Father Mead. “Parish ministry is important. It keeps you grounded and in touch with reality, with what’s going on with the people in the pews. It’s important that you be on the front lines with your fellow Priests. Never forget the front lines!”

This was the first of several “Meadiums” that I would learn from my now elder colleague and, needless to say, it was an important one. In a nutshell, what Father Mead was telling me was that “it’s not about you!” Although I failed to then realize it, looking back on that walk now almost four years ago, I admit and acknowledge that, subconsciously, I was trying to make it about me. The lecture room and the halls of academia were great loves of mine and it was there that I wanted to make my mark. I wanted to make scholarly contributions to the studies of African-American, American religious, and Anglo-Catholic history. I wanted to be a theologian and scholar on the same level as the Chadwick Brothers[2] and John Hope Franklin[3] and one of the leading Priest-Scholars of my time. But even though Father Mead did not dismiss the contributions of ordained academics to the Church’s life and witness, what he was making me realize was that many of them, like the Chadwick Brothers, Charles Gore[4], Austin Farrer[5], and Michael Ramsey[6], in addition to their academic vocations, were also deeply involved in parish and pastoral ministry. They did not hide behind the comforts and safety of a lecture stand; they were on the front lines preaching about Jesus and Him crucified, died, buried, and risen. For them, it was all about Jesus; everything they wrote, taught, and published all came from a deep love for Jesus, lived out by active ministry amongst and for God’s people and without that, all that they did would not have been as impactful as it was. The crucial lesson that I learned from Father Mead that October night was that if I enter into ordination with it being about me and not about Jesus, just to be well known and not willing to engage in the real work of ministry, then I will be setting myself up for failure. “…Do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”[7] It was a lesson that I needed to learn and thanks be to God that I did.

This past Tuesday, the Pew Research Center released a report that stated that although Christianity still dominates American religious identity by 70%, a large number of people have been exiting the doors of Christian denominations and doing away with Christianity altogether. It was also reported that while 86% of Americans say they grew up as Christians, nearly one out of five of them said that they weren’t anymore.[8] One of the reasons I believe this is is due to an “it’s about me” perception that is oftentimes conveyed within certain expressions of the larger Church. It is a perception that has led to many thinking of the Church as being too political, intolerant of those wrestling with deep spiritual issues and doubt, more wrapped up around the personality and prestige of the senior pastor, and just a once-a-week “stage show.” What these non-active and former Christians want is an authentic proclamation of the Gospel, to hear about Jesus and know that He is someone who truly cares and when met with this off-putting perception, it causes them to think, “Well, if this is what being a Christian is about, then I don’t want to have anything to do with it.” The Church—the universal Body of Christ—is called to confess the faith of Christ crucified, died, buried, and risen, bearing witness to Him in all the places it is. “And whatever you do,” Paul says, “in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”[9]

At the time of the writing of his second letter to the Corinthian Church, Paul was finding himself having to deal with the “it’s about me” perception. Some in Corinth were charging Paul with being haughty, puffed up on his own ego, and only concerned about his own personal gain. Having these charges made against him poised a potential hindrance to the spread of the Gospel and, in typical Pauline fashion, Paul wastes no time in setting the record straight. First off, it should be remembered that Paul was always honest and forthcoming about the life he lived prior to his conversion: “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders bear me witness.”[10] From the get go, Paul owned his past, that he was, at one time, “a persecutor of the [C]hurch, as to righteousness under the law blameless.”[11] But what Paul also made clear was that he had been humbled, that because of Jesus he “…renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways…refuse[d] to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word…”[12] Paul answered the Corinthian charges by making it absolutely clear that what he was preaching was not himself, but the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul did not and could not preach himself, for it is only Jesus, God Incarnate, who can redeem and renew. He was a preacher who looked to Christ for help and was on the front lines for Him since his conversion. For Paul, it was all about Jesus and knowing that the Gospel he was preaching was Jesus’ Gospel and not his. Like Jesus, all that Paul did in ministry to God’s people was done “…not to be served but to serve…”[13]

Just as it was important for the Apostles and other Christian expositors during the New Testament times, it is equally important, in this day and age, that those within the Church called to ordained ministry remember that it is Jesus whom they are charged to preach and not themselves. “And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…”[14]   The ordained vocation was not instituted for the purpose of allowing one to show themselves off, making it all about them, but, rather, for the revealing of the glory of Jesus Christ, being on the front lines for Him and proclaiming His Gospel. Everything that the Church’s clergy—Deacons, Priests, and Bishops—do should be done with the aim “…to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by…word and example, to those whom [they] live, and work, and worship.”[15] For the ministry of the ordained to be successful, they must be all in, totally committed to Jesus. When they are all in for Jesus, the people will take notice. When the people take notice, their hearts will become more open to the Gospel, allowing the Holy Spirit to lead them to Jesus, the very Splendor of Truth. But, again, the only way that any of this can happen is for the ordained leadership of the Church to remember this crucial point: “It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus!”

This morning, as a faithful gathering of Christians, we have gathered together to offer to God our thanks and prayers for Peter, who will momentarily make the transition from being a layman to a duly ordained clergyman of Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. After having been nourished by the riches of Christ’s grace and strengthened to glorify Christ in his own life as a member of the flock, Peter is, today, being called forth by God and with the affirmation of the people from the flock to offer ministry to and be a leader of the flock. As Peter becomes ontologically changed by the invocation of the Holy Ghost, it is important that he remember that it is not about him but about Jesus so that the gifts that he brings to the ordained vocation can be effectively used to equip God’s people for the work of ministry and for the reception of the Gospel by those who seek and want to be found by God. From this day forward, together with our Bishop and all the clergy, Peter will be on the front lines for Jesus, preaching not himself, but Jesus Christ as Lord, being a servant to the people for the sake and greater glory of Jesus.

Peter, my friend, you have oftentimes heard me refer to you as “the little brother that I never had.” So out of the deep respect that I have for you and in these last remaining moments of your lay life, I would like to offer four pieces of big brotherly advice:

  1. Always remember your Diaconal vows. Today, you are being ordained as a Deacon, the order of ministry particularly charged to be of service to the poor, the sick, the friendless, and the needy. Although your primary vocation will soon be as a Priest, I encourage you to never forget nor disregard your Diaconal vows, for you will find some overlap between the duties assigned to each respective order. As a Deacon, you will today promise “to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely.”[16] At the time of your ordination as a Priest, you will promise “to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor.”[17] As a Deacon, you will be particularly charged to serve the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely, but as a Priest, you will be called to serve the people among whom you work, which will include the particulars mentioned in the Bishop’s Diaconal charge. Furthermore, at their consecrations, Bishops promise “…to be in all things a faithful pastor and wholesome example for the entire flock of Christ,”[18] which encompasses all of the particulars served by the Diaconate and all of the people among whom you work of the Priesthood. So I encourage you to always remember and value your Diaconal vows, appreciating the fact that the Diaconate is the one order in which all the Church’s clergy share, aspects of which can be found in the other two. Although your primary vocation will soon be as a Priest and you may, possibly, even become a Bishop one day, always remember that at the core of your sacramental ministry, you are and will forever remain a Deacon.
  1. As my preaching professor at General Seminary told me, I say to you, “Keep your Jesus count high!” As a lover of the Church’s great hymns, you may be familiar with this mid-19th century hymn by Frederick Whitfield: “There is a Name I love to hear, I love to sing it’s worth; it sounds like music in my ear, the sweetest Name on Earth. O how I love Jesus, O how I love Jesus, O how I love Jesus, because He first loved me.”[19] Jesus—Yeshua, “God Saves”—truly the sweetest Name ever to hear. This is who those non-active and former Christians are searching for, who the active Christian community seeks to proclaim, and who is calling you to service in the ordained vocation. Therefore, never be ashamed to speak the Name of Jesus. Preach boldly about Jesus, proclaiming to your people His Good News. To paraphrase Paul, “Be a fool for Christ!”[20] Your preaching will be the most striking and public of all your clerical functions[21] and will play a crucial role in how one perceives Jesus, whether it is actually worth it to pick up their cross and follow Him. Therefore, always remain faithful to the Message. Proclaim the Gospel with boldness and joy. In the pulpit here at the Church of the Ascension, at daily chapel, Eucharist, and in your classroom out at Ascension Episcopal School—Sugar Mill Pond Campus, at all the places you go and in all the things you do, keep your Jesus count high! Preach Jesus!
  1. Love your people. To quote Lifeway Christian Resources President and CEO Thom Rainer, “If we know that our pastor loves us, everything else falls into place. If he doesn’t, nothing else matters.”[22] Remember what John says, “…Whoever loves God must love others also.”[23] Love your people and Jesus will do the rest.
  1. And, most importantly, always remember that it is not about you! Not only will you be entering a new vocation within the Church, but with that will come a new style—“the Reverend.” Coming from the Latin reverendus, meaning “honored” or “esteemed,” it is an honorific that conveys the respect and esteem that the Christian faithful have for you and upon which the community “orders” you to function among them as an ordained leader. From this day forward, may every time you see “the Reverend” before your name and are addressed with a title of the ordained vocation remind you of the trust that the people of God have in you and of the sacred responsibility that will be placed upon you this day. May it remind you that you are on the front lines for Jesus and that as God’s people look to you as a leader among them, may you, in turn, give to them that which you have received, that Christ Jesus died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day.[24] “…Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness…eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”[25] Don’t ever make it about you. Do it all for Jesus!

As you begin this new adventure, may you abide in peace, loving and serving the Lord!

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[1] All Scripture quotations contained herein are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Old Testament Section, Copyright 1952; New Testament Section, First Edition, Copyright 1946; Second Edition © 1971 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] William Owen (May 20, 1916) and Henry (June 23, 1920-June 17, 2008), both highly distinguished Church of England Priests and ecclesiastical historical scholars.

[3] (January 2, 1915-March 25, 2009); author of From Slavery to Freedom (first published in 1947 and regularly updated), the authoritative scholarly text on African-American history.

[4] (January 22, 1853-January 17, 1932); early 20th century Church of England Bishop and leading theologian on the Doctrine of the Incarnation.

[5] (October 1, 1904-December 29, 1968); Church of England Priest and theologian credited with bringing to Christian theology the notion of “double agency,” the idea that one’s actions are their own, but are also the work of God, though perfectly hidden.

[6] (November 14, 1904-April 23, 1988); Church of England Bishop who served as the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury from 1961-1974 and was a leading Anglo-Catholic theologian.

[7] Proverbs 3.5b-6

[8] Grossman, Cathy Lynn. “Christians Drop, ‘Nones’ Soar In New Religion Portrait,” USA Today (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/05/12/christians-drop-nones-soar-in-new-religion-portrait/27159533/), accessed May 13, 2015.

[9] Colossians 3.17

[10] Acts 22.4-5

[11] Philippians 3.6

[12] II Corinthians 4.2

[13] Mark 10.45

[14] Ephesians 4.11-13

[15] “Ordination of a Deacon,” The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 543.

[16] Ibid.

[17] “The Ordination of a Priest,” The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 531.

[18] “The Ordination of a Bishop,” The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 517.

[19] “O How I Love Jesus,” 19th century American melody, written by Frederick Whitfield (1855).

[20] I Corinthians 4.10

[21] Long, Thomas G. The Witness of Preaching (Second Edition) (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), p. 11.

[22] Rainer, Thom S. “Ten Things Church Members Desire In a Pastor” (http://thomrainer.com/2013/01/14/ten-things-church-members-desire-in-a-pastor/), accessed May 15, 2015.

[23] I John 4.21 (Good News Translation)

[24] I Corinthians 15.3-4

[25] Ephesians 4.1-3

“In Christ Is Found Our Unity”: Sunday, January 27, 2013 (The Third Sunday after the Epiphany: Septuagesima Sunday)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 27, 2013 by montgomerybrandt

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”—I Corinthians 12.27[1] 

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen!

In the late 1930s, when swing music was becoming increasingly popular throughout the American musical stage, jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman was widely considered among his professional colleagues and jazz fans to be the “King of Swing,” the “Patriarch of the Clarinet,” and “Swing’s Senior Statesman.”  When he organized his first full-size band in 1933, it included no black musicians (being that America was still in the time of de facto and/or legal racial segregation).  However, jazz critic and producer John H. Hammond (who later became Goodman’s brother-in-law), an unapologetic racial liberal and civil rights activist, both encouraged and pushed Goodman to integrate his band, wanting to both highlight the musical talent of African-American musicians and help make jazz become a visible symbol of the unity that should exist between all of the human race.  In 1935, because of Hammond’s insistence, Goodman took a chance and integrated his band, hiring African-American musicians Teddy Wilson, a pianist, and Lionel Hampton, a drummer and vibraphone player.  Goodman’s hiring of Wilson and Hampton turned out to be one of the best decisions that he ever made and played a major role in bringing about the downfall of segregation that existed within jazz.  Years later, when he was asked to reflect on jazz’s role in integration, Goodman said, “It takes the black keys and the white keys, both, to make perfect harmony.”

In today’s epistle lesson from First Corinthians, Paul’s analogy of the human body with that of the Christian Church conveys the basis upon which those who call themselves “Christian” should stand and hold themselves in relationship.  The division that is being caused by many within the Corinthian Church is happening out of a sense of arrogance, brought on from a belief that certain gifts possessed by some are better and more highly valued than those possessed by others, leading to the implication that those not possessing gifts viewed as being adequate contributions to the Christian way are not really part of the body of Christ.  This infection of arrogance and division has hindered the Corinthian Church from fully being a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit and living faithfully into the Gospel mission.  Paul’s purpose in writing to the Corinthians is to set the record straight, that through Jesus Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit within us through baptism, all within the Christian community are equal to each other and the gifts that they possess, though different, are all valuable to God and equally contributive to the mission of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ on Earth.  From Paul, we learn that in order to live in and be the community of Christ, we must be in relationship with each other, building upon the foundations of unity, for anything different is the antithesis of the Gospel.

Through his eloquent rhetorical skills, Paul gets to the heart of the Christian concept of unity and relationship.  The Christian’s relationship with both God and others comes from our inherent gift of goodness from God and all of humanity’s common possession of that gift.  As told in the account of creation in Genesis, upon God’s creation of humanity in His image, He declares that “it was very good.”[2]  Despite our inherited sinful nature brought to us by the fault of Adam and Eve, our first parents, the goodness of God, which dwells within us through His creation of us, remains a part of our very being as humans.  By the coming of Jesus Christ on Earth and His achievement of our reconciliation to God on our behalf, our inherent goodness from God gives us the ability to be in relationship with Him and in equal relationship with our fellow humans.  This goodness that is inherent within us by virtue of God’s creation and humanity’s sharing of that goodness makes Christian unity a divine thing, being centered upon the divinity of Jesus, as well as being part of Jesus’ very divinity itself.  Jesus’ humanity and divinity form the very foundation for Christian unity and to allow arrogance and division within the fabric of our common life is to deny the indwelling of Christ that makes up part of one’s very humanity.  One of the fallbacks of being human is that our fallible nature makes us prone to falling victim to arrogance and division.  As Christians, being mindful of Jesus as the very definition of Christian unity helps us combat such negative forces and promote the common goodness that we all have through God and share with each other.

Beginning eight versus before the start of today’s epistle, Paul writes that “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”[3]  Paul writes this to confront and put down the view that there are certain gifts that are more valuable in service to God and that those in the community not possessing such valuable gifts aren’t full and equal members of the Christian family.  Paul’s written tone conveys his view that this circulating thought is a lie and is completely and utterly wrong.  If God, by His creation of us, has declared us good, with that declaration having been confirmed by the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, from which our humanity now dwells at the right hand of God through Jesus, then that must mean that the respective gifts we possess, which help define who we individually are, are all good in their own way.  God’s declaration of our goodness helps convey the notion of how our gifts, though widely different, have the ability to bring about unity amongst all within the larger community.  In Christian theology, the term “charism,” coming from the Greek word charismata, is meant to denote any good gift that flows from God’s love down to humanity.  With that, God equips us with a variety of gifts to help us promote His love to others and to promote the common good. 

Through his emphasis upon the “same Spirit,” “same Lord,” and the “same God,” Paul is telling the Corinthians that what makes all people’s gifts equally contributive to the community’s Christian growth and equally valuable in the eyes of God is that no matter what the gift may be, it is a gift given from God.  With our gifts given to us from God, they are deemed by Him to be suitable forms of service to His glory and toward the mutual benefit of all humanity.  By God blessing us with such a variety of gifts, we see and experience endless possibilities of God’s grace, love, and fellowship unfolding among us and being present in our relationship with others through the power of the Holy Spirit.  All gifts, no matter how different from each other they may be, are created and given by God to His people for the promotion of unity, both with Him and throughout the wider community.  From unity comes love, which brings out the best in us and others and embodies God’s greatest hopes and desires for all of us, His beloved children.  God’s gifts make all people full and equal members of His body.  God through Jesus has declared His people reconciled to Him and equal to one another and any declaration to the contrary will always be in strict contradiction to God’s promised and fulfilled Word.

In the end, here is where we stand: (1) having been created in God’s image, God has declared us to be “very good”; (2) by God coming to Earth in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ and offering Himself to be the perfect sacrifice for humanity’s redemption, God’s declaration of our goodness is confirmed and still in full effect; and (3) God has bestowed within each of us a particular gift, which all, regardless of difference, make us see Him as the one true God and the foundation of our common life together.  These three key points form the total basis for Christian unity and mutual accountability and undergird Paul’s statement that we are uniquely created individuals united together through Christ as His body, the Church.  Jesus came to Earth to reestablish a relationship between God and humanity, making what was crooked straight and all the rough places plain.  Because of Jesus having reestablished our relationship with God in Heaven, we are charged with the duty of advancing the cause of unity amongst ourselves, recognizing, valuing, and cultivating each other’s gifts, which help us to see the love of God at work within us and throughout the world.  Arrogance and division are a dishonor to God, for when we deem anybody’s gifts to not be up-to-par and unsuitable for the advancement of God’s kingdom, it becomes us who hinder the advancement of God’s kingdom, for we convey a message that’s completely out of sync with God’s message and become liars and hypocrites of the redemptive word of God.  From all of this, we are reminded of the fact that God is love and that because God’s love is unconditional, all of us and all of our gifts are equally pleasing unto Him and help all of us catch a glimpse of the foretaste of the glory of God that is to come.   

Benny Goodman spoke truth when he said that “it takes the black keys and the white keys, both, to make perfect harmony.”  Although they both have their particular functions on a keyboard, with their notes producing different colors of musical tones, they all have the same goal—to make perfect harmony all together.  So it is with the gifts that God has given us—they’re all very different, but what makes them the same is their pointing to the same Spirit, same Lord, and the same God.  May we honor God and our neighbor by cultivating our own gifts and those of others, recognizing each other as God’s equal, ransomed, and restored community.  Amen!                   


[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Old Testament Section, Copyright 1952; New Testament Section, First Edition, Copyright 1946; Second Edition © 1971 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] Genesis 1.31b

[3] I Corinthians 12.4-7