1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

Psalm 139, verse 14 says: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” And it’s true, isn’t it? Our bodies are wonderfully made, and when they are working well, all the parts blend together so beautifully. As we saw during the children’s time, the various parts help each other out so well, working together for the good of the whole. Alone, each of our body parts is a great gift, but together they can accomplish so much more than any one part can on its own.

Sometimes we take for granted how smoothly things do work together, until the day comes when it feels like the body is falling apart. Often it starts as a small thing. You stub your toe, and strain your back when you do it, and you feel like “everything is falling apart.” But little by little as we age, different parts go “out of warranty” as a doctor once said to my husband, and like the old organ here at church, sometimes you just can’t get new parts for something old. And so we learn to deal as best we can with what we have left. It would be lovely if solving the problem for our bodies was as easy as replacing the old organ was for this congregation, but although we can get new hips and new knees, modern medicine has yet to come up with enough new parts for us to keep us functioning much past the age of oh, say 100.

Our scripture passage tells us that while we are aware of being one body with different parts when it comes to our physical being, we are not always so quick to understand that through Christ, we are all members of one body – the body of Christ. Which means that we all have to work together the way the parts of our physical body do, for the good of the whole. The Apostle Paul wanted people to know that it didn’t matter if they were Jews or Greeks, slaves or free people, they were all part of the same body in Christ. And that was pretty amazing, because there were big divisions between slaves and free people, and between Jews and Greeks in those days. And still today we have a tendency to draw borders and boundaries to separate ourselves and the people most like us from those who are different.

But when we separate ourselves from one another, we miss out on gifts that others have but in which we are lacking. And things begin to fall apart. The week before last, when the organ was about to be installed, we were asked to have people available who could help with the installation. And what we needed were some pretty big gifts. Holes needed to be cut in walls to make room for new speakers. Electricity had to be available in the right places. Wires had to travel from the front of the sanctuary to the back. We needed a very tall ladder to reach some of the spaces. And strong arms and backs were needed to bring down old amplifiers and speakers from attic spaces, and get new ones up ladders and into place. It seemed pretty daunting to me. I personally don’t really have any of the gifts that were needed. So I called John Morrow, who is head of the trustees. He thought it sounded like a pretty challenging to do list as well, but he knew whom to call. He put out the word to our trustees, and Nelson Dodge, who was the organ dealer and installer, said he had never had an installation go so smoothly. We have someone who knows how to cut holes in walls in such a way that you aren’t damaging anything. And someone else showed up who knew a lot about pulling wires. One person knew that we have an extension ladder and where we keep it. Another knew how to create electric plugs in the right places. And several people contributed strong arms and backs and a great sense of balance to get everything up and down the ladder. If any one person had been missing that day, we might not have had the organ in place by last Sunday. But because each person brought a special gift in addition to a willing spirit, everything went smoothly.

The right spirit is so important. Paul tells the Corinthians that we shouldn’t deny our gifts, or think they are too little to be a part of the body. Every gift, no matter how small it might seem, matters. And Paul cautions that no one part is so wonderful that it could get along without the rest. Every part, Paul says, is indispensible. We need to care for each and every part. Just as when we have a really sore thumb, we can feel lousy all over, Paul says that if one of us suffers, the rest suffer too, and if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. And isn’t that the way it is with us? We share our joys and concerns each Sunday, and we all hurt when we know that one of us is hurting. We all smile and rejoice when one member is celebrating a special time in their life. So we all need to put our gifts into the mix because without any one of us, something is missing.

You can see this principle at work in churches for better or worse. Sometimes a congregation will decide that a handful of people have gifts, financial or otherwise, that are the most important, and they get lifted up while others are ignored. And that might work for a while. But eventually ignored people drift away, and if some of the ones the congregation has come to rely on leave, the whole church suffers. Sometimes people get mad and withhold their gifts, and the whole church suffers. But here, so often we see people stepping up, offering what they have to give, and we find that the whole body is lifted up by the gifts of each person working in concert with others. So last Sunday, we all enjoyed the new organ, thanks to those who offered their gifts of time, talent, and of course the money which was given to purchase the organ in the first place.

For the last several weeks now, we have been focusing on generosity. We have talked about the reasons we love this church, and if you haven’t taken a moment to read what was said on the cards that are taped around all the windows in the back, you really should try to do it today. They are wonderful. We talked about the people who have helped us to grow spiritually, and those cards read like a list of the saints in our lives. And then we wrote about what our dreams and visions are for this place.

When parts of the body are missing, dreams often remain just dreams, but with all the parts working together, with everyone contributing their particular gifts, dreams can become reality. We are so lucky to be in a place where people love each other like family; where it is understood that helping others, both here at home and across the world, is who we are; where we know that we have been given a gift by the people who came before us, who taught us to love, who taught us about God’s love, who encouraged us to be here, and who had the vision to make a place like this in Atascadero some 37 years ago. They have left us a legacy, and now it’s our turn to dream dreams and to create some realities that will benefit the generations who will come after us.

You don’t have a card to fill out this week, at least not today. You will be receiving your pledge cards in the mail this week, and we hope that you will fill them out and bring them back next week. That way we can build our budget and see which dreams and visions we can turn into reality in the year ahead. But we do have a generosity moment today as we have all month. Mark Rehfield is here to tell us about his history with generosity and giving……….

Growing up, I was too self – centered to notice any giving going on around me. My family was a non-church family, and my upbringing was more about achievement than it was about generosity. As a young adult I embraced this approach to life. For me giving was something I did to please, like giving presents to girls in the hopes that this would get them to like me. I had a friend who was very generous with her attention to people who were outcasts or had difficulties of one kind or another, and it kind of made me mad because I thought she was wasting her time and energy.

I think the first lesson in true generosity I learned was when Diane & I had children. Now for the first time in my life there was someone who NEEDED my time, energy, and resources with no possibility of returning the favor within the current century. I was surprised at the joy I received just seeing them nurtured and safe, exploring what it was to be alive.

About the time our children were young, Diane & I began to be regular church goers, at the church she was raised in. Mostly at this point I was just along for the ride – enjoying the music and sometimes the people I met there. I felt like Sunday offerings were sort of like dues that needed to be paid; the price of admission. At this point in my life I wouldn’t know a ministry if it jumped out and bit me on the nose! I was surprised, though, to see people I respected and enjoyed happily giving of their time and money. I still didn’t see how this applied to me, and I didn’t see the relationship between their generosity and their happiness.

A little more than 20 years ago a couple of things happened in my life that profoundly changed my relationship with giving. Those of you who were here when I spoke on recovery Sunday will be familiar with this part of my story – Diane & I started our involvement in the Disciple program and I became sober through participation in Alcoholics Anonymous.

In my AA meetings, I soon realized that the people who were happy and stayed sober were the ones who were glad to be generous with their time and energy to help others with their sobriety. I was told that I needed to take a commitment – my first one was cigarette butt patrol! I didn’t realize at the time, but this was teaching me how to give and be generous. I was surprised that there was intrinsic satisfaction in performing service. I was doing something that helped the group thrive. I now interpret this feeling as the warmth of God’s smile on my back as he watches me do his work.

In Disciple, there are questions each week that probe how our lives reflect our relationship with God. One of those questions related to tithing. By this time, I kind of embraced giving and understood it’s value, but giving 10% of our income seemed over the top and downright scary! We were raising 3 young children and money was pretty tight, so Diane & I really wrestled with this for a time. We finally decided to do it on a trial basis and see how it worked. Maybe Diane knew all along, but I was really surprised that putting God as an anchor point in our finances made them easier, not harder. There wasn’t any more money, but it taught me that it’s all God’s anyway and I am just a steward for a small part of God’s creation. This changed my understanding of money from MY wealth to OUR wealth, with the result that fear has mostly been removed from the act of generosity for me. Now my response is to give as much as I can rather than as little as possible, since in the act of giving I am acting in gratitude for what God has provided me. And I still look forward to that warmth of God’s smile on my back!

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ….Indeed the body does not consist of one member but of many….If all were a single member, where would the body be?….But God has so arranged the body….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. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” I am so pleased to be a part of this body with you. Thank God for this place, and for the many gifts you each bring to make it the place that it is. Amen

When the Body Falls Apart