Jan. 24, 2010 Epiphany 3 Year C 1 Corinth. 12:12-31a Rev. Benton Quest
There has always been an experiment I wanted to do. I wanted to take the “Men” and “Women” signs off the rest rooms and change them. Now I wasn’t going to do anything mean like put the “Men’s” sign on the “Women’s” restroom and place the “Women’s” sign on the Men’s, what I was going to do was replace the signs with ones that read “Us” and “Them.” After I put the signs up, I would ask the people why they chose either “Us” or “Them.” What were the criteria that made a person an “Us” or made that person a “Them”? It could be kind of fun!
Then I was thinking, “This experiment has all kinds of potential for expansion. We could add signs on the doors to clubs like the Eagles or the YMCA. We could put signs up on grocery stores and department stores doors. We could put signs up on the doors to bars and restaurants! While we are at it, we could put signs up on the doors to Churches! We could put “Us” and “Them” signs all over the place!
So how would these Us/Them doors work? Of course the “Us” door would lead into the place where the person was going. The “Us” door would get the person to the destination they sought. But what about the “Them” door? What would happen if a person went through the “Them” door? At the Eagles club, maybe it would lead back to the kitchen. At the Y it might lead to the janitor’s closet. At the grocery store it might lead to the food stamp line. At the restaurant, it just might lead right out the back door. If we had a “Them” door here at St. Swithin’s, where might that door lead?
Now I am not trying to come down hard on you; we all divide people up into us/them groups. “Us” people are usually people who are like us; people who have the same color skin, same language, or same nationality as us. “Them” people are usually the people who are different; people who may not look like us or act like us or share our political views. It is natural to divide people into us/them groups. There are those of us who believe there are two groups of people and then there are “them” other people who don’t believe there are two groups.
Our usual response to the other group -- to “them” -- is to see them as marginal. We usually see our side as good and needed while their side is bad and wasteful. If what makes us “Us” is our ability to speak English, then those who don’t speak English are seen as lazy or uncaring, as in, “They should learn the language if they want to live here.” If what makes us “Us” is our employment, then those who have no jobs are seen as unmotivated and mooching off the system. It is generally assumed that what is “Us” is “Good.”
As I said, to look upon “Them” as something bad or at least something neutral is our usual response. And we would usually like to say that since it is our “natural response” it is ok. But it is not ok. It is attitudes like this that made slavery possible. It is attitudes like this that allow genocide to still flourish in our world. It may be natural to divide up into “Us” and “Them,” but that is not ok. Besides, as Christians we are asked to be more. As Christians we are called to be more than just “natural.” As Christians we are called to realize that there is no “Us” or “Them.” As Christians, we are called to see that there is only God and God’s people.
Our reading from Corinthians tells us that we are all here for the service of God. We have all been given gifts and talents with which to serve. We each have a unique assortment of traits that can be used by God for God’s greater glory. Each and every one of us has something to contribute to the body of Christ, the church. I will say that again, every one of us has something to contribute to the body of Christ; no one is left out.
Sometimes we like to look upon our strengths, our talents, our gifts as the most important gifts. We like to think that God has specially blessed us. What we have, what makes us “Us,” is what is important. What they have, what makes them “Them,” needs to be changed so as to be more like us! We may think that way, but what a boring world that would be! And frankly, if the world were full of people like me, it would be quite chaotic!
But everyone has their God given gifts. Even though I may not like what Rush Limbaugh has to say, he has the unique gift of making me so angry that I stay awake during long drives. I may get frustrated with people who are really time driven, but they help me turn my dreams into reality. Even those people whom we find most annoying have something to offer, some gift to give. These people are also a gift from God.
I find that I lose sight of the gifts of others when I close my vision in and consider only my dreams and desires. When I am only working on my agenda I begin to see people in terms of how they can help my cause or hinder my cause. I neglect to see them as God sees them; as marvelous and wonderful creations. And I must say that when I reduce people only to how they are useful to me, I do that to my detriment. I am sure there are many wonderful people I have passed by just because they did not fit into my definition of “useful” or “Us.”
But see, all of these various gifts and talents that surround us, they are all given by God. All of these gifts are given to aid us in the work of the Spirit. All of the many parts of the body, the members of Christ’s family, are gathered to serve the one who made us and redeemed us. Each person is important in this great body of Christ! None are higher or lower, the scripture tells us that the “weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor.” All are important!
There is a benefit to being a part of the body of Christ. Because we are all part of the body and because all of us are unique and needed, none of us has to be everything. Your gifts become mine and my gifts become yours. In using our gifts to serve Christ, we also serve each other.
That is how I can say to you here today; today’s gospel reading is as true now as it was when Jesus first uttered the words. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” No one of us can bring good news to the poor and proclaim release to the captives, and give sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free. No one person can do that, only Jesus could do that. But gathered together as the body of Christ, we are able to do so much more than we could do alone. As we bring our gifts to the table, we realize that all people are called and all people are blessed in service. In serving the One, we are blessed to serve the many. Us/Them categories disappear. The light and love of Christ is bog enough for us all.
The reign of God on earth may seem impossible to attain and quite frankly it is. Alone we cannot ever approach anything even near to what the Prophet Isaiah saw. Alone we do not have the gifts or talents. Among “Us” we have a better chance. When we gather as “Us” we have more skills and talent. We more closely resemble the body of Christ. But when it is just “Us” we still fall short. We still are missing some of the important parts of the body! We are missing “THEM!”
When we realize that in God’s eyes there is no “Us” or “Them”, we begin to see that a whole new world of possibilities opens to us and to the world we inhabit. When we remove the stigma of Them, we begin to see how much we really have in common. When we see that we are all fallen people but also all forgiven in Christ, we can begin to see differences not as means of separating us from each other but as a way of bringing us together; it is then that we begin to realize the reign of God in our world.
It is a great circle! We come as many to Christ. Through the lens of Christ we see that if one is missing from the body, the body suffers. Then the one, Christ, gives us the strength to combine our strengths and talents to go out to those who have not yet heard the good news! Then we, with those to whom we have reached, return to Christ to be strengthened and again sent into the world!
No more “Us,” no more “Them.” Just the people of God reaching out to the people of God; those who have found shelter reaching out to those who are still ravaged by the elements. Just as we can’t sleep when our feet are cold, we cannot rest until the people of God have been found. Can we do it? Can we reach the whole world? Not on our own. But when we put our talents together for the one, the One will empower us in ways we never thought possible! We can reach out knowing that Christ reached out to us first.