Reclaiming Pangea


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John Weems preached, “Reclaiming Pangea.”

On World Communion Sunday, what can we learn from the life leadership of Jesus about celebrating differences and living as One?

 

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This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

1 Corinthians 12:4-12

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. 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.

 

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Today is World Communion Sunday, a time when churches around the globe are invited to remember Christ’s call to unity as we prepare for the sacred meal.

For people called to live as “one body,” (1 Corinthians 12:12) we are extremely divided.

When our family visited Washington, D.C., two summers ago, we had the opportunity to sit in both the Senate and House Chamber to observe Congress at work. Numerous interns sitting near us in the gallery were speaking openly about how few meaningful votes they had witnessed in their three months of service.

We the people definitely take notice.

In one 2013 Public Policy Poll, all of the following received higher approval ratings than Congress: the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Motor Vehicles, jury duty, witches, and hemorrhoids—yes, you heard that right, hemorrhoids.[1]

Of course it’s easy to pick on politicians. Pastors and church people aren’t exactly appealing to the masses. In San Francisco, 61 percent of people will not attend any religious service in a six- month period, making us number one on the list of least churched cities in America.[2] While Pope Francis is doing many positive things, the general public still has a frequently accurate perception that churches are too focused on dogma that excludes people rather than the radical hospitality exhibited by Jesus.

For people called to live as one body, we are extremely divided.

Today’s Scripture reading from First Corinthians was addressed to a group of people who found themselves divided. For those newer to the Bible, a man named Paul helped start many of the first churches including one in Corinth, located outside of Athens. As he came to Corinth approximately 50 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Paul encountered a city that was comparable in many ways to San Francisco. It was ideally located with ports for commerce, filled with people trying to make it big, and was known for entertainment options other than going to church or temple. People were divided.

Paul was frustrated. He planted a church that was supposed to provide an antidote to a fixation on self-interests. Even the minority of Corinthians who were involved in learning what it meant to follow Jesus were starting to battle for status within the early church community. The wealthy that hosted the church in their homes felt superior to the poor. Though Paul had taught them that everyone’s role was important, some viewed themselves as superior to others. They fought about who was holier, whether men had to be circumcised, and who was living The Way of Jesus properly. The young church was in trouble, and Paul’s letter is a wakeup call:

 

1 Corinthians 12:4-12

 

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. 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.

 

While attempting to share the message of Jesus, Paul was fighting against cultural norms. According to biblical scholar Yung Suk Kim, “In the Greco-Roman world, Stoics promote[d] the hierarchical, hegemonic body politic in which the elite or the strong rule the weak or the lower class. In this body politic, slaves must serve the superiors not simply because they are weak or powerless but because their destiny is to serve their lords.”[3]

To the ruling elite, talk of equality would have sounded like a bunch of warm fuzzy “everyone is a winner and gets a trophy” talk from a youth soccer program. While Paul does not argue that everyone has the same role, he does make it clear that everyone has sacred worth and participates in God’s kingdom. There is not a caste system in God’s economy.

Earlier in First Corinthians and in his other letters, Paul consistently points to status that does not come through the world: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

God calls us to find our identity in the life and death of the crucified and resurrected Christ.

Following this Jesus—not simply the Jesus we want to make our buddy who endorses our choices—but Jesus the Christ, is a radical endeavor.

It means that one of our primary concerns cannot be who is right, or who is left.

Our center, our true north, calls us to an aisle centered on Christ.

So why is it so difficult to function as one?

Why do we let so many little things distract us from following Christ’s command to love God with all of our heart and mind and soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as we love our self?

My friend Bishop Ernie Jackson of Grace Tabernacle Church shared a book that I have been thinking about a lot this week when pondering this question. In A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, W. Phillip Keller looks at the beloved Scripture from the perspective of an actual shepherd. Born in East Africa, Keller earned a degree in agrology from the University of Toronto. In addition to learning about land management and ranching, Keller actually took care of sheep.

Keller illuminates each phrase in a way that I hadn’t ever considered.

I’ll never again read “You anoint my head with oil,” in the same way.

Keller explains that for the shepherd, anointing with oil isn’t just symbolic. For shepherds, “summertime is fly time.”[4] Specifically, nasal or nose flies are more than just an annoyance. In addition to aggravating pain, they can cause infections that lead to blindness. In severe cases, the sheep will do anything. If stamping their hooves and shaking their head doesn’t work, some will even beat their heads against a tree or rock. The nose flies are a major problem.

Knowing this, shepherds will apply a remedy including linseed oil, sulfur and tar.

“What an incredible transformation this would make among the sheep,” Keller writes. “Once the oil had been applied to the sheep’s head, there was an immediate change in behavior. Gone was the aggravation, gone the frenzy, gone the irritability and the restlessness. Instead, the sheep would start to feed quietly again, then soon lie down in peaceful contentment.”

We are anointed as instruments of peace in the name of Christ.

How often do we allow differences of opinion to become nose flies that prevent us from treating people as fellow children of God?

How often do we function as though our own ideologies and preferences matter more than God’s eternal truth?

Last week, Calvary hosted an interfaith gathering to talk about Proposition A, focused on essential housing for low to medium income working people like teachers. State Assembly and Calvary member David Chiu addressed the group. In addition to talking about housing, Chiu discussed how difficult it is to collaborate at the city and state level.

Let’s just say that love thy neighbor isn’t the highest ideal in most cases. People build up walls by party and district and reelection prospects.

If we function as though our neighborhood, state, or country is the only one that matters, we will remain stuck in gridlock and negativity.

We will continue to damage this planet, let refugees suffer, and standby until the next mass shooting. We will allow our own city and region to be divided by race and socioeconomic status, while people continue to suffer and die. We hold the people devastated by the massacre at Umpqua Community College in Oregon in prayer. We pray for the family of the young man who was murdered in the Bayview Tuesday night, the 34th homicide of 2015 in San Francisco.

Prayer leads to action.

You are anointed.

You are anointed. Shoo the flies away and hand them over to God.

God has work for us to do.

Rev. Hugh Kerr of Shadyside Presbyterian in Pittsburgh, PA, proposed World Communion Sunday in 1933 amid the Great Depression. Unemployment was at 25 percent, or roughly 15 million Americans. The situation looked bleak, but God wasn’t finished with us yet.

We can have a tendency to look at our chronos time on our watches and phones as the only time that matters. God doesn’t use an Apple Watch or a Rolex or a Timex. God is on eternal kairos time. Kairos refers to the fullness of time.

May we remember the continent we call home was once part of Pangea, a supercontinent that included almost all of the land on Earth 300 million years ago. Scientists project that tectonic shifts are slowly uniting us again and that within 250 million years the Americas and Africa will combine with Eurasia to form another supercontinent.

Whether we like it or not, God transcends the borders we draw and the walls we build. If we will be together in the fullness of time, let’s join together now as God’s anointed children at this table on World Communion Sunday.

[1] Source: Public Policy Polling, Oct. 8, 2013.

[2] Source: Barna Research, Apr. 24, 2015

[3] Yung Suk Kim, “Reclaiming Christ’s Body (soma christou): Embodiment of God’s Gospel in Paul’s Letters.” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology, 67(1) 20-29, 2013.

[4] W. Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007) 99-101.

 

 

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