Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Sermon for February 19

Did You Want to Vacuum That Car?
1 Corinthians 12:12-31

All families have rules about how you are–and are not–supposed to behave. Parents don’t always explicitly tell you what the rules are. The rules are unconsciously passed down from generation to generation. For instance, it was an unspoken rule in my family that you were supposed to take good care of your personal belongings. I apparently did not learn the rule – at least not to my father’s satisfaction. I was at my parent’s house a few weeks ago. In the middle of another conversation, my father said to me, “Did you want to vacuum that car?” “What car?” I asked. With a disapproving glare my father said, “Your car. How can you let your wife drive around in that car when it looks so dirty.” He said it in the sort of way that suggested I should be ashamed or embarrassed about the sandy floors and dirty exterior, and McDonald’s wrappers littering the back seat. Unaffected by his guilt trips, I said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll clean it sometime.” An hour or so later my father came up to me and said, “So, did you want to vacuum that car?” Thinking he wanted to bond, I agreed to clean the car. My father escorted me to the car care section of his garage. His shelves are lined with solvents for every kind of car cleaning need -- Window cleaner, tire cleaner, shiny tire spray, vinyl cleaner, carpet stain remover, degreaser, Rain-X, Armor All, washer fluid, soap, wax, spot cleaner. He has cloths and rags, and little brushes to clean the vents. This is why I didn’t want to vacuum the car. He has the entire Wal-Mart care-cares section in his garage, and he uses it all. The canister vac was plugged in and ready to go. My father stood over me and supervised the job. “Aren’t you going to vacuum the mats? Here’s some glass cleaner. Work the armor all in good so it doesn’t look streaky.” In the end, it wasn’t about bonding. It was about my father needing to teach me the rules: If you have something nice, take care of it. The only way to enjoy your blessings is to care for them.

Paul is saying the same thing in today’s Scripture reading. If we want the church to work well, we need to recognize our spiritual gifts, and also take care in how we use them.

Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts reminds us that each one of us has an important function in the church. If we want to be an effective church that touches lives with the gospel, we begin by being good stewards of the gifts we’ve been given.

This morning, on the way in to the sanctuary, you were handed a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. You probably thought that was a little strange. I think we are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. All who enter this place are all of equal value to the overall picture of the Church! If even one piece is missing, then the picture will not be complete. You presence here gives shape to the Church. By calling yourself a Christian, you tell the world that you will try to be more Christ like, that you would help the church any way you can. Jesus gave his life so that you would be saved, and you commit your life that his church will be complete!

I heard about a high school that had a career day for the seniors. To kick off the meeting they assembled all the students in the gym and the job representatives, one by one, stood and explained how great it would be to come and work for them. After the presentation, the students could stop by booths and fill out applications or hand in a resume. Included in the program were Armed Forces representatives. The Navy recruiter spoke on the advantages of a career with his organization and encouraged the students telling them that they had what it took to make it in the Navy. After his presentation, a tough, muscular-looking Marine stood at the podium. He looked around at the crowd of students and shook his head. He said, “I don’t see anyone here who could make it in our program. It’s the toughest challenge you could ever face. I don’t think any of you have the guts to become a Marine. If you think you’ve got what it takes come and see me after the presentations.” After the assembly was over, guess which booth had the largest number of inquiries? The Marine was flooded with applicants.

Membership in the church of Jesus Christ should be held in the same high regard. The problem is that we’ve made it a weak and easy -- usually nothing more than a name on a piece of paper. God intends it to be something more.

We are all equally important to the Church. If even one piece is missing, the picture isn’t complete. Have you ever thought about who is missing from the church? Where are the missing puzzle pieces that help us resemble Christ when they are here? Unfortunately, I think they have been excluded from the church. Strange isn’t it? We say we want everyone to be part of the church. But the truth is that we have already decided what the big picture is supposed to look like, and we are happy to complete the puzzle with the pieces we already have. Sometimes our version of the final picture isn’t the same as God’s.

There are different ways to keep people out. [i] In extreme cases, people are excluded through assimilation. We decide that there are sine puzzle pieces out there will taint the others. They have a piece that looks different from the others. We say, “That piece you have is not like ours, so you must belong to another puzzle. You can survive, and even thrive here, if you make your puzzle piece look like the rest of ours. You can belong if you give up your identity.”

People also exclude others by domination. This happens when we think of others as inferior beings. We make sure that they can’t live in our neighborhoods, get certain kinds of jobs, or receive equal honor. They must stay in their proper place – that is, the place that has been assigned for them. Exclusion by domination – we see it in the caste system in India, or the former apartheid policies in South Africa. And sometimes even in the church.

Sometimes people are excluded through abandonment. It’s an attitude that says, “If we ignore others, maybe they will go away.” There are lost people in Trumbull. There are people who desperately need to be connected to the life-giving Body of Christ. For some reason, we avoid these people. We are more comfortable keeping our faith private. We don’t want to even mention that others may be lost because it sounds like we’re judging them -- or admitting that maybe we ourselves are also lost. We forget that the purpose of our puzzle piece is to put them all together to build a picture of the church.

Here’s my point about the puzzle. Even though you have pieces in your hands, I still have more in the box. The picture is not complete until everyone has a piece and gets connected. Everyone, together, makes up the complete picture--those who are here, those who have left, those we don’t want here, and those who have never been invited.

Look closely at your puzzle piece. Have you noticed that there are no complete pictures on any individual piece? Why is that? Because the puzzle is not completed by any one person, or piece. It takes many to complete this picture. Now I’d like you to look closely again at the piece. Notice that they are all shaped differently. Sure, they are all similar, yet not exact. It’s the same with people, wouldn’t you say? We are all similar in it that we have 2 eyes, ears, arms, legs, etc. But we are all very different in our personalities. We all have different fingerprints, different DNA. We are so much alike, yet so different. Each individual piece helps to complete the picture, Like each individual person, with individual gifts, talents, and personality, helps to complete the Church! That’s a very amazing piece of a cardboard that you are holding. And you are truly an amazing piece of this church.

Now, notice something else about these pieces. The edges of each piece are completely different from any other piece. Your piece may not fit with your immediate neighbor’s piece, but you can bet that it fits with at least 2-3 others pieces here! Kind of like people, we don’t get along with all the people in the Church, but there are those that we fit right in with! And when we get with those people, our part of the picture is completed! And those people that we do not get along with, they have others that they do get along with. Their pieces match up, and they complete their portion of the picture! We have all tried to complete a jigsaw puzzle. We know that it takes a lot of patience. It also takes a lot of patience to build up the Church. To complete a puzzle it takes a lot of organization as well. When you open the box, you first try to organize the pieces by identifying colors, marks and designs on the pieces, right? When we try to organize the Church, we try to organize by what everybody’s talents are, We try to find out where each person belongs in the overall picture. The way to do that is by sorting out by the shapes, or discerning everyone’s individual spiritual gifts. All are important. All are vital. Then you slowly begin to assemble parts of the picture. Connecting the slots one pair at a time, until it all begins to come together! Sometimes it is very frustrating when you find two pieces that look like they belong together, but you try and connect them and they do not fit! So you keep trying. You keep the faith. Then, after much work, the picture is complete. As people come to the Church, they begin to find where they fit in. Where their talents and gifts best match the needs of the Church. These gifts are what ‘bond’ us together in the Church. Much like the slots in the jigsaw pieces, we use these to interlock with each other . Let’s use these gifts to complete the Church! That’s how we show we are willing to take care of our gifts, and take care of one another.

Where do you fit in? Where are your talents and gifts most beneficial to completing the Church? I want us all to keep these pieces of the puzzle, as a reminder that we are all a very vital link in the Church! Without any of you, it would not be complete! May the Lord bless each of you! Also, remember my father’s lesson? “Do you want to vacuum that car?” The only way to enjoy your blessings is to care for them.

[i] See Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 75.

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