Welcome to all, especially our visitors today, to Jesus Our Shepherd Catholic parish, an inclusive community. For those who do not know me, allow me to introduce myself. I am Alice Iaquinta. I recently graduated from St. Francis Seminary with the Master of Divinity degree. I am a candidate for ordination in the Roman Catholic Women Priest preparation program and will be ordained to the diaconate in May in Toronto, and to the priesthood in August of this year. Fr. Robert Weiss has kindly offered to let me preach the homily today in his place. Thank you Fr. Robert.
We live in the age of sound bites and snippets. Most of the time we only get part of any story, speech or public presentation, especially in the media. Actually that is sort of what happens when we come to mass each week. We get a snippet of the readings in the scriptures. The first reading is always from the Old Testament, the law, the prophesy and history of the Israelites. The Gospel is from the New Testament, and tells of the experiences of Jesus and those who followed him. These two readings typically are what get the preacher's attention and what is focused on in the homily. The second reading is almost always from the letters of Paul to the various churches that he founded, and is less often preached about. As I read and reflected on all of today's readings, it is the snippet from Paul's long letter to the newly founded church at Corinth that kept pressing on my heart. So today I want us to focus on understanding how what Paul was saying about the spiritual gifts to the community at Corinth, he is also saying to us, as a church in search of itself, both Jesus Our Shepherd and the universal Church as well.
How many of you have written a letter lately. I mean, sat down, took out stationary and wrote the letter by hand, addressed and stamped the envelope and mailed it to someone? In the age of email, so often this is a rarity. We pop off quick notes on the internet, using icons instead of words, and often shortening our messages to incomplete sentences and even leaving vowels out of words to make the writing process quicker.
Well, Paul did not do that. When he sat down to write a letter, it was carefully crafted, well thought out, directed to a specific audience, with a very specific purpose in mind. So let's look at who Paul was writing to in this snippet of his long letter and why he wrote it. (The letter in the Bible has 16 chapters; those were created when the Bible was being compiled over hundreds of years. Paul didn't write verses. He wrote sentences which built to a convincing point of view about some issue.) In this case, Paul's context was that the church in Corinth, which he had founded, was experiencing problems and he wanted to give them insight about solving them.
Paul's Context - Paul was speaking to the fledgling church at the bustling seaport of Corinth, a busy port city in Greece. It had many people coming and going from all over the then-known world. The faith community was composed of Jews, Gentiles, men, women, free, slave, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, merchants, trades people, young and older people; it was divided and struggling. It was in the process of forming itself.
Can you guess that all this diversity would be fertile ground for conflict?
Not only were these demographic differences causing problems, the people were arguing and in conflict over the many gifts of the Spirit which they had each been given by the Spirit. The diversity of gifts was causing competition, as they attempted to rank them and judge each other and others in the larger community. Paul then, had a very clear goal in this letter.
Paul's goal : Paul was saying to the church of Corinth, "Hey folks!! We need to build unity in diversity; We need to accept diversity in unity.
Our context : Is JOS and the universal Church so different from the early Corinthian church 2000 years ago? We continue today to struggle to become what the Eucharist and baptism asks of us: To become one in all our diversity. We are a new community trying to define itself as an inclusive Church of Jesus Christ which lives the Gospel. That is still the work of the universal Church, including all our Protestant sisters and brothers. Paul is speaking to us as much as he was to the folks at Corinth.
Our goal : What we need to do is to see our diverse gifts of the Spirit not as the grounds for division and exclusion, but as the means to wholeness: in our families; as a faith community; and as the universal Church.
To really understand the snippet today, we have to understand that it is really part of a whole.....a whole answer that Paul was offering to resolve the competition, divisiveness and exclusivity in the Corinthian church. Snippets of Scripture are hard to understand in isolation. But when we look at what comes before it and what comes after it, this snippet makes more sense. There are four parts to Paul's response to the fighting and posturing:
1. 1 Cor 11 - The 1st week in ordinary time focused on Baptism of the Lord, so we didn't hear this part of the epistle (letter) because a different scripture reading was used. But in the sentences immediately preceding today's snippet of Scripture, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the importance of the LORD'S SUPPER : EUCHARIST.
2. 1 Cor 12: 4-11 : In the 2nd week of ordinary time, today's, (Jan. 11), second reading PauI is writing about the GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT.
3. 1 Cor 12: 12-30 - In the 3rd week of ordinary time (Jan. 21), Paul explains the BODY OF CHRIST.
4. 1 Cor 12:31-13:13 - In the 4th week in ordinary time (Jan. 28), Paul explains LOVE
Understanding this structure of this section of the letter helps us understand the meaning of the spiritual gifts for us as well as for the Corinthians. Let's look at this a bit more closely. Paul meant for all four snippets to address the issue of division.
I. Ist week ordinary time 1 Cor 11.
Repeating the words of Institution, ("This is my body......, this is my blood......") said at Eucharist, Paul's proposed a solution to the division and competition resulting from how they perceived the value and status of the gifts they have received from the Spirit. Paul reminded the Corinthians of what it means to reenact the institution of the Lord's Supper. What does it mean to receive Eucharist, to become Eucharist????? Although in Paul's time the answer followed immediately, as the letter was read aloud to the church, we don't get the answer until today's reading.
2. 2nd week ordinary time - 1 Cor 12: 4-11
As a Eucharistic people we receive diverse GIFTS given by the Spirit at the Spirit's own choosing. We don't get to choose them. We all have been given gifts; no one has all the gifts. They are given to everyone...... EVERYONE. And they are given for a benefit. Benefit??? What is the benefit????? For whom??? How are we to use the diverse gifts?
At Jesus Our Shepherd church we have people with the gift of hospitality which makes weekly fellowship possible after worship. Last week we had a community meeting and discussed finances. There are those who know all about handling finances. That would not be my gift! I change banks to balance my checking account. My good friend, Tom, who is here today, has three beautiful sons. Tom, I'll bet you could name many different gifts each boy has that the others don't. But that doesn't mean the gifts are in competition. As church, we need to recognize and accept, validate and use the gifts, not for ourselves, BUT for whom ....?????
We won't get the answer until next week, but I'll give you a sneak preview.
3. 3rd week ordinary time. 1 Cor 12: 12-30
Next week, on Jan. 21, Paul uses the long analogy of THE BODY to illustrate that all parts of the body are made by God and that the many parts are all one body. All the parts should have the concern for one another. The parts are not viable when separated. None is more important than any other.
When we are Baptized into one Christ, we become one body, all the parts are to be concerned with one another. Paul says, "Now you are Christ's body and individually parts of it." All the various roles, (teacher, apostle, healer, prophets), and gifts, (faith, wisdom, knowledge, healing, tongues, interpretation of tongues, etc.), are all for the benefit of the one body of Christ. Then Paul slips in an important "but," in the last sentence of this paragraph of the letter. He says, "BUT I SHALL SHOW YOU A STILL MORE EXCELLENT WAY. It is the last line of next week's reading snippet. Just what is that most excellent way???? What he is referring to?
Well, we won't get won't get the answer till the next week.
4. 4th week ordinary time. 1 Cor 12:31-13:13 In two weeks we will learn that the most excellent way is Love. The greatest spiritual gift is LOVE. Paul tells us that at the end of this snippet of the letter. Before he gives us that insight though, he gives us the description of love that you have heard read at every nearly every wedding you have ever attended. It is so familiar that we often don't really hear it. Often we glaze over at the beginning.
Interestingly, Paul does not reprimand the Corinthians directly. Instead he simply tells them two positives about love, that it is patient and that it is kind. THEN .....he blasts them with many descriptions of what love is not: arrogant, selfish, quick to anger, jealous, rude, self-centered. In fact, that negative list is a catalogue of the Corinthians' behaviors as a result of their competitiveness and divisiveness. It is hard to imagine a group of people listening to this letter be read to them would not recognize what they are guilty of. Paul lets them, and us, know that Love is ultimately the hard and often painful work of every Christian.
We all know how hard it is to acknowledge and appreciate, recognize and validate the gifts of our partner, co-worker, child, or neighbor when their gifts are soooo different from our own, especially if their gifts seem to make them more special, or if they are in conflict with our own. Much time and energy is spent trying to get others to be more like us, wouldn't you agree? Paul's point is driven home. There can only be unity in our diversity if there is love.
Without Love, the other gifts of the Spirit are as nothing. Love is the foundation of unity in diversity. Love makes it possible to accept diversity in our unity as a family, as a faith community, as the universal Church, as the whole people of God. Love is the energy of the Spirit which makes all the spiritual gifts possible, which empowers us to use them for the building up of each other. The work of the Church, the work of our faith community, the work for each one of us is to Love each others' gifts as the work of the Spirit to be used for the good of us all.
In a truly loving Church, no one's spiritual gifts are ignored, excluded, denied, marginalized, erased, limited or negate ......ever.
As we now receive Eucharist, let us remember that Paul is speaking to us. We become Eucharist for each other when we recognize and accept, honor, validate and use our individual spiritual gifts for the good of the community, our families, our faith community, the universal Church, and all of creation. Then we are one with God in Christ. AMEN