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Sermons > Second Sunday after Epiphany

17 Jan 2010

“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit.  There are different forms of service but the same Lord.  There are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.”  (1 Cor. 12:4-6)                                                  In the name …

I know amazingly little about the mechanics of team sports.  One reason that I’m not a big football fan, for example, is that every play basically looks the same to me.  The defense charges the quarterback.  The offense either runs right back at them or throws over them.  I know that there’s much more than this going on, but I can’t see it.  I remember from my Scranton days how everyone was in love with Penn State and Coach Joe Paterno.  They loved that there were no names on the player’s jerseys because it wasn’t about the individual, it was about the team.  I remember being impressed by that ethic, but it didn’t help me to understand how the team actually worked together.  And I sure didn’t learn anything watching the Patriots play last Sunday either. 

Quite a while back I had e-mailed a video clip to some of the guys in the church who enjoy Nascar racing.  It was a comedian’s take on learning how to race cars professionally.  He mentioned the accelerator pedal:  Just push it down and go as fast as you can.  He talked about steering wheel:  Go straight and then turn a little bit to the left, go straight, turn a little bit to the left, and just keep doing that until the race is over.  Again, that’s what Nascar can look like if you don’t know what’s really happening on the track or in the pits.  I know there’s more to it than this, but I don’t see it.  I even know that there are racing teams, but I can’t even begin to imagine how team-racing plays out.

When I attend the girls basketball games at Frontier, if I’m sitting with Marshall Aronstam in the bleachers he likes to explain what’s going on or maybe what should have been going on.  I’m beginning to pick-up a little bit here and there, but most of the time the game seems more like instinct to me than practice.  Somehow the player needs to be where she is to score or to block, but how she ever knew to get there, I just don’t see it until it happens. 

Then this past week I attended a parents’ meeting of the girl’s basketball team, but it was called during the team practices for both the boys and the girls in the Frontier gym.  It was about 15 minutes before the meeting got under way, and during that quarter hour I watched the boys practice basketball.  They were going through some of their drills.  I watched the coach explain to his players where they needed to be, how they should react if the opponent did this or that, and they ran the same plays over and over again.  He was blowing the whistle and stopping the plays whether or not the basketball went through the hoop.  He wasn’t as concerned about that as he was about the plays.  I’ve had to go to a lot of Frontier sports over the years, but I’ve never paid any attention to their practices.  I know that football and basketball and even Nascar are team sports, but I basically saw a bunch of individuals playing together, never really understanding how they played together.  Actually paying attention to just 15 minutes of a practice helped me to see how a team works together for the good of the whole.

I’m just beginning to appreciate the mechanics of team sports, but I wonder though if some people are going through the same kind of learning curve when it comes to the idea of the church as also being very much a team effort.  I haven’t always understood how sports teams play together, but I know through the words of Paul that the church can work together because all of our different gifts are offered and managed by the same Holy Spirit. God has a plan, and each of us has a part to play in it.  Imagine a coach practicing plays and then just one player deciding to not participate.  Like-wise, imagine the Holy Spirit expecting something from each of us, and then some of us choosing not do our part. We don’t only hurt ourselves. We hurt the entire effort of the church. What happens to the church if we let ourselves slide into the illusion that we’re the spectators rather than the team players of church, that others can do all that needs to be done, whoever that magical “others” may be?  I have to learn to see how important it is for each player to perform their part when it comes to sports, but I hope all of us can appreciate the same lesson when it comes to church.

The church is different people with different gifts coming together for the good of all.  Every member of the church, says Paul today, has been given a unique and necessary gift by the Holy Spirit.  Whatever a believer does as church, therefore, is more than human effort, and I find this exhilarating.  It is evidence of the presence, power and purpose of God in the world and in us.  Ministry, service and righteousness all spring from the same root-word in the language of the earliest church.  All that we do as part of the ministry and service of the church is part of our righteousness.  In other words, morality is not defined only by what we don’t do, all of those commandments we have memorized since childhood.  It’s also about what we do, what we offer of ourselves and share of our talents. But this also means we have to turn to God and trust in Him when we serve the church. It’s like today’s Gospel story of Jesus at the wedding in Cana. The wine had run out.  Then the problem was brought to Jesus and the better wine flowed abundantly. Sometimes we may feel that we have nothing to offer as a service to the church or nothing left to offer, but that’s when we need to bring our prayers to Jesus, that’s when we need to let Him work through us.  This teaches that whatever we try to do for the church is not based only on our own abilities and strengths, but upon what we can do combined with the power of God.  Again, church is not a spectator sport because that denies God the ability to work through us.  Church is a team effort that is managed by the same God, says Paul.  Each of us has some role to play in the church for the good of the whole, but Paul also teaches that we will never have to work without the help of God as we perform the work of God.  That we may learn to trust in the power of this promise, that we may trust enough in these words to actually put them into practice in the life of our church by sharing our God-given gifts as needed, for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen

Fr. Randolph Calvo


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