This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 1/23/22, at Berkeley Friends Church (via videoconference). The scripture reading for this sermon was: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text.)
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The last two years have been a long decade.
None of us had any idea, when this pandemic started, how long it would last and how profoundly it would shape our lives. It’s shaped us on an individual level and as families. It has also transformed what it means for us to be a Christian community as Berkeley Friends Church.
Two years ago, we were – like most churches – a totally analog experience. We met in person, in a brick-and-mortar building. We shared food and coffee. We sang songs and shook hands at the end of worship.
The last two years have been a long decade. It’s been a time that has seen us transform into something more than a local church. We have people who are real, active parts of our community who are living in places like Stockton, California – which isn’t quite in range of our meeting house in Berkeley. Others are coming in from much farther away: the East Coast, Ohio, Kansas, Honduras, the suburbs of Paris. We have become more than a local church; we’re global now.
We’ve also become less than a local church. Many of our good friends and members of this church have not been included in this digital transformation. For a variety of reasons, many of us have simply not been attending for the last two years. We’re hopeful that many of these friends will rejoin us as we return to in-person worship, but we know that some will not. This pandemic has been a time of growth, but also of diminishment.
Next week, our plan is to return to in-person worship, while also maintaining a digital option. This hybrid worship is a new phase for us. It’s an attempt to knit our community back together, including both the many friends who, despite great distance, have become part of this church in the last two years, as well as those who have been excluded by the digital format.
As a father of three young boys, I’m excited to get back to the meeting house. Our children need the spiritual and emotional care of this community. “It takes a village to raise a child,” as the saying goes – and Berkeley Friends Church is our village. For the duration of the pandemic, despite our best efforts at intergenerational worship services, children have been largely excluded from our community.
Starting next week, we hope that will change. We will have religious education for both adults and children. Berkeley Friends Church will once again be a truly intergenerational community. Thank you to the members of this church who have stepped up and are lending their time and gifts to make this possible. It takes a village.
It takes a body. As the apostle Paul describes so beautifully, we who are part of Berkeley Friends Church have become and are becoming one body in Jesus. We’ve got ears and noses, hands and feet, all the parts the body needs. But for the past two years we have been separated from one another. We’ve been severed. Ears, eyes, and noses sitting in their own separate rooms. Despite our best intentions and efforts, many gifts have been neglected.
The beginning of hybrid worship is an opportunity to reunite the body. A new body. A body that, in the midst of this terrible season of pandemic, the Holy Spirit has drawn together for God’s purposes.
With all of the isolation, and fear, and death brought on by the pandemic, it’s hard to answer the question of why God allows evil to occur, even the natural evil of a deadly virus. I don’t have the answer to that question. But I do have faith that God is using this crisis to effect transformation in the world, to create beauty that was not possible before.
And I don’t believe this blindly; I have evidence! You, friends, are that evidence. In the words of Ephesians 2: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace…”
In this time of crisis, those who were far off have been brought near. God has drawn us together, and made us a body in Jesus. He has broken down the dividing wall. He is making something new.
And as Paul writes to the Corinthians, “God arranged the members of the body, each one of them, as he chose.” We are different, but God has brought us together. We have different gifts, but God has arranged us so that we are a symbiotic and functional whole.
Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all local to Berkeley? Are all able to sit for an hour in front of a computer? Are all healthy enough to risk covid exposure? Are all parents of young children?
But strive for the greater gifts.
We know from the next chapter of Corinthians that the greatest of the gifts is love. God has called us to love. We are, all of us, called to the practice of love in how we exercise our gifts.
What does that look like for you? What will you do in this new season of hybrid community? What does it mean for God to arrange us in such a way that all members of the body are raised up, supported, honored, healed?
For those of us who are a part of this community digitally, at a distance: What does it look like to operate in your gifts, according to the Spirit that has been given to you? How do you show love and operate as a part of the body? How are you called to build up the members who are local to our meeting place? How might God be calling you to expand our digital ministry?
For our local members, what unique gifts has God given you to minister to people here in the Bay Area? What does it look like to be the local expression of Berkeley Friends Church, even as we have also become a distributed, super-local community? What does it mean to be digitally amphibious – living, loving, and ministering on two levels at once?
You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it. God has appointed you for a purpose, to build up the people around you and bless the world. You are the body of Christ. God’s power in you – the gifts and love that the Spirit has sown in you – this is the good news we have been waiting for. We are the body of Christ.