Sermon for Sunday, January 17, 2016 || Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C || Isaiah 62: 1-5 ||Psalm 36: 5-10 || 1 Corinthians 12: 1- 11 || The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
“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.”
Now that is an astonishing, and incredibly humbling, reality to contemplate on this day before we honor an extraordinarily gifted, Spirit-filled champion of the common good like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.
Whenever we compare ourselves to others, we are on very dangerous ground. If I compare myself to Dr. King, I feel horribly inadequate. If I compare myself to, say, Bernie Madoff, I feel rather good about myself. But while we are each entirely unique individuals with our own strengths and weaknesses, our own gifts and talents, hopes and fears, ideas and opinions—our scripture this morning tells us that the same Spirit that was in Dr. King is in each of us. This Spirit binds us. It unites us. We are all made of the same stuff, share the same spiritual DNA, are children of the same God, animated by the same Spirit.
That is an awesome thing. For all the illusions we may have of being different than, better than, not as good as, or less than, God is the great Leveler, the great Equalizer. Whatever gifts we have, from painting landscapes to crunching numbers, we’ve been given them by the same Spirit. When we offer those gifts to God, we’re all serving the same Lord. And no matter what we do, or what activities occupy our time at any given moment, it is only because the One and same God is breathing life into each of us, moment by moment, that we can do any of it.
Unity in diversity is not just a catchy phrase, it is the essential reality that underlies life. We are each different manifestations of the same Spirit: Christ’s Spirit, God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit. That Spirit is alive and kicking in each and every one of us, and that Spirit is a mighty powerful Spirit! It’s a sleeping giant, as Dr. King and the civil rights movement demonstrated. What our reading teaches us this morning is that we are hardwired to harness that Spirit-in-each-of-us, for the sake of the common good… for God’s dream…the dream for which Dr. King gave his life.
You may not know that in 1967 King retreated for a while to a rented house in Jamaica, where he wrote what is his least known yet arguably best (and last ) book, “Where Do We Go From Here, Chaos or Community?” Listen for just a minute to what Dr. King wrote about our underlying connectedness:
“From time immemorial,” he said, “men have lived by the principle that self-preservation is the first law of life—but this is a false assumption. I would say that other-preservation is the first law of life. It is the first law of life precisely because we cannot preserve self without being concerned about preserving other selves. This universe is so structured, that things go awry if men are not diligent in their cultivation of the other-regarding dimension. I cannot reach fulfillment without thou.”
I cannot reach fulfillment without thou…this universe is so structured that things go awry if men are not diligent in their cultivation of the other-regarding dimension…to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good…
This underlying truth about the nature of reality is what allows Christians to be people of hope when the world around them seems consumed with self-interest and greed. This underlying truth about the nature of reality is what allowed Martin Luther King to dream his dream. Dr. King, like Paul, knew that God had made humankind such that we will never know happiness or fulfillment or peace until we recognize our immutable connectedness to each other and the benefit of the common good to our very souls. “Life’s most persistent and urgent question,” King once said, “is, ‘What are you doing for others?”
Whether we are aware of it on a conscious level or not, the reality is that when our neighbor suffers, we suffer. When our neighbor hungers, we hunger. When our neighbor is treated unjustly, we are treated unjustly. We are all made of the same stuff, share the same spiritual DNA, are children of the same God, are animated by the same Spirit—and when your Spirit is not treated as the sacred creature of God that it is, my Spirit hurts. When my Spirit is violated by hatred, ignorance, or injustice, your Spirit is violated too.
As long as we continue to pursue happiness, fulfillment, and peace for our selves at the expense of others, the pursuit will be fruitless. Continuing to do so— over and over again and hoping for a different result—is the very definition of insanity. We cannot escape our essential connectedness in the Spirit.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said Martin. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” said Jesus.
The paradox is that it’s in our self-interest to be self-sacrificing…it is for our personal good that we should work for the common good. Because if we want to be happy, we need to be altruistic. God made us that way.
St. Francis is credited with writing a wonderful prayer that gives expression to this paradox, and I’d like to invite you to open your prayer books to page 833 so we can pray it now together. Let us pray:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.