1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 25-27

I remember back to my first year in college, at a liberal arts school. My roommate made some crazy connection between two classes, something like taking an idea from Calculus into English, and he read differently into a book because he had some other thought in mind. We called it a “liberal arts moment,” and that made some sense of this program of studying bits of many different subjects. That program left us very well qualified for not very much, but we pride ourselves on being very fast learners because we can see connections with what already knew. The basic idea is that the different things we study are all one set of knowledge, so English and Math are the same basic kind of thought.

I still think that. I think my background in religious studies and your background in psychology, English, math, mechanics, or music are all one knowledge, just in different forms. Your brain studies the structure of a building, the flow of power, the flicker of pain in a face, just as mine sees Hebrew, Greek, and committees. We think in different ways – we analyze, do math, or imagine – but there’s something deeply connected about our thought. That’s why I minister better when I learn about your lives and interests, because the truth of your life connects to mine.

Our congregation teaches and learns in many ways. We teach and learn through presentations on community problems, philosophy lectures, and book discussions. We do traditional “church learning” too: we hold a Bible study, our Christian Education kids learn the basic stories, we practice prayer and praise in worship. We learn about deeper religious practices, as the Spirituality Committee leads us in reflection, Reiki, and discernment – and they’ll lead us in worship soon. Our youth learn to serve members of their community in need, and they learn how to share last bit of yard-o-beef in the Boundary Waters. There are so many ways to learn, and we learn different lessons, but there’s just one kind of knowledge: the knowledge of how to connect with God and each other.

This is true even if we’re not talking about knowledge as such. There are many different gifts and approaches to faithfulness in our congregation. Some of us serve by feeding members and guests. Some express their faith with art or music. Some advocate for political or environmental issues, and not always the same issues. The Spirit of this church is not Democratic or Republican, and there’s no single faithful position to be claimed on very much. If we’re led to take sides, we may be led to take sides against each other and walk out of step with one another. That’s a good thing, so long as we honor each other’s faith. Many different ways to be faithful all serve one God, despite all appearances to the contrary.

Paul writes to a Corinthian church that cared deeply about which spiritual gifts were “the most gifted.” What mattered more: prophecy, tongues, or knowledge? Paul asks a different question: where did these gifts come from? My preaching, your compassion, our wisdom and discernment – where did they come from? From the Holy Spirit, of course. There’s no “spirit of leadership,” or “spirit of bookkeeping,” or “spirit of fixing.” All of these spirits are one Spirit. All of our gifts come from the one God, and the church needs each of our gifts. Our different gifts work together as a body that is fit together just so, where the different parts interact as one.

You might be thinking about the NFL (I think there’s a game on later). Imagine if everyone on the team was a right guard. Of course, that position matters, but imagine if your team were made of eleven right guards. Nothing interesting would happen, and the ball would just sit on the ground. But with a team of eleven players all playing different positions, all working differently from the same idea, the team moves like a single unit. Gaps open up just when they’re needed. Apparently unrelated blocks give shape to a downfield run. Something beautiful happens.

Something beautiful happens when we work with each other as the church, when our specific ministries dance together in mysterious union. I don’t direct this dance. I can’t create connections between different ministries; they’re already there. We don’t control the moments when the choir anthem, the sermon topic, and the outreach dinner line up like magic. Those moments are surprising and wonderful. All the same, they’re not unexpected. The same Spirit that gifted each of us, blesses us all with each other.

This takes some imagining sometimes. Our priorities can seem to come into conflict, and it seems like we have to choose between hospitality and maintaining the building, or between funding mission and making the budget. We can disagree on basic directions, about traditional versus progressive interpretations of Scripture or social engagement versus individual spiritual growth. That doesn’t just take imagining, it takes work. It takes forbearance. It takes love, as we read in Paul’s letter last week. There’s a reason that “love is patient and kind and never braggadocious.” Love is that way because it’s the only way for us to put up with each other for long. Love listens more than it speaks. Love tries to understand more than it tries to justify itself. It waits for unity more than it pushes its agenda.

That’s the kind of love that is our basic call as the church. We’re called to stick it out with each other, because the work of remaining together grows our spirits. Just staying present with each other makes us greater, and that even goes for the people we find abrasive, shallow, or unfaithful. The simple fact of doing what we do as church – sticking together, being nice (and honest), and hearing each other out – that deepens our souls. Because you’re here with dozens of people who aren’t like you, you’re a little more profoundly Christian than you were when you arrived.

The life of the church happens here where we gather. It happens in the South Room where we share fellowship (what you might call a sacrament of unity) with each other. So as we review the Annual Report, affirm the ministries of the church, and finally share coffee with one another, we can marvel at the many gifts of the one great Spirit. Thanks be to God.