A long time ago—a very long time ago; a lifetime ago—I worked in a warehouse. And my job… was to count things.
The place that I worked was a nonprofit. We took the overstock from manufacturers, and then we turned around and sold that overstock to other nonprofits for a substantially reduced price. It was a win-win: the manufacturers got a tax deduction for the value of whatever they gave to us, and the nonprofits could get stuff for much less than they would pay at a store.
But the manufacturers needed an official receipt for what they gave. And that meant that there was a team of us whose job was to take that pallet of boxes that 3M had just sent in—that pallet of boxes that 3M said contained ten thousand packages of Post-It Notes—and count them.
It wasn’t a great job. It didn’t have the makings of a career. But I had a bachelor’s degree with major in philosophy. And it was full-time. And it paid more than minimum wage. And I think that there might have been medical insurance. And I was biding my time.
And I’m pretty confident that when I was interviewed, and given the tour, and hired, and given my orientation, I was told that I was a valuable member of the team. I’m pretty confident that I was told that we were a family there. And I’m pretty confident about those things because I’ve been told those things by almost every employer I’ve ever had.
And I’m also pretty confident that no one who is there now—twenty years later—knows that I was a valuable member of the team. I’m pretty confident that the only evidence that I ever was a part of that family is a file in a folder in a cabinet in a basement somewhere.
Because that is how the world works.
I’ve been a valued employee… until I didn’t work there anymore… when I was replaced by the next name in a stack of applications.
I’ve been a valued customer… until I didn’t go there anymore… when I was replaced by the next person who walked through the door.
I’ve been a valued friend… until I moved away and we lost touch… when I was replaced by who knows who
I’ve been told that I am a valuable member of the team… and a part of the family… and that they couldn’t have done it without me… until I wasn’t… and they did.
This week, we’re starting our other summer sermon series.
If you’ve been in worship since Pentecost, then you’ve heard the first couple of sermons in our series about being a blessing: about leading with love, praying often, practicing peace, giving thanks, being joyful, doing good, having courage, working for justice, being the light, and encouraging others.
And if you haven’t been to worship since Pentecost, I invite you to go back and check out those services. We have them on our website as both videos and podcasts.
But on the Sundays when we have worship among the vines at TYCOGA, we’re doing different summer sermon series titled Why Church? Why do this thing? Why get up on Sunday mornings… or attend business meetings… or mentor a confirmand… or commit daring acts of charity… with these weird people?
There are a lot of possible answers to that question. And today we get one of them.
In our reading today, Paul is writing to the church in Corinth. You see, someone has brought a list of problems to his attention: there are quarrels among the members… there are lawsuits… there are some boundary violations going on… people are failing to love one another as Christ has loved them.
And so Paul writes to them. And he says,
Guys… look… you are part of the body of Christ. And the thing about bodies is that you need all of the bits. I mean, you can’t have a body that’s just eyeballs. And you can’t have a body that just doesn’t have a pancreas. If you were just eyeballs, how would you hear or smell? If you didn’t have a pancreas how would you… do whatever a pancreas does?
Look, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. And the parts that seem less honorable we clothe with honor. And the parts that seem less respectable are given greater respect. And that means that you cannot say things like, “Me and my friends are eyeballs and the church should be just us,” or “You and your friends are just a bunch of pancreases and we don’t need you.”
All of you… all of you… are part of the body. All of you are necessary.
You see, the thing about the church is that we… cannot be who we are called to be… without you. You are absolutely necessary to the church. You are absolutely necessary to the kingdom of God.
That is a revolutionary idea.
The sad truth is that we live in a world where people are far too often treated as though people are disposable.
That is true in big ways. We accept civilian deaths in war. We learn to look past people on the street who are asking for help. We create warehouses for low wage workers… and people who have committed crimes… and people with mental health challenges… and old folks… and the list goes on.
But it also happens in so many small ways. We leave a job, or a school, or a club, or a community… and time passes… and eventually the only evidence that we ever existed is a file in a folder in a cabinet in a basement somewhere.
Sometimes, we dispense with the weak, and toss aside the less honorable, and throw out the less respectable. We craft oubliettes. And then we do what people do with oubliettes. We forget about them.
And, sometimes, we discover that we are the weak or the dishonorable or the un-respected. We discover that we are in the oubliette… left and forgotten… wondering if we even matter.
But the truth is that you do matter. What Paul said to the church in Corinth is true: when we are at our best—when we are being the church who God calls us to be—we are not just a bunch of people who happen to be in the same place for a while… we are not just a bunch of people who can disperse and forget about each other once we’ve sung the closing song.
When we are being the church who God calls us to be, we are one body and we need all the bits. When we are being the church who God calls us to be, you matter.
We… cannot be who we are called to be… without you. Because you are a vital part of us. You are a vital part of the body of Christ.
And I know… that sounds a lot like the orientation video that you watch before you walk into the warehouse and start counting packages of Post-It Notes. But it is absolutely true:
Our singing doesn’t sound the same without your voice in the mix.
Our youth don’t grow in the same way without the wisdom that you provide. Our elders don’t feel the same love without the company that you provide.
Our prayers don’t rise in the same way without your amen.
Our life together is not as full when you’re not part of it.
Our body… this body… the body of Christ… cannot be a body without you. No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life’s journey. Whether you are a hand or a foot… or an eye or an ear… or a pancreas or an appendix. Or anything else.
And that’s true about more than the church.
You see, the church is not the whole of the community that God calls into their kingdom. God calls the whole world. God calls all of creation.
The church is just one little corner of creation. But when we’re being the church who God calls us to be, we are a little consulate of the kingdom of God. When we’re being the church who God calls us to be, we are showing the world… well, we’re showing the world how to be the world that God calls it to be… a world of abundance and grace and love.
So why church? Why do this thing? Why get up on Sunday mornings… or attend business meetings… or mentor a confirmand… or commit daring acts of charity… with these weird people?
So that you can be part of a community where you matter… where you are absolutely vital… where you cannot be dismissed or cast aside or stored in a warehouse or lost in an oubliette.
And to be part of a community that calls the whole world to be that way. To be part of a community that tells everyone everywhere—in war zones and on the streets, in prisons and psych wards, in retirement homes and just stuck at home—you matter… you are loved and worthy of love… and we… cannot be who we are called to be… without you.
And that is good news. For you. For us. And for the world.