Seeds of Justice:
Finding Sustenance in the Movement
October 6, 2019
Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:22-31
Hannah Ervin, guest preacher
I love doing things alone. I like to think of myself as self-sufficient, and for a really long time I didn’t like asking for a need to be met. I was under the impression that needing someone or something was a flaw, proof that I was weak. I loved the idea of community and growing with others but I didn’t love the idea that I couldn’t be perfect there. I liked to be in community, but I also like that I felt like I had it all figured out. My vulnerability was performative- only once I had come to a clear conclusion of things would I share them. I had handled it on my own. About a year or so ago I walked the Camino de Santiago, which is a pilgrimage through Northern Spain. The Camino tested my mind, my body, and my spirit. I thought I was prepared. I had the right shoes, hostels lined up at every stop along the way, and everything I would've needed in my backpack.
The western world tells us that we can do it alone- that we are solely responsible for our own growth and success. We are told that the “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” trope is real and achievable. This individualistic mindset sets us back. Only through my deep need for people on the Camino did I learn about the absolute necessity of truly living into community, the necessity of interdependence.
Interdependence is the notion that we are a web of people, we have to rely on and see the worth in one another. We are all connected. In the Western world, we fail to recognize that we are already interconnected; we are denying this reality and the necessity of it. Interdependence requires us to open ourselves up to one another and reveal our weak parts. As Paul noted in the text that was just read, we are the body. And we as a collective whole are the culmination of our weak parts and our greatest strengths. Through seeing these and accepting each other as we are, we are allowing change to happen.
The idea of interdependence is that we can meet each other’s needs in a variety of ways, that we can truly lean on others and they can lean on us. It means we have to decentralize power and what we hold as the most worthy. We must set aside our views of what is good and praiseworthy and see the value in each person and their gifts. Paul lists out all of these gifts, asking “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?” The list continues. All of our gifts are different for a reason. We are not made to use our gifts alone, but are intended to bring our gifts to the body. This challenges the notion that one person has something more powerful to offer than the other. We are encouraged to see one another as a whole, providing for one another in unique ways. When we hold all of our strengths and weaknesses today, we become a body that does justice.
In this text, Paul is writing to the members of the Church in Corinth. This church is made up of a diverse community of people: its a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and primarily poor community that is steeped in social conflict. Here, Paul is addressing the spiritual needs of the community through this body metaphor. The ancient Roman empire that is the Corinthians are in considers itself to be a body of people. This society, this body, is organized as a hierarchy. The prophets, the apostles, etc. are seen as the most worthy, everyone else falling behind. The Roman ‘body-politic’ structure is used to oppress the poor and marginalized into sacrificing their own interests for the sake of the whole.
As we create justice with one another, we also have to tend to one another’s embodied beings. If we read this letter to the Corinthians in this way, we see that we are called to find care for the suffering parts of the body. Those who are asked to sacrifice too much for the comfort of the many. Each part of the Body of the Church and our own bodies affects the other, fatigue affects function. There is need for rest in the struggle. The New King James Version translates v.25 to say “... there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.” That care has to translate to our bodies.
Here we see Paul urging the people to see those parts that we think of as useless as crucial for our survival. Verse 22 tells us that The weak parts of the body are indispensable. Let me say that one more time: the weak parts of the body are indispensable. We cannot work without them. He reminds us that the whole of us matter because we rely on one another. We require each other for sustenance in the movement. We must meet the needs of one another if we are to struggle for justice. We are not all apostles, we do not all have the gift to heal. But we are all valuable members of the body, we do what we can to care for ourselves. And there is a sense of liberation in this. That we do not have to do everything alone. That we cannot do everything alone.
On the Camino, I learned the necessity of receiving care. I learned what it meant to care for my own body because I opened myself up and showed my weak parts. What I wasn’t anticipating needing was someone to tie my shoes tighter when I was too tired to retie them for the 3rd time that day. I wasn’t expecting to need someone to help me wrap my blisters that inevitably came after days of walking in the rain. I wasn’t expecting to need songs and motivational words and a shoulder to cry one when I was so fed up with the fact that it had rained almost every day for 2 weeks. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, and I could NOT have done it without relying on other people and the care they provided. Only through the love and motivation of other people who cared for my body and my spirit did I make it to Santiago. Through being vulnerable, I was cared for. Then, I was able to provide care when I gave up the idea of doing it alone. Once we let go of the idea that we go about this road alone do we make space for God to move in and assist us in the journey. When we are truly church, when we are gathered together, we are experiencing the love of God and nurturing Spirit that carries us through each moment and each day.
We are planting seeds by starting with caring for one another. This might not seem to be the wide systemic change we desperately need, but it is the foundation from which that change occurs. Community organizer adrienne maree brown writes that we are not creating movements that are a mile wide and an inch deep, but movements that are an inch wide and a mile deep. This requires us to invest in both ourselves and others. We are better when we care for each other. We are better when we depend on one another, when we meet the needs of others and have our needs met. These small movements create big change. But this interdependence does not call for unity. It does not call for ignorant loyalty to a movement.
Sometimes I feel like a broken record when I talk about the institution of the United Methodist Church and its hypocritical nature. The institution’s choice to continually deny the humanity of LGBTQ folks and their worth cuts a part of the body out, seeing it as dispensable. Its “unity” is not what I am calling for, we do not benefit from the veil of inclusivity through unity when things are breaking and perhaps broken beyond repair. It is in the body that I see Paul calling us to interdependence as we form a new church- a new way of Methodism that does not ask the poorest among us to sacrifice their well-being for the “unity” of the whole. And I know that I cannot fight the Methodist church alone, I know that holy resistance includes care when I am weary. It means that some days I need people to outwardly dissent with me, and other times I need my closest friends to come over with Chinese food. We show were invested in the movement when we invest in others. We show we’re committed to justice when we take time to rest and care for our holy and sacred bodies.
If you’ve been the Church of the Village before, you might remember that at the end of the service we would get up and out of the pews for the closing song. We’d join together in a circle, sometimes we’d find ourselves next to someone new, other times we’d find ourselves holding the hand of a dear community member and friend. Remember this. That we create movements through interdependence, not through individualism. We are not islands. We need each other, and we can avoid burning out by committing to nurture one another as we work together for a more just world.
In small acts of justice, I know that while I can offer a listening ear and a presence at a protest, I can offer a cup of tea, a home-cooked meal, and a word of encouragement on hard days. I’d like you to take a moment to reflect and share with someone next to you- What can you bring to the movement? And what do you need to sustain yourself in the movement? Take a minute to think and share with one another. What can you bring to the movement? And what do you need to sustain yourself in the movement?
I hope you are reminded that through these diverse gifts and offerings, we are dedicating ourselves to creating bigger change. And so I leave you with a poem written by Fr. Ken Untener in memory of Oscar Romero. It is titled “Prophets of a Future Not Our own”.
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
An opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
Copyright © 2019 by Hannah Ercin
All rights reserved.