Epiphany 3, C, 2016
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman. Do you know this book? It was first published in 1960. I remember it as one of our favorite books from my childhood – mine and my parents. I read it to my 6 year-old last night. It has not lost its charm. In case you don’t know the story, it’s about an egg, or rather about the little bird who hatches out of the egg. His mother knew he was going to be hatching soon, so she went off to look for food for her chick. He hatched a little faster than anticipated, apparently. When the chick sees no mother on his arrival, he looks up. He does not see her. He looks down. He does not see her. After a thorough search of his nest fails to turn up a mother, he goes off to search for her.
He comes to a kitten. “Are you my mother?” he asks. The kitten just looks. The kitten is not his mother, so he moves on. He comes to a chicken. “Are you my mother?” “No” says the chicken. And on to a dog, “I am not your mother. I am a dog,” answers the dog. The search continues through a cow, a car, a boat, a plane, and a large machine that snorts, with increasingly unsatisfactory replies.
I won’t keep you in any more suspense – the snort, which is a crane, returns him to his nest. Mumma Bird returns and asks Baby Bird, “Do you know who I am?”
“Yes. You are not a kitten. You are not a hen. You are not a dog. You are not a cow. You are not a boat or a plane or a snort. You are a bird, and you are my mother.”
The story reminds me of the lessons today. All of the lessons are talking about what it means to recognize the Spirit or to recognize the Christ, who would gather us “as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings”. Rev. Joan Gray, moderator of the 217th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) commented, “When you really think about it, this dunamis (power) of the Spirit is the only thing the early church had going for it. It had no buildings, no budget, no paid staff, and very few members.”
A church is born. Church knows it has a purpose, but she does not see it. She looks up. She looks down. She does not see her purpose. She goes to search for her purpose. She comes to a building with a steeple and a cross and candles. People gather there for succor and for strength, for pardon and for renewal, for spiritual nourishment and for inspiration. She asks the building, “Are you my purpose?” But the building is not her purpose. It is a building.
Church continues the search. She sees clergy and vestry, lay readers and acolytes, cleaners, singers, visitors, preachers, prayers. She asks the individuals, “Are you my purpose?” They are individuals, groups with specific tasks, important tasks, necessary tasks. They serve the purpose, but they are not the purpose.
Church moves on. She sees a membership drive – struggling to draw people into the building, to draw funds into the building, to widen the circle of people, to bring in more individuals. Are you my purpose? But it is a campaign. It might bring people to the purpose. It might fund the purpose. It is not her purpose.
Church moves on. Church sees people using the wisdom of the Gospel and the sacred word to make themselves better. To become better spouses, caretakers, leaders, or community members. Are you my purpose? But it is a self-help program. It furthers the purpose. It is not her purpose.
Church moves on. She sees people studying scripture, learning its words and using those sacred words to “prove” that other people are less than themselves, other, excluded, or wrong. “Are you my purpose?” she asks. But this is a weapon. This is not her purpose.
Church begins to wonder. Do I have a purpose? I must have a purpose. I know I have a purpose.
Church sees a rabbi. The rabbi unrolls a scroll and begins to read,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The church looks at the rabbi.
The rabbi looks at the church.
“Do you know who I am?” asks the rabbi.
Yes. I know who you are. You are not a building. You are not disparate individuals, You are not a membership drive or a fund drive. You are not a self help program. You are certainly not a weapon. You are the Lord, and you are my purpose, and I am your body, fueled by the Spirit, and that is my purpose.
We will break bread together soon, and share in the spiritual food of Christ’s body and blood. After we join together at the Lord’s table, we will retire downstairs to our Annual Meeting. There, we will conduct business. Practical, real, necessary business that must be done. Tasks must be performed, and if we don’t use our gifts to perform them, they will not get done. The absolute most important thing we can do today, the most crucial task, is to know who we are – to recognize our purpose….
We are the body of Christ – we meet in this building, but we are the body of Christ in our workplaces, our leisure places, our community, our homes, in the world. We are children of the resurrection, the living, breathing, palpable body of Christ working together – each with our own talents, each with our own gifts – working together to live Christ’s love; to bring healing, justice, and compassion to a broken, fearful and divisive world. Anointed to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, to free the oppressed. To be the voice of love, the hands of service, the heart of light and hope. Do we know who we are?