January 24

A few weeks ago, many members of Facebook had the following as their status lines: Please put this on your status if you know someone (or are related to someone) who has AUTISM. My wish for 2010 is that people will understand that autism is not a disease; people with autism are not looking for for a cure but for ACCEPTANCE …… 93% won’t Copy and Paste this; will YOU make this your status for at least one hour? The idea was to make people aware of autism as a permanent condition, and to let people know that this cannot be cured, but must be accepted by those of us who are not autistic. Most of us, by now, do know people who are autistic, or who have autistic children, and we have come to some understanding of the condition, even though nobody seems to know why some people are affected by it and others aren’t.
However, there are degrees of autism, and one of them – Asperger’s syndrome – is one that is probably the least understood. Those of you who saw the movie Rainman saw Asperger’s in action. Raymond Babbitt, played by Dustin Hoffman, has a gift for numbers, but little else. He has no social skills, even though he is able to communicate with others in a limited way. Some children with Asperger’s are gifted musically, able to play just about anything. They may be able to recite the telephone book, but cannot read facial expressions or body language of the person sitting next to them. Unlike autistic children, children with Asperger’s are usually able to talk, but often what they say has no connection with the conversation going on around them. A term that is often used for children with Asperger’s is “idiot savant”, and people are amazed at their brilliance in one field. These children are gifted in one way, but that is all. They have one gift, and, depending on the severity of their condition, they may not be able to live in what we call the real world at all. They are not a part of the community, as we are. They focus on the one thing that interests them, whether it be numbers, or music, or memorizing lists. I wonder how many of us are sometimes like people with Asperger’s? How many of us become fixated on one thing, to the detriment of other things in our lives?
This was the problem in Corinth, where many members of the church there were gifted in one way. Each of them believed that their gift was the most important, and that the gifts of others were less important. They did not feel or act as though they were part of a community. And, if you know anything about Paul, you know that he was not about to tolerate this. To him, the idea of community was probably the most important aspect of the church, and he was upset about the divisions he heard about in Corinth. If we look back at chapter 1 of this letter, we see that Paul mentions four separate groups. There were those who claimed to follow Paul himself, those who followed Apollos, those who followed Cephas or Peter, and those who claimed to follow Christ himself rather than one of the apostles. Each group, of course, claimed to be doing the right thing, and each group had its own reasons for following the one they did.
Paul’s reaction to this was to tear a strip off all of them. In chapter 1: 13, he said, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” And, in today’s reading, he answers his questions when he says, “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.” Then he takes the word “body” and uses it though the rest of the chapter to explain how important the idea of working together is. Now, Paul does not claim to have medical expertise, so some of his comparisons are a bit far-fetched, to say the least, but they work, in so far as they bring us to realize that no one person can be everything. He explains that the body is made up of different parts – feet, hands, ears, and eyes – and that all parts must work together in harmony, unlike the church at Corinth at that time.
Paul also reminds the members of the church that they have come from different traditions. Remember that Corinth was a very cosmopolitan city, and people from all over the known world ended up there. In the early Christian church there, you would find Jews and Greeks, slaves and free people, and Paul wanted them to realize that they were now part of one unit – the church. He says, “You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” As part of the same body, a certain behaviour is expected of each member, and Paul is reminding the Corinthians of this.
The Corinthians, just like the Asperger’s children, are each gifted in a particular way, but they have no idea of how to use their gifts together. Each member of the church truly believed that their way was the right way, the only way. They missed the point of being members of the body of Christ – that they had to work together, in love, to accomplish their mission.
Dissension in a church is nothing new. I am reminded of a story I once heard, in a Canadian Church History class about a Mennonite who had been shipwrecked, and washed up on a desert island, where he lived alone for many years. One day, a ship happened upon the island, and when the people on board came ashore, the man was overjoyed. Before leaving the place, however, he took them on a tour so that they could see what he had been doing. He showed them three small huts which he had built, and the captain of the ship said, “I thought that you were here alone.” “I am,” replied the Mennonite. “Then why do you have three huts?” asked the captain. “Well,” said the Mennonite, “I live in one, and I worship in the other.” “All right,” said the captain, “That explains two of the huts, but what about the third?” “Ah,” said the Mennonite, “That is the church I built after the schism.”
And you know, schisms happen. They happened in Corinth, and they are happening now, in the 21st century. I believe that, if only people listened to Paul’s words, there would not be such a thing. Next week, we will be reading from chapter 13 of this letter, the chapter which talks about love, and that is what Paul recommends us to use so that we can work together as the body of Christ. Without love, Paul says, all that we do is useless. Without love, it means nothing. It is one thing to take a stand, but it is another to do it with love.
There was a movie a while ago, which I finally saw at some point during Christmas. It was called “Michael”, and John Travolta played an angel – an angel with huge wings, who came to earth for a while. At one point during the movie, Michael turned to his friend and said, “Remember what John and Paul said.” His friend said, “The apostles?” “No,” replied Michael, “The Beatles. They said ‘All you need is love’.” And, not using those same words, this is what Paul did say. This is what Jesus did say, when he said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength. And you shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
In Corinth, 2000 years ago, and in Quebec City today, and in the Presbyterian Church in Canada today – there is no time for schisms; there is no time for in-fighting; there is no time for cliques. What there is time for is love. With love we know that all of the parts of the church can work together as one. With love we know that no one person will consider his or her gift better than someone else’s gift. With love, we will work together to make this church the house in which God lives, the community in which we live, the family to which we all belong. Thanks be to God.


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