The late Edwin Friedman, Rabbi and family therapist, tells this story about desire:
A man, who shares his home with his wife, children, in-laws, and animals, goes to the rabbi and says, “Rabbi, rabbi, my life is a living hell! My wife nags about everything I do and don’t do. My children never listen to me. My in-laws don’t respect me. And my animals! They are so noisy and leave a mess all over the house. Rabbi, please, tell me what to do.”
The rabbi pauses while looking intently at the man. “Um. Fine. I know just what you should do. Go home and remove your wife from the house. Then your life will be peaceful and happy.”
So the man does just that. He goes home and divorces his wife. A week passes, and the man returns to the rabbi. “Rabbi, rabbi. My life is little better. But, my children still never listen to me. My in-laws don’t respect me even more. And my animals! They are noisier and messier than ever. Rabbi, please tell me what to do.”
The rabbi, strokes his beard and says, “My! This is what you shall do: go home and remove your children from your house. In doing this, your house will be ever so peaceful.” And the man leaves to go home and turns his children out into the streets.
A week later, the man arrives at the rabbi’s home. “Rabbi, rabbi! My home is so much better. With my children gone, I don’t have to yell and scream as I used to. But, my in-laws, they are always finding fault with me. They are always angry with me. I can’t do anything to please them. Rabbi, please tell me what to do.”
Looking puzzled at the man, the rabbi says, “Ah, I know just the thing. My son, go home and remove your in-laws from your home, then all will be well with you.” And the man leaves. When he arrives home, he packs up all his in-laws’ belongings and tosses them all into the street.
A week later, the man arrives again at the rabbi’s home. “Rabbi, rabbi. You are amazing! My home is almost like heaven! I sleep well, and there is no one nagging me. Except, the animals! The animals continue to make a total wreck of my home. Please, rabbi, tell me what to do.”
Scratching his head, the rabbi lifts up a finger and says, “My son, gather all of the animals and turn them out into the street. I know then that your life will be perfect.” So the man hurries home and tosses all the animals out into the street.
A week later, the man returns to the rabbi’s house. “Rabbi, rabbi, my home is not a home at all. I’m so lonely! My wife is not there for me to talk to. I miss the sounds of my children running through the house. I think about my in-laws everyday, and the wisdom and love they showed to me. And I’m poor and hungry. I think I’m dying. Please, rabbi, tell me what to do.”
The rabbi’s eyebrow contracts, then he says, “My son, go. Go win the heart of your wife, and bring her back into the house. Then I know your life will be as heaven.” And the man leaves and does what the rabbi instructs.
The church in Corinth, Greece was rich in more ways than one: numerical, leadership, financial, and in organizational and spiritual gifts. One of the earliest gatherings in the new religious movement established by the apostles. They have everything they needed to help one another and to grow. Why Paul wrote to them, we’ll touch on in two-weeks’ time. For now, let’s reflect on the words of encouragement he gave them.
1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the
revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Many of you have been with The Village since it was founded, others
shortly after that. Looking back, you can remember all the work that went into organizing it: the meetings, the paperwork, the invitations to stop by on a Sunday morning. You remember what it took – and still takes - to making each service, each mission outreach happen. In looking back, you will recall that some of you – or others that you know – came with no skills on how to “do” church, a church like The Village. But, it all happened. And it’s still happening. What you thought you couldn’t do, you did. What you thought you didn’t know, you figured out. The material stuff you needed, you figured out a way to get that. No small feat!
But there were and are bumps, missteps, and all the challenges and chances life in community can bring. The word for us today from Paul is that we have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind. And, that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift. But, there’s another but; something else to realize:
(1) it is not the case that we have every gift with which to do our work in advancing the realm/Kin-Dom of God. Rather, the conditions have been set for us to discern the gifts needed and to employ them.The soil into which we have been planted is still rich and fertile. There are those in this wider community who need to hear – need to hear again – God’s good news in Jesus of Nazareth. We have a clear sense of what
we’ve been called to do: to simply be bread and salt and light in the
world. What did John Wesley say: “Do all the good you can. By all the
means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all
the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
It’s called sapiential eschatology, or realized eschatology. Simply put: all that stuff about what will happen in the future – what God desires for all people, the coming of the Kin-Dom of God – is all about what is to happen right now. Not some future date, but now; with our participation. So, God is waiting for us to act. All the gifts are not given to us up front. But, many are given to us as we gather together, listen to each other, struggle together, and do the obvious in the work of Kin-Dom ministry. Spiritual gifts emerge and fade, as they are needed in light of the context in which we find ourselves.