(note – BVS refers to Brethren Volunteer Service, a program where volunteers serve in a variety of assignments around the world for 1-2 years. In today’s service a BVS orientation unit and a Senior High work camp were in attendance.)
For those of you who don’t know me, I work at a 9-1-1 center outside of DC. It’s shift work, for me from 6 pm to 7 in the morning. It’s a mix of days on and days off, and it’s a job where you often hear people at their worst. People don’t call 9-1-1 because they’re having a good day. They don’t call 9-1-1 because everything is fine and they are totally in control of the situation. People call 9-1-1 because the situation is beyond their control and they need help, because they have screwed up big time and they need help, because someone else has screwed up big time and they need help… you get the idea. People call 9-1-1 when things are not going well.
This means that people who call us are often rude, or impatient, or upset. They yell at us, curse at us, and they refuse to answer our questions because they don’t understand why we’re asking them. Not everybody, of course, and not even most people, I don’t want to make it sound worse than it is, but it only takes one or two of those kinds of folks to ruin your attitude for the night.
We can’t talk back to those folks, because it’s not professional, it’s not helpful, and it’s not the right thing to do. So sometimes we take that frustration and that anger that we feel out on each other. That’s the nature of the job, and everyone knows it, it happens to all of us at work at one time or another. We try to understand it and accept it and work through it with one another, because we are there for a particular purpose.
We are there to help figure out what kind of help the caller needs and to get them that help. We are there to try to keep the caller safe and to keep the responding units safe, whether it’s police or fire or medical services. We are there to provide a public service. And when we are focused on what we are doing, when we keep our minds on what we are there for, it is easier for us to move past the hurts and the tensions and the stresses that always will come up in a workplace like ours. When we all have the same goals, we can deal with the conflicts.
As a pastor, I have been through a lot of conflicts in congregations. Sometimes it’s been the congregation where I was serving, sometimes it’s been a neighboring congregation. Sometimes people have been able to work through their problems, and sometimes they have not. When they have not, it means that maybe the pastor leaves, or a number of people leave and the congregation is weakened and smaller. I have been the pastor that has left in those settings sometimes. Other times I have been the pastor that came in to try to help clean up the mess.
In my experience, the congregations that have worked through their conflicts successfully, the congregations that have learned and grown and come out on the other side stronger, are the ones that have been focused on their mission. They are the congregations that are united in knowing what it is they are trying to do and how they are trying to go about it. They are the ones that are trying to be servants of Christ and speaking God’s truth.
Paul talks about that unity throughout this passage. One body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God. We are bound together. Later Paul talks about us as a body being joined and knit together by every ligament with which we are equipped.
That image of ligaments is a powerful one here in DC. Even people around here who aren’t football fans have heard all about Washington’s quarterback Robert Griffin III, and even some of us who are fans are really tired of hearing about him. Real quick summary – Griffin started playing here in 2012, and he was fantastic. He hurt his knee twice in 2012, and he has not been the same since. There’s other stuff going on too, but really the injuries to his knee are what derailed Griffin’s career and have caused difficulties in figuring out how best to use him as a player.
The knee injury wasn’t a broken knee, it wasn’t a shattered bone or anything like that. The knee injury that took away some of Griffin’s physical gifts was an injury to his knee ligaments, an injury to the structures that connect bones to other bones. That kind of an injury happens when the knee is twisted, when the ligaments are not moving together in the direction that they are supposed to move. That’s an injury that happens when the ligaments are not in harmony, in unity in their movement and purpose.
We all have different gifts, Paul says, and we are to use those gifts to grow in the unity of Christ, and one of the ways we do that is by speaking the truth in love. In his book Wishful Thinking Frederick Buechner writes, “God was making a body for Christ, Paul said. Christ didn’t have a regular body any more so God was making him one out of anybody he could find who looked as if he might just possibly do. He was using other people’s hands to be Christ’s hands and other people’s feet to be Christ’s feet, and when there was some place where Christ was needed in a hurry and needed bad, he put the finger on some maybe-not-all-that-innocent bystander and got him to go and be Christ in that place himself for lack of anybody better.”
That’s what these brothers and sisters in town for the work camp are doing. That’s what these BVSers are doing. That’s what Estella has been doing with us and will be doing in Germany. That’s what Bryan did with the Office of Public Witness. That’s what Katie’s doing with Going to the Garden. That’s what Care and Mary O. do. That’s what each of us are supposed to be doing. We are supposed to be going someplace and being Christ in that place. We are supposed to speak the truth in love.
The truth is that God wants peace. The truth is that God wants justice. The truth is that God wants abundance, and health, and wholeness. The truth is that God loves everybody. That’s the truth that we speak. Love is that attitude that we speak it with. Service is one of the languages with which we speak it. Growth in the unity of Christ is what happens when we speak it faithfully. Dissension and division are what happens when we forget that unity of purpose and that unity of service and that unity of love.
I said earlier that I admire each of you who are a part of BVS, willing to give a part of your lives to service, to speaking the truth in love. I admire each of you who are wrapping up your service with the work camp. I hope it’s just another of the ways in which you will continue to speak the truth in love. I admire each of you who look at their lives and try to name and develop your gifts, wherever you are in your life’s journey, and try to use those gifts to speak the truth in love.
God wants peace. God wants justice. God loves everybody. That is the truth that we speak when we serve God. That is the truth that binds us together. Amen.