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All Together Now!

“All Together Now”

June 30, 2024 Cobleskill United Methodist Church, Pastor Anna Blinn Cole

1 Corinthians 3:1-9, 16

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

1 Corinthians 3:1-9, 16

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul’, and another, ‘I belong to Apollos’, are you not merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

This week we celebrate a national holiday.   Independence Day.   Ostensibly this day has always been about celebrating our independence from the powers of tyranny and colonial control that tried to rule over us without any representation or input from us.  In theory that’s what the holiday is about.  

In practice, though, the American experiment has, in many senses, internalized this holiday almost as a way of being.  Independent.  Self-made.  A rugged individualism kind of ethos that has been a defining value upheld in this country.   We like a good cowboy lone ranger story and we publicly venerate those who “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” 

Independence is a national value, I guess you could say.  Part of our identity.  So much so that we fall into the trap of judging those who ask for help or admit weakness.  We praise the victor who appears strongest, most self-made.  We blame those who have been dependent in any way on systems of support.  We support a culture that for centuries made seeking mental health care taboo.   We consider success and wealth to be something that independent and self-motivated people can just choose if they have enough grit.  Sometimes, even subconsciously, we push through things alone because we feel like it’s what’s expected of us.  


Maybe it’s because I share a birthday with the national holiday this week and was often called as a child by well-meaning people “a little Independence Baby,” or maybe it’s because I’ve rediscovered something about my own faith in God or the nature of Jesus’s teachings, but I’ve always felt free and maybe even compelled to offer some commentary on independence-loving nature of ours.  Last year, in a sermon, I even suggested we Christians think about rebranding the holiday Interdependence Day.  Not to say we shouldn’t always want to be free of tyranny in all its forms, but rather that an obsession with the virtue of independence can be a form of tyranny and actually a dangerous myth.  

We’re in our final installment on gifts this week and I want to use this last Sunday in the series to convince you that we need a different way.  The myth of independent individualism that has become mainstream in this country of ours is not only dangerous, it's also antithetical to Jesus’ teachings and the Spirit of God we’ve been finding in this Pentecost season.

 The myth is:  

I can do anything and everything by myself.  And I should.  I don’t need help.  I don’t need rest.  I just need to be strong and independent and everything will work out fine.  And I might even be rewarded for my efforts. 

The reality is: 

We must do it together.   

And if you don’t believe this renegade “Independence Baby,” here are just a few reasons from the old Bible that dispel the myth of independence:

Remember back on the day of Pentecost, many different people were gathered from many different lands and they all had different languages.  But instead of the Holy Spirit sweeping in reducing their diversity to one single language, everyone was given the gift of understanding and accepting everyone else’s difference.  In other words, we need what one another offers, even if it’s different from us.  

And then remember when God appeared as a burning bush and asked Moses to lead his people, Moses told God he couldn’t lead by himself.  So God sent him Aaron to help, saying that each of them possessed different gifts that would help them be a team together.

And then remember when the disciples wanted to send the crowds away to find their own food, each person for themselves, Jesus said “no, you feed them” and they worked together with the crowd to make sure everyone was taken care of by sharing what portions they did have.  

And then remember last week when we heard about how a body has to have different parts in order to function properly.  We can’t all be the eye.  The body won’t work if the feet go at it alone without the brain. We must work together in order to be the body of Christ.

Interdependence is not a new-fangled concept and it’s not a radical idea.  It’s a Biblical idea. 

So, with that said, let’s talk about conspiracies.  Sorry I didn’t really know a better way to transition that.  When I say conspiracy, what comes to mind for you?  

.. Secretive?… skeptical?…breaking the law?... undermining something because you don’t trust it? … Yes, exactly.  If you thought these things you are alive in 2024 and paying attention.  Conspiracy can be a loaded word.  

In a decision that most days I regret, I decided to study Latin as my language in High School.  It seemed like an interesting endeavor at the time but it didn’t take long in the real world to realize that dead languages have very limited use.  But today, HaHa!, I will get use some of this dead language knowledge to help reclaim this word that has gotten kind of a bad rap.

The word conspiracy is actually a simple combination of two Latin words.  Are you ready for it? Con which means “with” and spire which means…. Breath.  Three years of Latin and this is my crowning achievement.  Conspiracy simply means “with breath.”  Spire is also the root word of … wait for it… Spirit.  In this sense, a conspiracy is something done together with breath, life, energy, spirit.  We talk a lot about the Holy Spirit during the season of Pentecost and so connection dawned on me.  A conspiracy doesn’t have to be secretive or nefarious but the reason conspiracies are often thought of as nefarious is because they’re subversive.  They go against the status quo for the purpose of bringing change.  Conspiracies bring people together who have energy and passion for a specific intent of subverting the status quo.  

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, I just wanted to come to church today, not sign up for a conspiracy.  So, instead of looking for the nearest exit, hear me out.  You came to church today, I think/hope, because you believe in a God that is working through us to make the world a better place.  Is that fair?  And is it then possible, that in order to make the world a better place we have to stand up to some status quos that are working in opposition to God’s values.  In some circles, we might call this subversive behavior.  Before you jump to any conclusions that subversive behavior is always bad, let me remind you that one way subversive behavior can take shape is by fighting prevailing myths in our society.  Like how we can and must do everything on our own.

Last week we did something brave.  We took some time to write down our gifts and we added our name to them.  The conspiracy comes in when these gifts don’t just hang on a tree and remain unused and unshared.  The conspiracy comes in when these gifts cross-pollinate to create fruit.  The conspiracy happens when we collaborate together with the Spirit to make our neighborhood a better place.  With your sense of humor and your love of legos and her passion for growing food, their love of cooking.  How can these things come together in surprising ways?

Part of this involves looking strategically at the whole, like a pan of food that needs a well-matched Tupperware, and making connections where they best fit.  We have a team of folks tasked with this kind of balcony view of gift assessment.  But the other way this can work is for you, as the possessor of a gift, to take initiative for pairing your gift with the gifts around you.  What good things could come out of your collaboration.  Don’t wait for the pastor to ask, look for ways on your own.

For example, every summer we have a tradition of hosting a camp for our neighbor children.  Compassion Camp, as we’ve been calling it, is now in its third year.  For three years we’ve purchased a curriculum to shape the camp.  This year, five people with gifts for teaching and lesson-planning said: what if we wrote our own?  We could include just what we think is most important for our neighborhood children to learn about and we’ll make it our own.  Now, on the verge of summer, I’m happy to say we have a camp planned called “Let Us Build a House for All” where children will learn about inclusion and the need for a community to come together to help make sure everyone has a home.  

Theologian Frederick Buechner defines vocation as the place where “your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”  Where your gifts intersect with the need around you.  This requires subversive behavior in two ways.  First, we will need to admit that we all have a gift that we can share. And second, we will need to admit that there are also times when we have needs.  

Both of these things: sharing a gift with others and asking for help when needed demand patience and humility.  They require taking initiative and standing up to the status quo that says you’re better off on your own.

I want to go out on a limb and suggest that maybe Pentecost was actually a conspiracy.  And what I mean by that is, a group of people filled with energy and passion for a specific intent.  People with breath.  People with spirit.  People with energy.  And the subversive part of it all, the conspiracy, was that this Spirit had come to subvert the status quo.  It has come to break down ingrained ideas that independence is more valuable than community.  We are better when we’re together.  This is not just any conspiracy, this is The Biggest Conspiracy of All.  In the Spirit of God, we are better together.  When the media and culture around us tells us we must stand on our own, the Spirit of God sweeps in and reminds us that we don’t have to be heroes with grand acts to change the world.  We just have to be there for each other.  Sharing what we have, and lifting up one another’s needs.  Together millions of small collaborations will change the world in the Biggest Conspiracy of All.  The conspiracy of gifts.  

After church and during social hour, I invite you to come and look over these gifts.  See where future collaborations could be.  Use your fellowship time together as a time to get to know one another’s gifts.  Not just today, but as a habit.  This is not just a social club, this is a church.  I am the church.  You are the church.  We are the church together.  

Let us pray.

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