In writing to the Church in Rome, the Apostle Paul first develops the basis of our salvation – these things we touched upon in the last couple of weeks in our reading. Now he turns and talks to them about the Christian life and how it is lived by the community within the Church. He points out that the Holy Spirit gives different gifts to different people so that everyone, working together, will meet all the needs of the Church. He begins with the gifts that are the most blatantly supernatural such as prophecy and those which address the spiritual needs of the community – ministry, teaching and exhortation. Then he continues, citing things which seem more “worldly” but which are just as important in the functioning of the community – giving, governance (management), and mercy. It is interesting that the range of spiritual gifts extends even into the mundane world of those things which we consider to be more “ordinary”. Certainly one who has the gift of prophecy must be full of and inspired by the Holy Spirit, but we do not often think the same way about things like management and showing mercy. It is important to remember that we are all given spiritual gifts by the Holy Spirit – different gifts which are intended all to work together for the health of our parish.
Each one of you must look at your lives and see the tasks that God has put in front of you – not only in your daily lives (although that is important) but also in the life of the Church. What has God given you the ability and opportunity to do? There are some things that stand out (in the same way that the gift of prophecy “stands out” among those things the Apostle mentioned) such as serving in the Altar, singing in the choir and so on. But these are not the only things that are important for the health of the Church. We all know the necessity of some of the more mundane things like cleaning and preparing food and so on. These are not “extras” that are added on to your spiritual life – they are part of your spiritual life. All the things that we set out to do – especially in the Church – we should do as though each one is a prayer, because it is just that, a part of your prayer. When we stand in the Church and say the prayers or sing the hymns, it is easy to recognize that this is indeed “prayer” for we are addressing God in a very direct and simple manner. However, it is also prayer when we see one of our brethren in need and we say a kind word or lend a helping hand – the doing of these things is gift from God. It is a prayer to reach out and care for one another. It is a prayer to give alms – whether they take form of money, or time or simply an act of compassion. It is prayer when you pick up a child (or perhaps just pick up after a child). It is a prayer when you wipe down the icons, pick up the flowers or sweep the floor. It is prayer when you repair things that are broken, change a light bulb or oil the squeaky hinge. It is prayer when you bake prosphora or resupply the candles, wine, oil and other supplies for the services. It is a prayer to care for the hangings and vestments in the Church. It is a prayer to make coffee, prepare food and wipe the tables in the trapeza. All these mundane things and more are prayers – and we should be as eager to pray in these ways as we are to pray with our voices and minds.
Now that he has given us a more complete picture of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are given to us, the Apostle then goes on to describe how we should undertake using those gifts. He instructs us to love one another genuinely and without pretense, to abhor (that is completely reject) evil and hold onto good. Like the gift of prophecy which is obviously a spiritual gift, to love one another and to live a pure and righteous life are obviously spiritual qualities. Then the Apostle continues as before telling us to be “affectionate” toward and to honor one another. He has already told us to let our love be genuine and without pretense, and now he tells us something more – not only should we love one another, but we should be “affectionate” as well. We should strive to like one another and to please one another. This brings the lofty spiritual quality of genuine love down to a personal level. Those who live in a family with brothers and sisters or who live with a spouse and children know just how hard it can be sometimes to really like those closest to you.
The Apostle goes on to encourage us to be industrious, fervent, hopeful, patient, and prayerful. We are called to be charitable and hospitable, especially among the saints. All these are no less important qualities of our spiritual life than to love others and to live righteously, but sometimes we can dismiss them as just “living a good life”. Indeed it is important to “live a good life” but now we are to live a good life not according to the expectations of the world, but to live a good life before God, offering our best efforts to God. By taking our lives and offering them to God, we transform worldly goodness into spiritual riches. We don’t have to do anything we don’t already have the capacity to do – but now we do them not for ourselves, but as an offering to God.
Lest we forget, let’s return now for the overall reason for these things – we do this for the welfare, benefit and health of the parish. We all play a part in this parish, each person is necessary. No one is superfluous; every one has a place here and fits into the “big picture.” Each one of you is necessary for the health of our parish and so I call upon you now to look around at the interests, abilities and opportunities that God has provided you and see how you can use them to build up our parish community. Remember that we are not just a collection of individuals who have a common set of beliefs or a common heritage here – we are family, we are joined to one another and by the grace of the Holy Spirit Who dwells within us we share a single nature, the spiritual nature bestowed upon us by our Lord Jesus Christ. We are joined to one another as brothers and sisters – but even more, we are joined to one another as members of the One Body of Christ. Just as our eyes and hands and feet are distinct and have different functions and yet joined into a single body, so also we are joined together into the Body of Christ. Each one of us has a different function and a distinct place and yet we are one. We are united to Christ and in Him we are united to one another. We confess that the Church is one – and indeed together with Jesus Christ and all the saints we are the Church and we are one.
When we care for the health and well being of the Church, we care for our own spiritual health and well being. When we care for our own spiritual well being, we care for the welfare of the Church. We are all part of the Church, we all have a place; we all play a part. This is our Church, our parish, our family – let us then care for one another and care for our church, exercising the gifts that God has given us and offering our lives to Him. The welfare of the Church is in our hands; together let us keep it healthy.