I watch a fair bit of Netflix when I’m at home, and one of my favorite shows to watch is the Great British Bake Off. Any other fans of the show here? It’s a great show – it’s shot in Britain, as you might have guessed. Twelve amateur bakers from around the country gather together and, over several weeks of baking challenges, the show’s judges narrow down their numbers until they’re left with one winner. It’s amazing to see the stuff they come up with – fantastic creations made with intricate combinations of flour, eggs, sugar, water, yeast, and all kinds of other baking ingredients. And what I find even more amazing about the show is how the judges evaluate all the different bakes. They’ll just look at something someone’s made, or maybe slice it open, and just by looking at it, they’ll say, “Oh, that needed 5 more minutes in the oven,” or “You should have added one more egg,” or “You should have added the sugar at such-and-such stage.” It’s amazing to watch. They’re like baking wizards. And it really underscores how every single component of that recipe is needed – it’s needed in the proper amount and at the proper time. When you do it wrong, it’s a mess, but when you get it right, these ordinary ingredients become something much greater than just the sum of their parts.
Now, I’ll admit that part of the reason that I had the Great British Bake Off on my mind is that I just watched an episode where the big finale challenge was to make some absolutely jaw-dropping wedding cakes. And of course, our gospel reading for this morning is set at a wedding in Cana. But actually, even more than this, our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians got me thinking about the ingredients that go into making a wedding cake; all these different elements work together to make something both beautiful and delicious – it kind of makes me think of Paul’s writings about different kinds of spiritual gifts.
In this part of his letter, Paul has been kind of taking the Corinthians to task for some of the ways they have been practicing their faith, because their practices have reinforced a lot of inequality. When the community gathered together at the communion table, wealthier members of the community would bring rich food and feast among themselves, while poorer members of the community had to content themselves with whatever they could scrounge together. And likewise with spiritual gifts, certain gifts were lauded as being more important than others, and those members were given more prominence in the community. Paul thoroughly condemns this. Instead, he emphasizes that every gift is from the Spirit of God and that every one of those gifts is good and important, just as every member of the community is important. This is like in baking – your recipe may call for gobs and gobs of flour and sugar and butter and whatever else, but if you overlook a smaller ingredient – like baking powder, for instance – you will know it! All of the ingredients in the recipe are important.
Paul goes on about this at length. And instead of baking, he uses the illustration of a body to make his point, as he does in some of his other letters as well. We’ll actually read some of this next Sunday. Paul writes:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as God chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you”… But God has so arranged the body… that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
What Paul is emphasizing again and again is that all of our many and varied gifts matter. All that we bring to the table is important. Today, at our annual meeting, we will actually be celebrating some of the particular gifts that God has given to this community: gifts of leadership and financial management, gifts of evangelism and compassion, gifts of quilt-sewing and pancake-making and snow shoveling, gifts of generosity and care for our community. Every single one of these gifts is important to our life and ministry together. Every single one of these gifts enables us as a congregation to bear witness to our community and to the world about God’s kingdom of grace and peace and all-redeeming love.
And make no mistake – all of these gifts have been generously given to us by God, the giver of all good gifts. We know from our gospel reading that our God is a God of joyful abundance – and that abundance is reflected in the gifts God gives to God’s people. And God gives gifts with purpose. While we may think of a gift as something that’s just given to us individually for our own use, God gives us gifts in order that we might share them with others and use them to build up our neighbors and our community. Just like the members of a body – or the ingredients in a wedding cake – when we bring all of our gifts together, we become something that is more than the sum of its parts. We become the body of Christ, reflecting the glory of God. We become agents of God’s kingdom in the world.
Now, we may not always think of our own particular gifts and abilities as being from God. In fact, some of the things I lifted up earlier – like pancake-making or snow-shoveling – probably sound kind of strange being lifted up as God-given gifts. We tend to think of people who are employed as full time pastors as having spiritual gifts, or people who spend a lot of time praying, or, like Paul’s community, people who speak in tongues or work miracles. We don’t always think of our everyday talents and abilities in quite the same way. In a way, we can be kind of like the steward at the wedding in Cana. He tastes the wine that Jesus sends over with the servers, and he recognizes that it’s excellent wine, but he has no idea that it has come directly from God! But all of these things are from God, given to us in love. And God calls us all to be creative in imagining how we might put our various gifts to use in serving our neighbor and giving glory to God.
So as we gather for our annual meeting and look ahead to another year of ministry, I invite you each to think creatively about the gifts that you bring to the table. What are the special gifts and talents and abilities that God has given to you? And how might God be calling you to use your gifts in God’s recipe for the kingdom?