Reflection: Goose Sense January 20, 2013
1 Corinthians 12:1-31
Imagine if you will, a time when you and your family had a disagreement. Something’s happened to upset someone, and you’re having a heated discussion about it. Maybe tempers are frayed, maybe some things are being said that shouldn’t have been said, maybe your behaviour is not what you’d like to think it could be. Now imagine, too, that somehow has secretly video-taped that encounter, and now, decades later, it’s being shown to another family as an example of what not to do. Embarrassing, right? In effect, that’s what we have in today’s reading from Corinthians. Paul has heard about some problems in the church at Corinth, and he’s written to sort them out. When we read the Epistles – the letters he and other apostles wrote to the early churches – we are, in effect, reading other people’s mail. They didn’t know, when they wrote those letters, that other people would be reading them centuries later. Can you imagine the embarrassment of those congregations, having their foibles and failures broadcast to the whole world for centuries to come? Yikes! I certainly wouldn’t want that to happen to me, or to us!
But here we are this morning, eavesdropping on Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, and gosh – doesn’t it sound familiar? Anyone who’s ever been part of any organization can probably recognize the circumstances in Corinth. Some people in the church have begun to believe that they are more important than others. They have gifts for which they have been praised or received recognition, or perhaps they’ve just come to believe on their own that their contribution to the life of the community is more important than that of others. Meanwhile, others in the church are going overlooked – their gifts disregarded or belittled, their contributions unrecognized – or perhaps they’re even afraid to contribute because they don’t think they’re as good as those other people who get all the attention. In every congregation there are those who have supreme confidence that their opinions matter more than others, that their gifts are more significant, that their abilities give them precedence over others. And in every congregation there are those who slip quietly into the background, who are discounted by others, or who discount themselves.
We don’t want to think it, do we? We want to believe the church is better than that. In fact, sometimes when I tell stories to my non-church friends about some of the goings-on in congregations I’ve seen (naming no names, of course) they say, “That happens in the CHURCH?” People are always surprised that being the church, like any human organization, sometimes brings with it tensions, conflicts, competition, and so on. Now, I have both the gift and the curse of being an idealist; I always tend to think that we can and should do better than that. (It’s the “should” part that gets me into trouble; it means I get needlessly frustrated when things don’t happen the way I think they should.) But the challenges of congregational life are as old as the Christian church itself. In fact, if that weren’t true, we probably wouldn’t have most of the Epistles of the New Testament – Paul wouldn’t have had to write them!
As I said, that kind of thing has been going on in the church for thousands of years, so I don’t think we need to beat ourselves up too much if we have some of the same issues. Instead, I want to focus on the good news that is part of this passage.
The first part of that good news is that each one of us has unique gifts, given to us by God. Some of the gifts listed in the letter to the Corinthians are pretty unusual these days, like speaking in other languages and being able to interpret them; but some of those gifts are still with us – gifts of leadership, gifts of knowledge, gifts of healing; gifts of wisdom; even gifts to see what the future might bring. We have teachers, helpers and “worker bees”, advocates, outreach workers, speakers and listeners. We have pray-ers and we have do-ers. We have managers and we have visionaries. We tend to lean heavily in the “helpers” area, and we’re a little thinner in the “leadership” area, but that’s partly because, as I said in the beginning of my sermon, some of us need to be reassured that we actually have what it takes to lead! That’s one of the reasons the “encouragers” among us are so crucial –encouragement is a very special spiritual gift. I know, because I’ve been the recipient of that encouragement many times, and let me tell you, it makes a huge difference!
The second part of the good news is that all these gifts are inspired by God. God has given us our abilities and talents; God gives us the opportunities to use these gifts well and wisely. These gifts are intended by God to be used creatively for the wellbeing of others and of the whole community. The church community is a place where these gifts may be recognized, called forth, and pointed in a direction to be of service.
The third part of the good news is that none of us has to have all the gifts. That’s good news for us clergy types! A few years back my home congregation asked me for some feedback on the Joint Needs Assessment report they had put together in preparation for finding a new minister. When I read it, my first reaction was that they were looking for what we used to joke about in seminary ““Jesus with a Masters in Business Administration” ; in other words, they were looking for the perfect combination of all gifts rolled into one person. Impossible, of course – and that’s what I told them. I don’t know if they changed their description or not, but I certainly hope they adjusted their expectations. Paul wisely points out that our gifts are meant to complement each other – that hand and eye and unmentionables are all part of the human body, and we are all part of the body of Christ – all necessary to the well-being of the church. One person can’t do it all on their own – we need each other to share our gifts.
The fourth part of the good news is that our congregation has gifts! Yes, we do! We may not have all the spiritual and practical gifts that we want to have, but we are full of gifted, capable, loving people who are giving their time and energy to each other, to this church community, and to the larger community and world. It’s too easy sometimes to focus on what we aren’t, or what we feel we should be doing, than what we already have and are. We have room for growth and development – of course we do! – but I think I can say with some assurance that what Paul says of the body is true for us: when one suffers, we all suffer with them; when one rejoices, we all rejoice with them. That’s one of the real gifts of this congregation – that sense of strong connection – that understanding that we really all are part of the body and that we need each other to be healthy and strong.
I got the title of this sermon, “Goose Sense” from a sermon by a colleague (Richard Fairchild) who was quoting an article from the newsletter of the First Presbyterian Church of Cedartown, Georgia. I’ve seen this other places as well. It says:
We will never become a church that effectively reaches out
to those who are missing if we shoot our wounded and
emphasize our minuses. Instead of becoming fishers of
people, as Christ calls us to be, we will be keepers of an
The next time you see geese heading south for the winter
flying in a “V” formation, you might be interested in
knowing what science has discovered about why they fly
It has been learned that as each bird flaps its wings, it
creates an uplift for the bird immediately following it.
By flying in a “V” formation the whole flock adds at least
71% greater flying range than if each bird flew on its
Christians who share a common direction and a sense of
community can get where they are travelling on the thrust
and uplift of one another.
Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels
the draft and resistance of trying to go it alone and
quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the
uplifting power of the bird immediately in front.
If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in
formation with those who are headed the same way we are
When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates to the back of
the formation and another goose flies point. It pays to
take turns doing hard jobs, with people at church, or with
geese flying south.
The geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to
keep up their speed. What do we say when we honk from
Finally, when a goose gets sick, or is wounded and falls
out of formation, two other geese fall out of formation
and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with
the wounded goose until it is able to fly again, and then
they launch out on their own or with another formation, to
catch up with their original group. If people knew we
would stand by them like that in the church, they might
push down the walls to get in.
You see, all we have to do in order to attract those who
are missing, is to demonstrate to the world that we have
as much sense as a goose. The seems little enough price
to pay to welcome the new and minister to one another.
Enough geese have enough sense to know that it works every
So friends, this year we’re going to cultivate having the sense of a goose. – offering our gifts without vanity or fear, upholding one another in the body of Christ, in the name of Jesus. Amen.
If you wish to share this resource, please feel free to do so, providing that you give proper attribution. © Heidi Koschzeck, 2013. A sermon is a spoken form, so the sermon may vary from what is presented here.