Epiphany 3A’20
26 January 2020
I Corinthians 1.10-18
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone

Loving God, who made us for communion with you and our brothers and sisters: Draw us into fellowship with you and the community of the faithful, that we might be transformed into your image, and follow in your way of life, through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

One of the traditions here at St. Luke’s that I am fond of is the tolling of the bell before each service. Every Sunday morning, a couple of seconds before the service starts, I can see out of the corner of my eye and through a side window, a flash of color as an usher speeds passed to ring the bell before the organist starts playing the opening hymn.  Their rate of speed depends upon two things, one is the agility of the usher and two, how close to being late they are!

The tradition of church bell ringing was introduced into the church around the year 400, by an Italian bishop named Paulinus of Nola. A couple of hundred years later Pope Sabinian officially gave his stamp of approval for ringing church bells during the celebration of the Eucharist and to announce times of prayer throughout the day.

As church bells became more common, they grew to be used as a system of mass communication. In 18th century America, church bells rang not only as a part of worship, but also to alert communities of important events such as the end of a war, of emergencies such as a fire, or of an important community gathering. In smaller villages, church bells also rang as a death knell to announce that someone in the parish had died, and ask for prayers for their soul.[1]

All of these various purposes for bell ringing could be categorized as “a call to community.” Whether a call to prayer at certain times of the day, a call to worship or a call to mourn by announcing a death, they were all calls to the community to gather in spirit and to gather in a literal sense. It is in that same spirit of a century’s old tradition, that our bell at St. Luke’s rings out and calls us to community.

Now, there are certainly other ways to find community besides a church, but only the Christian community, the Church, can claim to be started by God, and as such it offers something unique and necessary. The Church is the outward and visible sign of Christ’s body on earth. Whenever we see the church at work in ministries of healing, feeding, clothing, sharing hospitality, and sharing Good News, we see the action of God.

The author Henri Nouwen uses the metaphor of a mosaic to describe the Church: “Each little piece seems so insignificant. One piece is bright red, another cold blue or dull green, another warm purple, another sharp yellow, another shining gold. Some pieces look valuable, others worthless…When, however, all these little stones are brought together in one big mosaic, [we make visible the face of Christ]. Together in the one mosaic, each little stone is indispensable and makes a unique contribution to the glory of God.[2]

In worship the Christian community shares a great treasure in the liturgy, literally “the work of the people.” The liturgy like Christ himself, is wholly other, meaning different from us. Liturgy brings the community together with each other and with God. In the words of the liturgy we are confronted by truths that are transforming. We say prayers when we are together, that we on our own would be much less likely to pray. In the words of the liturgy we are challenged to look at needs beyond ourselves to the wider community and the world. From this God centered space we are reminded of who we are and Whose we are, and we find our bearings so that we can better navigate the world outside our walls. We are stretched and formed by our exposure and engagement with God and our brothers and sisters. This is work that is not easy but well worth it!

But Christian community is fragile as today’s lesson from First Corinthians demonstrates. Divisions were springing up in the Corinthian church, folks who were loyal to a powerful woman named Chloe and grieved by these divisions reported them to Paul. Some of the church members were followers of Apollos, others were followers of Cephas, one special group claimed to be following only Christ (No doubt, the puritans of the group). St. Paul knew the toll divisions can take on a church: “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” As baseball great Yogi Berra said once, “the main thing, is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Stick to Christ, stick to the way of God which is none other than the way of Love.  We should not allow disagreements to lodge in our hearts until they deteriorate into divisions. Divisions can turn the beautiful mosaic of the face of Christ into a pile of individual pieces on the ground.   F.D. Maurice rightly identified the culprits of communal division when he wrote: “As self-will and disobedience are the obstacles to the communion of men and women with their Creator, so are they obstacles to communion with each other.” We can’t go it alone, we need each other!

I believe St. Luke’s is in a time of restoration and renewal. Slowly but surely the broken pieces of the mosaic are falling back into place. The face of Christ will be seen once again, and there will be those who are drawn to His light because of it. Let us continue to follow Christ and as we follow, Jesus promises to turn us all into those who fish for people (fishers of men as the King James Version has it).

Every time we hear a bell ring, or even a cellphone chime, may we remember Christ’s call to community. We are sheep and we can’t do this ‘spiritual life thing’ alone; we need to make regular contact with God and the people of God.

Poet and former dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, John Donne reminds us to heed the call of the bells:

        No man is an island entire of itself; every man

        is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

        if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe

        is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as

        well as any manner of thy friends or of thine

        own were; any man’s death diminishes me,

        because I am involved in mankind.

        And therefore, never send to know for whom

        the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.



[1] https://www.christianity.com/wiki/church/what-is-the-origin-and-purpose-of-church-bells.html

[2] Jonas, Robert, ed. The Essential Henri Nouwen (Shambala Publications: Boston, 2009) p.143