Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (BCP, page 215)

We know we do not have the ability or the resources to proclaim the good news to everyone, to be responsible for our part of the world, El Cajon, East County, and wider into the San Diego County. We are called to work with the other Episcopal Churches in our diocese, to work with churches in our neighborhood, First Presbyterian Church, St. John’s Lutheran Church and other churches. I facilitate a clergy luncheon every month, and our group includes Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Jewish Rabbis and others.

We can do our part. I was meeting with the potential new pastor of First Presbyterian Church across the circle drive, and she was excited about us, and she had heard good things about St. Albans and our relationship with First Pres.; our work together with the Food Pantry, Welcome Church, Circle Community Garden and Vacation Bible School. We want to be present for all the people in our community. That includes the people living next to the church and the people living in the hills that surround our city. Some people’s needs are self-evident, and some are hidden from view. People can look like things are going well, but we don’t always know what’s going on. Sometimes we have to probe a little deeper.

I’m a basketball fan. I love the game, and for many years I played noon ball with doctors, lawyers, salesmen, business owners, bartenders, and unemployed. Even though we were all legends (in our own minds) the game was an equalizer. It did not matter how much money someone made or level of prestige off the court, the best player on each team became the leader and most valued asset. I played as long as I could on hardwood floors doing things with my legs and ankles that at my age I should not have been doing, but I was not alone.  One by one, we began to find other ways to exercise, knowing that we could no longer keep pace with the younger players. My takeaway from the competitive noon ball experience is that skin color, ethnicity, politics, net worth, or anything else has little value on the basketball floor. If there are at least two dominant players on the court, you want one of them on your team, and the best players became the leader or player/coach.

In the basketball NCAA Division One, both men and women tournaments, the top 64 teams in the nation make up what is called March Madness? It’s exciting because it’s single game elimination, and sometimes a Cinderella team makes it into the final 32 or Sweet 16, and some of the top teams are upset every year. The players on each team are different from each other, culturally, socially and in so many other ways, but the great leveler is skill, and each player finds a place to play on that team that seems to fit the team in the best possible way. Young people are encouraged and coached to use their skills in the best possible way, to be a team player, and to do their best in what they can contribute to the team. It’s a team effort.

The Apostle Paul confronts the Corinthian Church to function as a team, and on this team all have different “charismas” or gifts. (1 Corinthians 12:12-31) He encourages everyone that there is only One Spirit, but many manifestations or “graces” of that Spirit imparted to each believer. And each person is tasked to “stir up the flame” that is within them and use their gift. Corinthians is pretty explicit that these gifts are not for one person. They are given to each person to be used as a gift for the church. Without the various members working together as a team, the team will not be unified, and instead of being an asset, they become a liability to the team. It is a balance to serve God individually and to serve God in the context of community. “Now you are the Body of Christ and individually members of it”. (1Cor. 12:27)

Being in community with the Church of Jesus Christ is intended to be a “leveling” experience. It is filled with times of soul searching, and time to be transparent before God and with each other. May we take the time to encourage one another “stir up the flame” that is within them and to use their gifts in an unselfish way. May we all try our best to be a team with so many different strengths to be used to serve others? May it also be a time to not only recognize strengths, but to encourage those with weaknesses? Perhaps your gift is to help someone else with something they are struggling with.

Remember, St. Paul tells us that the greatest of all gifts is love. Without love, regardless how wonderful our talents may be, they are like a gong or clanking symbol, in other words, just a bunch of useless noise. (1 Corinthians 13)

Basketball and church are intended to be team oriented; even more so for church, since the consequences of the church message is so much more important than a basketball game.