One of the most disturbing – but at the same time inspiring – movies I have ever seen is the 2001 Italian movie, Ignorant Fairies – fully subtitled of course – which I saw while on retreat before ordination to the priesthood. After attractive AIDS doctor Antonia’s husband is suddenly killed by a car, she starts going through his possessions and comes across evidence that he had been having an affair – with another man. Driven by a powerful mix of grief, depression and curiosity, Antonia goes to see her husband's lover, Michele, and finds a huge apartment that he shares with gay and transgendered friends, including a Turkish immigrant and a prostitute. Surrounded by an apartment full of misfits, accepted without question into this bewildering community centred around a seemingly endless meal of red wine and pasta, Antonia finds she has been given the strength she needs to begin to live again.
Once Antonia – and I - had got over our initial shock at the rather ‘in your face’ world that she had stumbled into, I found myself reflecting that this was nothing less than an analogy of what the church is called to be. A place where misfits are made welcome. A place where we gather around a meal-table, where we accept and welcome one another, a place where souls and bodies are fed and where lives are transformed.
I remember when I was 18, my friends and I discovered alcohol. I might have been a late starter! I remember that year there were a number of raucous parties that we all attended – I guess there was a particular sort of etiquette that no matter how tired and emotional we got, we knew we had to observe. As you get older, when you get married and have kids, the teenage party gives way to the adult dinner party – not quite so raucous, not quite so hard on the neighbours – but again there are unspoken rules of behaviour. If you’re putting on the dinner party you cook something really nice – it’s important that there be plenty on the table, you’re showing hospitality and you want people to feel good. If you’ve been invited to the dinner party there are also some obligations. You bring something to drink, or some flowers or chocolates, there are rules for conversation, for making sure everyone is included, that everyone gets a compliment. Everyone at the dinner table participates, and generally speaking we all know what’s expected of us.
In Jesus’ day, the party was a whole lot more complicated, but it’s the same basic idea. There are obligations of hospitality on both sides. Throwing a party in a peasant village in
And that, I think, is exactly what
There’s nothing hifalutin about spiritual gifts. Speaking the truth is a spiritual gift. Showing hospitality is a vital gift in Christian community – providing morning tea or supper after a service, bringing flowers to gladden the hearts of everyone who comes into the church. Doing the washing up. Your spiritual gifts are just the things that you have to offer in love to the people around you, and in love to the Church.
St Paul is writing to his wayward church in Corinth, where there seems to have been a lot of competition between people who wanted to be thought of as most important, and St Paul says, there’s only one reason you have any spiritual gifts at all, and that is for the building up of the church.
But the sort of church
The endless dinner party in Ignorant Fairies was a place of transformation and a place of redemption – a place where people came in broken, and around the table they became whole again. That’s what Church is, that’s the banquet Jesus is talking about and that’s what we are on about here. Nothing less. But here’s the pinch. For all the work the host puts on, you need guests who are in a party mood. The party you get is the party that everyone contributes to and the party that everyone chooses. You get the sort of Church you’re prepared to invest your dreams and your skills and your creativity and your gifts in.
Our Church is a rich and varied tapestry of the gifts that many people have given so generously over the years. The building itself is a labour of love. The liturgy we use is a work of love and dedication. When you look around you can see layers and layers of love – people reading, people pulling out weeds and tending gardens, people sweeping and cleaning and painting, people drawing and writing poetry, people coming together to sew wall hangings and altar frontals, people studying and praying together and visiting the sick. People involving themselves in the great issues and the local issues of their day, people reading Synod papers. People playing music, welcoming visitors, people laughing together and crying together.
We stand at a time of great urgency. There is much to be done today in our Church. And Jesus tells us there is miraculous new life to be found in doing it together.