United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

   ☀  OUTDOOR COMMUNION Worship Sermon:


by Rev. Rebecca Migliore

               August 1, 2021             


        I’ll let you in on a secret—I’m a knitter.  Now I haven’t knitted in years (although I still have projects that are unfinished)—but there was a time in my life when if I was at a meeting that I wasn’t running, or if I was listening to the news on TV, or if I just wanted to relax for a few minutes—you would see me pick up whatever project was my latest craze.  I loved it.  Maybe it was a way to tie me to my mom who loved handicrafts, from needlepoint to crochet to knitting to quilting.  Maybe it was the art of creation—being able to see your work appear before your eyes.  Maybe it was the intricacies of colors and weights of yarn and sizes of needles and patterns that ran from simple to ones you had to memorize (or constantly look at).  Maybe it was the way that it could put you into a meditative mood. 

        And so, when the commentary of Seasons of the Spirit lifted up the image of knitting in this passage of Ephesians, it sparked something inside me.  Although I have used those words before “knit together” (both in this passage and in Psalm 139), I have never associated them for some reason with actual knitting.  What a wonderful way of talking about what I have come to see as Paul’s theme of Ephesians--Unity amid Uniqueness.          

        Now for those of you who are not initiated into this ancient craft, there are a few things you need to know.  You begin with one ball of yarn, called a skein, and from that one thread, you create a row of stitches on a needle, and then by the wondrous manipulation of that one thread and two needles, you add to each stitch, creating row upon row.  There are two main stitches called knit and purl, and then there are all of these complicated steps of slipping, or knitting together, and bringing in other colors, and other “tricks” to make individual masterpieces.

        The other important thing to know is that these stitches are interconnected and so if you drop a stitch, it can leave a hole, or you might even have to do what is called “ripping out” a section, where you basically go backwards, pulling out what you have done until you get to the mistake.  And if you have ever had a knitted sweater that gets a tear in one of the stitches, you know that that whole garment can unravel, if you continue to pull on the exposed thread. 

        I believe knitting has been around for millennium and it is closely connected to other arts—such as macramé and the knotting that creates fish nets.  All this is to say that when Ephesians mentions being “knit together,” people, male and female alike, might have connected it to parts of their daily life—like the manufacture of garments and bedding, or the nets of fishing or macramé carrying bags.

        We human beings sometimes need tangible things to help us grasp difficult concepts.  Listen to the people around Jesus in our gospel lesson today.  Jesus has just fed 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish but they say to him “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you?”  Today, I am trying to show you the tangible example Paul was using to get his point across about the beauty and specialness of this new creation, the body of Christ, the Church.

        Unity amid uniqueness.  Ephesians is known for its soaring words—and in fact, I bet you recognized one part of the passage we read today.  “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”  This picture of unity, as I read it again through the knitting lens, reminded me of the single thread that is wound and crossed and connected in a knitting project.  Our unity is that we have been woven of the same cloth (we are all human, knitted together by God in our mother’s wombs).  If God is the great knitter, we have been wrapped and connected with the same love and care, we have been created with the same magic.  We are linked, we are tied, knotted together.  Something is missing when we diminish or abase or abuse others.  The Bible even memorializes this rending of connection from the very beginning when Cain kills his brother Abel because he was different, and maybe more beloved of God.  Unity is something we know is part of God’s blueprint, something to work towards and dream of.  

        But Ephesians doesn’t suggest that this Unity takes away our individuality.  That is why I have labeled it Unity amid Uniqueness.  Right after the soaring rhetoric of ONE body, ONE Spirit, ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism, ONE God and Father of us all—it says “But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”  And it begins to name what those gifts might be—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  In other words, even though we have been knit together with this single God thread, it appears that some of us might be hats, some sweaters, some scarfs, some mittens, some socks, some baby clothes, some toys, some even those relics of my grandparents’ generation—the toilet roll cover!  Not all knitting looks the same—not in color, not in texture, not in how tightly or loosely it is, not in patterns, not in size. 

        We explored this idea a couple of weeks ago when Paul used the image of us being the body of Christ and individually members of it—reminding us that there are some who are feet, and some hands, and … I think a beautiful example of what we are talking about is found in the film of the musical “In the Heights”—when during a very hot day in New York City, all the various groups of the neighborhood of Washington Heights participate in a joyous dance.  As the cast sings “Carnaval del Barrio” groups from different Latin American countries take their turn in showcasing the dance traditions of their country—be it Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, or Colombia—but amid the changing tempos and syncopations, it is still a single dance—and it makes you want to jump up and join in, adding your own spice to the pot.  That is Unity amid Uniqueness.

        This is not an easy thing.  Maybe that is why our passage starts out with these words: “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”       

        This unity, which extends not just to the whole human race but all the fabric of God’s glorious creation, is a seamless piece.  In knitting terms, the interconnectedness makes it strong, as long as all the stitches are working together, as long as nothing breaks or shrinks or relaxes—as long as the pattern stays strong.  But our interconnectedness also makes us vulnerable.  If something happens to one of the stitches—you begin to see a blemish in the whole—and if one breaks, then there can be cascading failures, and in the worst case scenario, the disintegration of the whole.  We have seen some breaking of connection in the last few years—and it will take effort from all of us to make repairs, to restore what God intended—or maybe to allow God to knit some new rows, to add to the blanket or garment that is still in production.

        For us, UPC, we are working on our own knitting project—trying to construct a unity amid uniqueness.  What does that finally look like?  What constitutes unity?  How do we hold onto and cherish our uniquenesses?  I pray that God continues to whisper a word to our ears, visits us in our dreams, supports us through our trials and errors, and blows grace on our every step.  For we too want to join the everlasting song, singing in our distinctive voice--

        “we are one in the Spirit we are one in the Lord, we are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, and we pray that all unity may one day be restored, for they’ll know we are Christians by our Love, by our love, yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our Love.”

        Alleluia.  Amen.

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