Third Sunday After Epiphany
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
In our epistle for this morning, the Apostle Paul presents a glowing portrait of what it means to belong together. He writes in a time when the church was in a state of confusion and division. Paul writes to remind them (and us) of the importance of each person and their collaborative work as the Body of Christ.
Corinth was a busy, fast-paced city and people came from everywhere with all sorts of ideas. It was known for the arts and sports, great thinkers and philosophers, and Olympic type sporting games.
The church of that day began to take on the personality of the culture around it. Relationships were severed. Law suits were pending. Questions and debates arose about everything: marriage and divorce, idolatry, the Lord’s Suppers, questions about spiritual gifts, whose gifts were greater, who was in and who was out. It was a messy mess.
Paul writes: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” This image of God as a single body working together is an important one, isn’t it?
We have just come through the seasons of Advent and Christmas where God presented God’s self as a human wrapped in body; in flesh with eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and feet. It was a body to be touched and held, loved and adored; that talked and wept and moved about; knew joys and sorrows just like your body and mine.
God in body. Of all the ways that God could have presented God’s self, God most profoundly chose a human body and Paul says the Church, capital “C,” is like a body. God’s body present through us.
We are part of a collective together with believers everywhere making up this image of God in the world. And all people matter – none are more important or less important than the other. All are necessary.
Isn’t that what we just said in our Call to Worship? “House of prayer for man, home to all who come. Friend and stranger, saint and sinner; all are welcome here.”
This imagery ratchets up our participation in the game. If there is an indictment against the Church, most people will lump us all together.
Every now and then, we must ask what the world sees when they look at us, the Body of Christ with all our varying gifts, styles and personalities, rituals and doctrines? What does the world see of Christ based on the body represented and what is my individual part in it all?
Each person is uniquely created; carefully crafted and wonderfully made. We don’t need to be anyone else. We are who we are and God has made each of us beautifully so that we have our own place. And this is not just us alone but it is true for every single human being. Our job is to strive to be the best of who we are: mature and maturing, developing, alive and well, holy and taking on the responsibility for our fair share.
I believe that God gives us everything we need in order to be what God wants us to be. Yes, I believe that everything I need to live a full life and to serve the greater good is already inside of me just needing to be developed, grown and find its place. It’s already inside of me and I have to keep working and persevering and making it a priority. I think this also true for you as well.
I think it’s also true of us as a collective here in this place at this time. Everything we need is already here and on its way: gifts and graces, talents and ideas and things to bear. None of us need shrink or withdraw. We are all needed to work together with love as our anchor and the greater goal in mind.
It’s easy to focus on our individual journey and our personal path but Christianity is not a solo enterprise. Let us not be guilty of living small, staying on the edge and settling for a smaller version of who we are and who we can be. We are the Body of Christ.
Eugene Peterson in the Message Bible put our gospel this way:
“… Your body has many parts – limbs, organs, cells – but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ. By means of his one Spirit, we all said goodbye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain – his Spirit – where we all come to drink. The old label like Jew or Greek, slave or free – (and I might add male or female, gay or straight, Democrat, Republican, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Disciples of Christ, Episcopalian) – they are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive…
I want you to think how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, ‘I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings, I guess I don’t belong to this body,’ would that make it so? If Ear said, ‘I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,’ would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.
But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own.
Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, ‘Get lost; I don’t need you?’ Or, Head telling Foot, ‘You’re fired; your job has been phased out?’ As a matter of fact, in practice it works the other way – the “lower” the part, the more basic, and therefore necessary. You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach. When it’s a part of your own body you are concerned with, it makes no difference whether the part is visible or clothed, higher or lower. You give it dignity and honor just as it is, without comparisons. If anything, you have more concern for the lower parts than the higher. If you had to choose, wouldn’t you prefer good digestion to full-bodied hair?
The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. And if one part flourishes, every other part enters into exuberance.
You are Christ’s body – that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything … Christ’s church is a complete Body and not a gigantic, unidimensional Part … it is not all Apostle, not all Prophet, not all Miracle Worker, not all Healer, not all Prayer in Tongues … ”
Then and only then, does Paul launch into that beautiful masterpiece found in Chapter13. Having established our connection and dependency on one another he writes: “Though I speak with tongues of men and angels and have not love, I am nothing … love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; not irritable or resentful. It bears all things … and now abides these three: faith, hope, and love but the greatest of these is love.”
My brothers and sisters, this is our work and it will take everything we have in order to do it while the world waits. There is individual and sacred work, yes, but there is also rich, holy, collaborative work that binds us together with others and is ours to share.
Luke tells us that one day Jesus came to Nazareth and went to the temple as was his custom. Someone handed him a scroll and he began to read the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Who are they that need good news? Who are the poor, the voiceless in need of hope spoken and embodied? Who are those struggling for the basic necessities of life and those who are poor in spirit, let down and weighed down?
Who are the captives who need to be set free, bound by trauma of injustice and yearning for truth and sight? Who are the oppressed and what is our moral responsibility to them?
It will take all of us with our doors wide open to diffuse the hopelessness that surrounds us.
We join ourselves with the faithful around the world so that together, we become a beautiful tapestry of God’s very body alive and well, pushed forth and pushed out to make a difference in our time.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon us. May it be so.