Sermon January 24, 2016
I Corinthians 12:12-31a, Luke 4:14-21
The human body is a miracle. We probably don’t spend a lot of time each day being grateful for the systems and intricacies that make up our bodies, but each of us is a wonder. The Psalmist gives praise to God because we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14) It is interesting that Paul chose the image of the body to describe the church at Corinth. He could have chosen most any image. The body had been used for generations at the time, but it had been used to keep everyone in their place. When people spoke of the body in those days, they were reminding others that the body is a hierarchy. Along comes Paul and turns that upside down! He does not come to the same conclusion about the body. In fact, he does the opposite. He says in the body everyone matters. He won’t allow us to believe that the knee is superior to the ankle or the ear matters more than the neck. Instead, he wants us to understand that we are all completely dependent on each other. I don’t often think about how much I rely on my organs to cooperate with one another. I just assume that they will. Many of you know the feeling of betrayal when some part of our body ceases to function as it should. But how often do you consider the miracle that our organs and systems are when they all join with one another to keep us healthy and allow us to get around?
Perhaps it is because I get paid to do it or perhaps I just tend to see the world this way, but I often find myself reflecting on the church as a body and consider the miracle of each part carefully contributing to the life of this congregation. If the whole body were buildings and grounds, where would the Sunday School teachers be? If the Social Justice committee were to say to Circles of Concern, “we have no need of you”, where would the pastoral care be? If the body was only the choir, where would Congregational Life be? As it is, we have finance, ushers, acolytes, Family Promise volunteers, scripture readers, an executive committee, youth, fellowship hosts, preschool committee, musicians, pastoral relations, prayer shawl, and stewardship to name a few of our body.
Eugene Peterson paraphrases Paul this way: “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.” (The Message) As one who observes this body in action every day, I can tell you it is a miracle. You see Paul isn’t calling us to become a body. He is telling us we already are. We simply have to embrace the truth of what we are. Another way to say it is, “You are the body of Christ. Act like it.” I think we do that pretty well. He isn’t calling us to be uniform, but to embrace our diversity.
Kathleen Norris is a poet who left the church as a young adult and didn’t return until she moved back into her grandmother’s home in South Dakota and befriended a local clergy couple. The couple left soon after Kathleen came to the church because of division in the congregation, but Kathleen stayed and she reflects on the church in this way, “From the outside, church congregations can look like remarkably contentious places, full of hypocrites who talk about love while fighting each other tooth and nail. This is the reason many people give for avoiding them. On the inside, however, it is a different matter, a matter of struggling to maintain unity as the body of Christ given the fact that we have precious little uniformity. I have only to look at the congregation I know best, the one I belong to. We are not individuals who have come together because we are like-minded. That is not a church but a political party. We are like most healthy churches, I think, in that we can do pretty well when it comes to loving and serving God, each other, and the world: but God help us if we have to agree about things. I could test our uniformity by suggesting a major remodeling of the sanctuary, or worse, the Holy of holies–the church kitchen. But I value my life too much.
The church is like the incarnation itself, a shaky proposition. It is a human institution, full of ordinary people, sinners like me, who do and say cruel things. But it is also a divinely inspired in institution, full of good purpose, which partakes of a unity far greater than the sum of its parts. That is why it is called the Body of Christ.” (Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace, 272-3)
This week in text study, we reflected on this passage and talked about some ways we see it in our congregation. One person described the children and the role they play in our life together. Another described the leadership and the way that we share the load. No one dominates, but leaders take turns through the years. Another told a story of our interim minister calling at 9:30 one Sunday morning to say she was in the hospital. At 10:30, we had church with a sermon and another person leading the service. That is the body of Christ at work. We live our lives in community and recognize the value of each person’s contribution. It isn’t to say that someone doesn’t get on our nerves. It isn’t to say we don’t make mistakes.
But it is to say that we learn from our mistakes. One of our mistakes happened at Christmas time. We did a local alternative gift fair and invited several organizations we support to participate. We had the opportunity to give to each of those organizations. We had a special UCC offering. We were collecting toiletries for Crossroads and for Jefferson teens. We were collecting toys for Alice King. Somehow we pulled it all off, but we realized that all these members of the body need to talk to one another so that we don’t try and collect so much at once. I felt badly that in our zeal to support so many good things, we overwhelmed the congregation. In the future, we will communicate and not try and do so many things at once. We are already coming together to create a more coordinated approach to giving. I have to say if we are going to make mistakes, I’m ok with us making the mistake of doing too much good at once!
Part of our task in this life is learning how to share the journey together. Kathleen Norris talked about people who say they don’t come to church because people are hypocrites. People are humans and we mess up. Ron Rolheiser reminds us that “You can’t deal with an invisible God if you refuse to deal with a visible family.” (The Holy Longing, p. 98) The church is where we learn how to be the body of Christ. Sometimes it is painful and sometimes it is so beautiful that it pierces me. We don’t come here to be the same, but to learn how to embrace our diversity. In our diversity, we have so much to offer the world.
Paul tells that we are bound together in our suffering and in our joy. In the last year, we have experienced both. Some of our beloved members have died and we feel their absence. We grieve together. Others have suffered illness and loss and we share that together. We have experienced the beauty of birth and marriages and we celebrate those. I can’t remember a time that someone has asked for help and not received it.
I had the opportunity to see this congregation through the eyes of two strangers over the holidays. Two of our relatives came from other states. One came on Christmas Eve and we had to drag her away from the cookies and eggnog afterward because she was deep in a conversation with someone. Another came on December 27 -ttthe day of the big snowstorm when APD was asking people not to drive unless they had to. On that Sunday, twenty of us gathered in the chancel and sang carols and shared with one another. Both of these family members were blown away by our congregation and talked about it the rest of the time they were here. One of them sent the church a check this week with the intention of supporting us throughout the year. We are the body of Christ and we are beautiful together. It is good to be reminded of that from time to time. It is good to remember that what we do matters. It is good to be reminded that we are changing the world one person at a time.hthe