Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 25, 2004
The Gospel: I Corinthians 12:12-27
Sermon: "We are the Body"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
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. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?
As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
I Corinthians 12:12-27
We are the Body
Third Sunday after the Epiphany - January 25, 2004
A song, written by a youth minister, has recently been playing on the Christian radio stations. The song is entitled, "If We Are the Body". I have really enjoyed the song. It is the story about two people who come into a church and how they are welcomed. The first person is a young teenage girl. She comes in and sits in the back row. While she is entering other teenage girls start making comments and giggling about her. Their comments are not subdued, they are heard by others around them including the young teenage girl herself. Can we imagine how she might have felt?
The second person is a man on a business trip. He is tired and needs to rest. He sees the church is open and decides to stop there. He is looking for a little peace and comfort. He is hoping for a little rest from his weary journey. He sits in the church and the people stare at him. They do not say hello. They do not greet him. They just stare. He decides he would have been better off on the road. He picks up his coat and leaves. How do we think he must have felt about the church at that point? Something tells me that both of these individuals probably did not see the church as very welcoming, very hospitable or very open. Instead the song describes a church that is very distant, very untrusting and very cold.
This church is very different than the one described in I Corinthians. Paul describes the ideal church in this text. He describes the church as having many parts. These multiple parts are united into one body. All people are welcome to be a part of the body. Jews and Greeks, slaves and free are welcome to join in this one body of Christ. They join this body by baptism. Through baptism they are one in the body of Jesus Christ.
This analogy is a wonderful one. It gets even better because Paul does not let it drop here. He goes on to describe the function of the body. All of the parts of the body are important. No part is better than the other and no part is useless. The eyes, the ears, the feet and the hands are all useful. Not only are they useful, they are dependent on one another. They each have been given certain functions. Paul even goes on to describe the parts of the body that are covered by clothes as being important and given honor by their being covered. He admits that these parts are not exactly the prettiest or most handsome parts of the body. Yet, they all function as part of the one body.
His analogy is to help us understand the concept of the church. We are to be like this body. We have many members of this one body. Each of us has been blessed with a particular set of gifts. No one else has the exact same gifts we do. We are unique not only in our physical appearance but in the gifts of the Holy Spirit we have within us. No one is more important than the other. Everyone has immense value. Every single person counts.
The problem with our society is that we teach the exact opposite. Someone has to be great in some manner of speaking before the world accepts them. They either have to be the head of Microsoft, a Richard Burton or Elizabeth Taylor, even a Michael Jordan before they are given any value or consideration as a great human being.
Now, I am not knocking these individual people. They have or had wonderful gifts. What I am saying is that the world view is 180 degrees opposite of what we are as the members of Christ's body. The church lives by the adage that everyone is important. The smallest member has something to offer. The youngest member has something to offer. The oldest member has something to offer.
Everyone, regardless of skin color, sex, social status, political status, sexual preference, and financial status can be an active, useful member of the body of Christ. Paul claimed that Jews and Greeks, slaves and free had equal status in the church. The Jewish people felt the Greeks were pagans. The free people felt slaves had no voice and were not of any great value in their day. Paul is saying that is not so in the church. Paul's words ring true for us today as they did when he wrote this letter. Everyone is precious before God. We are all God's creation. We all matter. We are called to work for the glory of God in the world.
In my short life I have seen a few times when the church has taken this teaching to heart. I have told you I have been involved in a prison ministry called Kairos before. David is involved in it at this time. At one point in its history this ministry almost fell apart. One might think it was because of the inmates. Some inmate may have hurt somebody. Actually, the problem came from the various denominations working on this ministry. They could not decide how to accomplish certain aspects of the weekend. They could not figure out how to do communion. The Roman Catholics and Episcopalians wanted to use real wine. The Baptists, Methodists and others wanted to use grape juice. Whose service orders were they going to use? What kind of music would they sing? In short, before the ministry ever got started it was almost derailed. They had temporarily lost sight of the task at hand. They were called to spread the Gospel to those in prison. They were called to share the Good News and help set the captives free, not physically, but in Spirit and in truth. When they remembered the calling and put aside the differences the ministry truly became effective.
Today, the Episcopal church is trying to figure out how to live with some decisions made at the last General Convention. We have people on all sides of the issues concerning homosexuality. Everyone does have a right to their opinion. Everyone should be discussing these issues to arrive at consensus. Yet, we have those people who shout for division. They want to tear the very fabric of the Body of Christ yet again. I am praying for unity instead of division. I am praying for some way that we can stay together in order to do the work God has called us to do. For when there is division in the Body of Christ, the work of God does not get accomplished. In fact, the people who need the church the most are turned away by the division alone.
At the end of this week, the convention of this diocese will occur. During the week ahead please pray for the unity of the church. Please pray for the unity of the body. I know it can happen. It has happened here. We have many members. We all have opinions concerning these issues. Yet, we have stayed united. We have managed to keep our eyes focused on the task at hand as a part of the Body of Christ in this community. Our work in Outreach, our pledges, our youth ministry, our worship, our Christian education, every part of this church is a testimony to the fact that we do have an understanding of Paul's text. I have never been more excited about being a priest than I am right now with you. Please pray for the church and God bless you all. AMEN.