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The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 24, 2016
The New Testament: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
The Very Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
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The New Testament:
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. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Middle school teachers are a breed set apart. If you are, or have been, an elementary or high school teacher, you know this to be true. And youíre glad for their uniqueness because it means that you donít, or didnít, have to teach middle school. I know about all this because, for eight years, I was a middle school teacher; in fact, I was the middle school band director. Yeah, that guy! Middle School teachers know how the world at large views them; the most polite word for it is, certifiable.
We who do it, or have done it, understand. Itís because we love this age group: The changes; the explosions in intellect, physical bearing, emotions; The unpredictability; watching those sweet stable sixth graders who enter each fall as they quickly transform into uniquely new people by spring and on into seventh and eighth grades. Everyday is a new teaching experience. You simply donít know who you will meet in your classroom. Oh, the names stay the same, and the bodies still look vaguely familiar, if you donít look away too long, but thereís no telling who they will be day to day. Itís absolutely wonderful, and itís exciting to witness their changing interests.
Just consider middle school humor. Yes, itís very earthy, full of references to body parts and functions recently discovered. Itís not particularly socially acceptable, nor is it ready for polite company. Then again, where else but in middle school can you be a hero for having learned to belch the pledge of allegiance, or have the loud production of flatulence sounds from inserting your hand into your armpit be considered a great accomplishment by your peers. Middle school humor, like other facets of middle school life, is a discovery process of things less presentable and perhaps unmentionable; a study, if you will, of all things physical and gross. It is, in a word, Grossology.
Now lest you think that Iíve just made that word up, note that there actually is a dictionary definition of this word, grossology; it is, the impolite science of the human body. In childrenís museums and natural history museums across the country there is a traveling exhibit still circulating and returning called grossology. The exhibit combines humor, colorful visual displays and hands-on learning with boogers, dandruff, vomit and flatulence. The end result is that natural youthful curiosity and humor surrounding the human body is met with legitimate scientific education. Now this puts a new spin on the term ďGross Anatomy.Ē
Visiting the Grossology exhibit will give you quite an education on bodily functions. Turn the handle of the ďVomit CenterĒ machine and watch the process of stomach acid regurgitating up the digestive system. Climb into the nostril of the giant nose exhibit to study cilia and boogers up close while learning how our body defends itself against pathogenic invaders. Or try your hand at ďGas AttackĒ pinball where bacteria pin balls jet around the intestinal game table scoring points as they rebound off of digestible food items. Stomach gurgles and burps mean big bonus points!
Now, my aim this morning in mentioning all this is not to gross you out, but to point out that interest in bodily functions isnít limited to childrenís museums and middle school life. The apostle Paul, too, is fixated by bodily functions; specifically how the body of Christ, the church, functions. In our Scripture passage from I Corinthians this morning he speaks to us of three different facets of Christís body.
The first facet is the Design of the Body of Christ. In verse 12, Paul says, ďFor 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 ChristĒ (v. 12).
God created a system of interdependence for us. We belong to one another and we cannot function in healthy fashion without each other (vv. 16-17). In other words, God has made you and me for others, and others for you and me, and all for his Body collected.
The Body of Christ is marvelous in its conception and design, as is the human body. We know that while the human body is much the same from person to person, there are a zillion individual variations in our DNA that determine differences in height, weight, skin color and aspects of personality. Likewise, whatever a particular ChristBody may look like, there are amazing differences within the many parts. Paulís concern, and what should be ours as well is how all those differing parts work together into the growing church body they were designed to produce. Each congregation, though made up of many members, is by design to function as one body. That is the first facet of Paulís focus this morning: the design of the body.
Here is Paulís second facet: The Diversity of the Body. ďBut as it is,Ē he writes, ďGod arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he choseĒ (v. 18).
Have you ever wanted to give your particular ministry gifts back? Would you like more behind-the-scenes kinds of gifts, or perhaps more out-front, showy gifts? We canít choose the family we were born to or what color our eyes will be or how tall we will end up Ö and apparently we canít choose our spiritual gifts either. Itís a spiritual form of DNA. Itís Godís choice, not ours. As it is, diversity in the body exists because God has chosen our different parts, our differing gifts.
We have artists in this body of St. Thomas. What about those gifts set to decorating the sanctuary for worship? Iíve been reminded yet again, just this week, of those here with amazing gifts of hospitality. Though many prefer to offer their gifts quietly, perhaps we need to make sure that their gifts of hosting and cooking be honored as openly as those with gifts for preaching and teaching. We also have folks here with gifts of mercy, and others with gifts of influence that reach folks in need of both outside our walls. We donít need to create diversity in this area. We already have it. We just need to discover and release it. Diversity is how God designed the Body to function. That is the second facet of Paulís focus this morning: the diversity of the body.
This leads us to Paulís third facet, the Display of the Body. Paul writes, ďThe members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable Ö and our less respectable members are treated with greater respectĒ (vv. 22-23).
So how do our collection-counters, and ushers, and greeters, and events set-up folks, and gatherings clean-up folks, view their roles in the Body? Do they feel less important, less respectable, less appreciated than worship leaders, musicians, or teachers? We are to be a Body where every ministry is to be celebrated and each part is to be viewed as vital to the whole.
Jazz great Harry Connick Jr. is an unbelievable live-performance talent. Fifteen years ago, he would have his whole band leave the stage while he proceeded to solo on their instruments: first the piano, then the trumpet, trombone, sax, upright bass, electric bass, electric guitar, whammy organ, and finally the drums. The solo would last 25 minutes.
Today he is as talented as ever. Yet, his affection for the spotlight has seemed to diminish. See his concert today, and there will be 10-15 solos, but only a couple by Harry on the piano. The rest are by his band. Heíll call out his bandmates by name to give them the stage. Heíll get up from the piano and physically leave the spotlight for the side-stage darkness. Heíll come up behind his soloists Ö cheer for them Ö celebrate them Ö clap and dance wildly in the shadow of their moment. At the end of the night, there is no doubt who the best musician on the stage is Ö but he has on his dancing shoes and heís throwing a party of music where everyone is celebrated.
That is how it is to be in every Church. We are not just to notice and appreciate those parts of our church body that are the most spectacular. We are to recognize and encourage everyone in the exercise of their gifts. Whatever your own ministry gifts may be, get in each otherís shadows. Celebrate each otherís gifts. Make much of every member of this bodyís talents and ministries.
Our human bodies may have functions that are best described as grossology. But the ChristBody, when functioning well in design, diversity and display, is something to behold! Itís not gross. Itís beautiful.