Sunday, April 3, 2016

We ARE the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:4-7,12-27)

There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries and the same Lord; and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 7

12 Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. 13 We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink. 14 Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. 15 If the foot says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 16 If the ear says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted. 19 If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? 20 But as it is, there are many parts but one body. 21 So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” 22 Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary. 23 The parts of the body that we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most. The private parts of our body that aren’t presentable are the ones that are given the most dignity. 24 The parts of our body that are presentable don’t need this. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor 25 so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it. 27 You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.

Today we’ve read part of St. Paul’s letter to one of his churches, in the ancient city of Corinth.  It’s one of many places in Scripture where we are given this metaphor of the Church as a body, namely, the Body of Christ.

I love this way of thinking about the Church.  One body, with many members.  Diversity and variety in who we are and the gifts we have, yet united together as one, with a common life, a common purpose, a common mission.  Let us pray.

For the Church, unity is the name of the game.  Unity is at the heart and soul of what it means to be a Christian, to follow Jesus, to be part of the Church.  I can’t understate the importance of unity.  We’ve all seen that famous image of Jesus praying in the garden on the night before he crucified, whether in paintings or stained glass, and every time I see it, I think of what Jesus actually prayed for in that prayer.  Did you know that Jesus prayed for us?  That you and I, and all his followers, were chief among the things on his mind that night?

Here’s part of what he prayed, from John 17: “I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. 22 I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one” (John 17:21-22).

That’s what we sang in the first hymn today.  “May thy great prayer be answered, that we may all be One.  Close bound by love, united, in thee God’s blessed Son.”

I love that!  Unity is at the very center of our faith.  Now, to be perfectly clear, unity is not the same thing as uniformity.  Uniformity is the belief that we all have to be the same.  Unity recognizes the reality that our gifts and skills and preferences and tastes and experiences may all be vastly different, and yet, we are all connected and pulling together as part of the same team.  A spirit of unity isn’t threatened by that diversity, rather, diversity is a strength upon which to build.

Going back to this metaphor of the Church as the body of Christ, the body has an eye, and a hand, and a mouth, and a foot – each part has a specific role, a specific function, that makes the whole thing just work better.  If the whole body were an eye, we’d see everything!  But without feet, we’d never go anywhere.  If the whole body were a mouth, we’d talk all the time!  But without hands, we wouldn’t do anything.

As we look around at the other members of the body of Christ, we begin to recognize each one’s gift.  Some people are visionaries – they’re the eyes.  Some people love to really dig in do stuff – they’re the hands.  Some people are just able to listen quietly and patiently to others – they’re the ears.  Some people just want to go-go-go all the time – they’re the feet.

But, you see how all of these parts work together, need each other?  How they’re all necessary for the body to function and work as one?  Every part, every member, has a role to play, no matter how big or how small, no matter how public or behind the scenes, every function is important.  Friends, we need each other!

A member of the church had stopped attending worship services.  Another member, whose task it was to follow-up with such folks, dropped by a couple of weeks later.  The absentee member invited the other inside, where a roaring fire was going strong.  The visiting member stared at the dancing flames for awhile, and then, without saying a word, used the fire tongs to pick up a brightly-burning ember from the middle of the fire, and placed it off to the side of the hearth.  Its glow began to fade, and eventually, it was cold and dead as a doornail.

No words had been exchanged the entire time.  The visiting member eventually got up to leave, and placed the cold ember back into the fire.  Almost immediately, it began to glow as it was surrounded by the warmth of the burning coals around it.  As the guest left, her host said, “Thank you for your visit, and especially for your fiery message.  I’ll see you next Sunday.”

Friends, when we remove ourselves, when we withhold our gifts and our resources, ultimately, who are we hurting the most?  We hurt ourselves, but we also weaken the rest of the body.  God gives us to each other for the upbuilding of the body, not to tear it down.  When we withdraw, we lose our connection with the life-giving fire of the Holy Spirit, and the heart-warming presence of Christ at our center.

We’re called to unity.  But, and this is important, not unity for its own sake, but unity in Christ.  That in Christ part is really important.

Let me see if I can put it another way.  I need three volunteers.  What I need the three of you to do is to spread out as far away from each other as possible.  Now, up here at the altar table, I want you to imagine Jesus sitting right here.  Everyone got it?

Now, what I want each of you to do is to get as close to Jesus as possible.  Ready? Go!

Would you look at that! The closer we get to Jesus, the closer we get to each other at the same time.  Christian community, the unity we desire and are called to, happens rather naturally when we each set an intention of getting close to Jesus.  By drawing close to Jesus, that very process naturally draws us closer to each other.

But remember, we’re called to be one in Christ.  Sometimes, we put a lot of energy into drawing close to each other, without also drawing close to Jesus.  Jesus may be here, but we can all clump up some other place.  When we clump up somewhere far away from Jesus, you’ve got one of two things in the body of Christ – you’ve either got a clot or a tumor.  Neither one of those is particularly desirable.

Fortunately, clots and tumors are easy to diagnose in the body of Christ.  Unlike this group of folks, who are gathered around Jesus, a clot or a tumor isn’t centered around Christ.  It may be centered around gossip or negativity or criticism.  In which case, we become the body of gossip or the body of negativity or the body of criticism.  Maybe it’s focused on a particular person or issue, in which case we become the body of that person or the body of this issue.

Even when our focus is just on enjoying each other’s company, we become a body of fellowship, which we think is good, but let’s be honest, it still misses the mark of being built around Christ.  And, it doesn’t really matter what it is, it can be something good or something bad, if we build our community around something, we become the body of that thing – and so long as it’s something or someone other than Jesus, then we miss the mark of being the body of Christ.

We’re called to be together, to be unified, but to do so as the body of Christ, with him at our center, no ifs, ands, or butts about it.

And speaking of butts, that’s a part of the body, too.  And last I checked, every body has one.  For everyone’s sake, out of love for God and for one another, that’s one part of the body which none of us should aspire to be.

But even when someone has decided that’s the part they want to be, we love them anyway.  The Scripture says we treat those parts that are less honorable with special honor.  Sometimes people can’t help acting that way.  Sometimes they don’t know any better.  And so, we learn to love the difficult people – indeed, it’s a particular honor to show love toward someone when they’re not being particularly loveable.  Sometimes, loving them requires us to do the difficult thing, to love them enough to take them aside and let them know when they’re doing something that’s damaging themselves or others.  Being loving is never the same thing as tolerating or encouraging or putting up with bad behavior.  But the point is that we ARE called to love everyone as Christ loves us, even when people sometimes do things that stink.

There’s yet one more part of the body which none of needs to be: the head.  So, don’t be the butt, and don’t try to be the head, either.  That position has already been filled, not by you, not by me, but by Jesus.  In the body of Christ, Jesus is the head.  He’s the brains of the operation.  Ultimately, he’s in charge.

The Christian faith isn’t about me or you; it’s about Jesus!  None of us are the main character in the Bible!  We are the body of CHRIST, not the body of me, not the body of us!  We are part of Christ, we are an extension of him, we are his hands and feet in the world, we are given the wonderful privilege of carrying his mission forward.

Years ago, our Conference mandated that every church had to write a mission statement.  One pastor was telling me the process his church went through in writing theirs.  He called together most of the key leaders in the church one evening, and one lady said, “All this is silly.  We just need to do the things Jesus told us to do!”  And my pastor friend looked at her and said, “Write that down.”  And so, they turned in a very official-looking piece of paper to the district office that said, “The mission of our church is to do the things Jesus told us to do.”

Those things aren’t rocket science.  We can read the Scriptures and see what Jesus actually did when he walked among on earth, and what he called his followers to do since, and then to make sure those things are always our number one priority as a church – that those things are getting the most of our time, and energy, and resources.

We’ll look at some of those things in greater depth over the next few weeks, but for today, just remember this: We ARE the body of Christ.  Divided we fall, but united we stand.  We can do far more for the cause of Christ in the world together centered around Jesus, than we can on our own.

So long as we recognize ourselves, first and foremost, as members of the body of Christ, so long as our desire is to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world, if we are willing to let go of what we want and instead dedicate ourselves to what Jesus wants, if we can take our own agendas and preferences out of it and put Jesus at the center of it – then I guarantee you, we WILL be the Body of Christ at work!

And when the body works together, it’s a beautiful thing.  So go be beautiful, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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