A Sermon for 27 January 2019
A reading from the writings of the Apostle Paul as recorded in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a. Listen for God’s word to us. Note this morning that I’m reading from the version of the bible called The Message. And I’m going to read a few of the verses at the opening of chapter 12 to place us in Paul’s line of thought. It’s a long reading, but listen.
“1What I want to talk about now is the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives. This is complex and often misunderstood, but I want you to be informed and knowledgeable. . . . 4-7God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. . . .” And now starting at verse 12 and following.
12-13“You easily enough can see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. 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 good-bye 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 Christ 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 labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive. 14-18 I want you to think about 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 God wanted it. 19-24 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? 25-26 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. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance. 27-31 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. You’re familiar with some of the parts that God has formed in God’s church, which is God’s “body”: apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, helpers, organizers, those who pray in tongues. But it’s obvious by now, isn’t it, that Christ’s church is a complete Body and not a gigantic, uni-dimensional Part? It’s not all Apostle, not all Prophet, not all Miracle Worker, not all Healer, not all Prayer in Tongues, not all Interpreter of Tongues. And yet some of you keep competing for so-called “important” parts. But now I want to lay out a far better way for you.’”
This is the word of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God!
What is the purpose of the IT band? You’d know if say, any one of the cold overcast days last week you were caught unexpectedly out in the rain. Dashing for cover, you ran – or tried to run – as fast as you could to avoid getting drenched. The next morning, it’s highly likely that at least one if not both of your IT bands would be talking to you. As soon as you tried to swing your foot out of bed, the whole side of your leg from your hip to your knee seized up in achy pain. Harvard researches have been busy creating a mechanical model of a human IT band. They know it’s not a muscle, or a tendon as many often mistake. “The IT band runs along the outside of the thigh, from just above the hip to just below the knee, and is made up of fascia, an elastic connective tissue found throughout the human body” (https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2015-08/understanding-the-it-band/). The researches also know – as would anyone trying to take cover from a cold, icy rain – that the IT band is responsible for our gait – that spring in our step. It’s what allows us to swing our leg forward when we walk and run and cycle. Referred to in full as the iliotibial band, it’s the “largest piece of fascia in the human body” (Ibid.). It “stores and releases elastic energy to make walking and running more efficient” (Ibid.). The IT band is what makes human locomotion possible – and when overused, the painful IT band syndrome that plagues many runners sets in.
How about capillaries? Anyone wanna try to live without them? Long ago my doctor tried to explain the importance of capillaries when I was down with a horrible respiratory infection that left me with asthma. According to an online version of the Encyclopedia Britannica, capillaries are the “minute blood vessels that form networks throughout bodily tissues; it is through the capillaries that oxygen, nutrients, and wastes are exchanged between the blood and the tissues. . . . (They) are about 8 to 10 microns in diameter, just large enough for red blood cells to pass through them in single file” (https://britannica.com/science/capillary). That’s really, really small. But try taking a deep breath without capillaries in your body. Try doing just about anything, as our hearts wouldn’t function without capillaries. . . . Aren’t we, as the Psalmist proclaimed: awesomely and wonderfully made? (Psalm 139:14) From the retina of our right eye to the joint of our big left toe, every bit of our miraculous bodies has a particular function. If we want to live healthy, every part is indispensable!
The Apostle Paul didn’t come up with the comparison of the human body for human community. According to biblical commentator Lee C. Barrett, the metaphor “already enjoyed a long history in classical literature. However,” according to Barrett, “Paul gave it a revolutionary new twist. Previously, the comparison had reinforced hierarchy, suggesting that the lowly workers, the drones, should obey and support their military, mercantile, and political leaders. Those at the bottom should stay put and be grateful for the guidance and protection of their natural superiors” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 1, Lee C. Barrett, p. 278). According to Barrett, the reasoning was “in the body, the brain that makes crucial decisions is more critical than the lowly organs that sustain routine daily functioning. Even today, the analogy retains a seductive plausibility” Barrett explains. “Our culture assumes that a talented CEO is worth more than a janitor and should be remunerated accordingly” (Ibid.). Which, in my opinion, is all good and fine. Until you’re sitting at a big fancy, CLEAN table at a board meeting somewhere and you really, really, really have to go to the bathroom! Each part plays a valued role – from the one ensuring the toilet is clean and properly functioning to the one who drives forward the mission of the organization to the one who ensures everyone gets paid!
Paul’s wisdom is obvious in our life together. Who wants to choose between having the funds to sustain a place for the church to come together for worship to having a clean, functioning sink say like for babies’ bottles to be prepared after diaper changing in Playcare, to being organized as servants of God for ministries in the community like tutoring at H.G. Hill Middle School or preparing food for 15 homeless people on retreat at Penuel Ridge on the 4th Thursday of June as we’re planning to do together this summer? Every one of us – members of Christ’s body – has a role to play as a part of this expression of Christ’s church. Understandably, we’re not all good at the same thing. Depending on our age and physical abilities, we can’t all do the same thing. None of us have quite the same passions and gifts. Which is exactly how God created it to be. Wasn’t it brilliant of God to ensure we’re not all like mathematical brainiacs? Or boisterous extraverts sucking up all the room so that no one can stay quietly grounded in prayer? But we need at least a few who excitedly can extend a hand to a guest coming for worship for the first time. We need someone who can make the coffee for fellowship. And another who can dream big dreams for ways to serve in the community. We need someone who can set up an online presence in the 21st Century and someone who can cheer the lonely days of a widow no longer able to get out of the house. We need ushers who can pass the offering plates just assuredly as we need grateful hearts who can give a portion from the work of our lives just so we can have a chance to come together for worship and service and spiritual growth. You get it – even if you feel sometimes that you don’t matter as much as someone else. That what you have to contribute isn’t as important as the next person’s. It’s NOT ok to be a part of the church and neglect your part of being the church.
In her book Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist includes a chapter called “And the Soul Felt Its Worth.” She beautifully writes: “I think it’s taken me almost forty years to actually feel the worth of my soul. . . . The sense of my own worth. That’s what we’re craving. The sense that we matter. That someone sees us. That we’re loved and valued,” she writes (Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living; Shauna Niequist, Zondervan, 2016). She continues, stating that “The soul’s worth . . . doesn’t come from earning or proving. Image doesn’t matter. Out-running the emptiness doesn’t work for long. Each soul, every soul is worthy, because God made every soul and . . . because God’s love for us is so deep and wide and elaborate God wants to be with us. To walk with us. To teach us how to live in that love and worthiness” (Ibid.). Take that in for a moment. God’s love for us is what makes all of us worthy. Is what gives us a place in the body. Niequist concludes: “It’s only when you understand God’s truly unconditional love that you begin to understand the worth of your own soul. Not because of anything you’ve done, but because every soul is worthy. Every one of us is worthy of love having been created by and in the image of the God of love” (Ibid.).
We know this stuff. These very basic beliefs of Christian faith. What is it that sometimes leaves us thinking what we have to offer isn’t enough? Isn’t as good as so-and-so’s gift. Couldn’t possibly be worked into living out the vision for ministry God has given to this church: to serve God by serving others as we partner for mission in this community? We’re here to make an impact for God first in the lives of one another, next in the lives of our community partners: the 86 children of Playcare and their families. The Small World Yoga participants who get the chance to be present and centered in peace through yoga here and in recovery centers and schools around Nashville because of the free-will donations received at class here each week. We’re here to impact the lives of those in their own healing process through ACA, Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families. And improve the lives of middle schoolers and their teachers down the road at H.G. Hill Middle. We’re here to impact for good the women in recovery at Mending Hearts. This is why this church exists. What God intends to do through us. . . . Every part of this body – whether you’re more like the IT band responsible for our locomotion, for moving us forward. Or more like the capillaries – involved in the very force of Life flowing through us. Each part is indispensable. Valued for the part that we are – no matter our official membership status! Look around this room: we each are needed if we want to be a healthy, living expression of Christ’s body. Don’t forget that! May God never let any one of us neglect our part in being Christ’s living body!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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