Are We Truly the Body of Christ
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on 1 Corinthians 12: 12 – 31. Focus on being the body of Christ and how our differences are our greatest assets. Check out the choir as they sing: I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light.
Paul says that the local church can best be understood as a living human body. He goes on to say that in the church of Jesus Christ there is one Holy Spirit, which resides in its midst. And from this one Spirit come a variety of gifts or a variety of ways of being. And these ways of being are in us. And Paul says that what appears at first glance to be a group of independent individuals is in fact the workings of a collective whole guided by the Holy Spirit.
At the heart of Paul’s message is that everyone who is here is connected to one another and that what each one of us has to offer matters. And while we might value certain gifts more highly than others Paul’s emphasis is on the fact that the gifts we have are not our own but are given to us and therefore they are not there for our self aggrandizement but for the building up of the whole.
When it comes down to it ‘church’ is not a place we come on Sunday but is something that we are as we live using our gifts for the building up of the whole as God intends us. And, whatever it is that we offer or we think another person in the congregation may or may not offer, all of the members of the body are to be held in respect and esteem.
To be able to be the church as we are called to I believes take the time to get to know one another more deeply than our hour on Sunday allows for and invites us beyond the secure boundaries that our culture has set for us.
Which brings me back to the idea and imagery of the body as Paul uses it. In our Western, modern world we have been encouraged to see life and the gifts that we are given are for ourselves and for our own benefit.
The cultural indoctrination towards individualism and the privatization of our faith has been exacerbated by a certain Protestant trend to view faith as a personal relationship between me and God, centered on my personal salvation.
Yet, if we are to be a church, a community in which we value each other and each other’s gifts, then speaking openly about our faith, and even our doubts within that faith, and about the gifts we offer is part and parcel of what we should be doing as people living the faith.
To draw this into our context if someone were to ask why you come to worship here and you answered them, “because I always have” you haven’t really told them anything about your faith, God, Jesus, love or hope. But if you answered ‘because I feel a sense of God’s presence in worship’ or ‘I come to grow in faith and be encouraged in my life’ or ‘I have discovered a sense of community and welcome among the people here’ then you are opening the door to something deeper.
But in a society where individualism is praised as the crowning achievement of a mature and successful life and where dependence is a four-letter word, what ears do we bring to this message? How do we teach ourselves to function as essential and necessary members of an interdependent body?
When Paul spoke of who we are in Christ, he did not exclude anyone; no one was seen as a separate, autonomous entity that was expendable from the workings of the body. Paul did not envision 100 individuals gathering in the same place at the same hour on Sunday morning and then disengaging from one another for the rest of the week.
Paul talks about the connectedness of the body to describe the kind of relationship that is to be seen among the members and the reason for this particular metaphor is that no one person can do it all. Even Jesus didn’t do it all. He called disciples, then us, to form a community in which there would be a consistent, ongoing, and interdependent witness to what he was all about.
And he goes on to say that when we were baptized in this body we were called to see things through Jesus’ eyes not ours. In short, we are not just to look upon each other as separate and distinct but also and now more importantly we are to see our common humanity. Thus in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free for all are one in Christ.
Guess what that means? It means that we are to model for the rest of society how one gets along in a place with people who come from different nations, who have different genders, and economic statuses. Paul is saying that in Christ we are to be a people who form communities around the principle of inclusion rather than the principle of exclusion.
Then Paul tells us how to view this new reality in Christ. He tells us in great detail how we are like hands, feet, eyes, ears, organs, and a host of other parts that can be viewed independently or as a whole. Paul is saying you must view yourselves with all of your differences – your differences in nationality, gender, and economic status and you must meld all of these differences into a vision of a great whole a whole like that of a living human body.
And he says that when we see ourselves as a living body we begin to see how foolish and insane it is to say that we don’t need a foot or a hand or an eye. And he adds that just because someone says you do not belong to the body because you do not think like I do or look like I do or see as I do that does not make you any less a part of the body of Christ.
And we know this is true because we were joined to Christ when we were baptized. And when we were baptized, whether we realized it or not, we were also to give up our false idol of independence in favor of the reality of our interdependence. This is the vision that Paul is articulating for the church, which means: We need people from the United States, Ghana, Jamaica, Illinois, Jersey, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico to name but a few.
But we need even more than that. We need to train people in the way of Jesus Christ.
So when I look to our future. I look at you, because our future looks like you. It looks like our children and our grandchildren, which means we are not here just for ourselves. We are here because someone helped us connect with God and we are here to do the same for others.
God created the body of Christ through the likes of you and me to create a place that is safe, filled with honesty and integrity and governed by love. Where are all called and expected to serve one another.
Jesus has told us that the time is now for the fulfillment of the scriptures. Now is our time to bring it to fruition. Amen