Sunday, January 27th, 2013 – Sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

Today is the Third Sunday of Epiphany. Epiphany, if you’ll recall, is that season of light and illumination. The season that seeks to reveal and point the way to God. Three weeks ago, those three or fifty wise men, those outsiders, those non-religious folk were gathered up by God to point the whole world to the Christ child. We learned that God can use anyone in this world to show Jesus. Two weeks ago, we all got splashed with water as we were soaked in the story of Jesus’ baptism – and we heard that baptism is not an insurance policy for the afterlife. Baptism is an identity that is meant to be lived – You, all of you, all people, are God’s beloved child. Finally, last week, Jesus saved the day by turning water into wine at the wedding party. It’s a story about how with God, the blessing never runs out. There is always more. And next week we get to hear about how Jesus gets kicked out of his home church. Stay tuned for that. It’s a good one.

As for today, well, we get to read someone else’s mail. In Paul’s first letter to the congregation in Corinth, we get to eavesdrop on a conversation. Have you ever done that before? Have you ever “accidentally” opened a letter that didn’t belong to you? Or have you ever leaned back in your chair at Applebees, ever so slightly, just to listen in to someone’s conversation behind you? We do that today with Paul’s letter.

When we parachute in to the conversation this morning, Paul is being a good preacher. He is using an analogy that everyone can understand – he is talking about a body. We all have a body, we know how they work. A vulnerable, hungry, sleepy, and fragile body. Bodies break. Bodies get run down. Bodies suffer arthritis and diabetes. Broken toes and crows feet around the eyes. Bodies get warts and runny noses. They make funny noises at times. We are familiar with bodies. So we can relate to the analogy. He says that there are many parts to a body – a hand, a foot, an eye, a mouth. And that it is these many parts, these different and diverse things that make up one’s body.

But what we don’t know simply by eavesdropping is that back in those days, with Paul and Corinth, using the body as analogy was very, very common. All the politicians used it. Leaders used it. It was an expected, overused and clichéd  image used by the power whenever they needed society to behave itself.

Here is the problem: when the politicians and the leaders used this analogy, they always used it to keep the lowly people, the subordinate, the slaves from moving up in the world. From rebelling against the uppity-ups. The high-class, oppressive people. They would say, “I know you are viewed as the feet of society. You kind of smell. You’re not very pretty. We cover you up and try to hide you with socks and shoes, but even a body needs feet to walk on. So, for the good of society, stay where you are. Don’t try to be something you aren’t. A foot never complains that it isn’t a hand. So those of you on the bottom rungs of society – don’t complain. This is just how it has to be. Just play your part. Don’t try to upset the social order.”

But Paul takes this common analogy and twists it in an unexpected direction. He takes the metaphor of the powerful and turns it upside down.

Paul says that the parts of the body that are the least, the most insignificant, the most discardable, those are the ones that should be respected and honored the most. “The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 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.” Paul says that the least, the inferior parts of our body are the ones to be the most respected and most honored. No part is more important than the other.

He then says, and this is my favorite part, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.” If one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts. You know this. If you break your foot, your whole body is affected. Your hand can’t say to the foot, “Well sorry you’re hurting, foot. Good luck. I’m going to go to work. You stay home and rest.” If you catch the stomach flu, your whole body is impacted by it.

If one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts. And then Paul drives it home. He says, “You are the body of Christ.” Together, you make up a body. Each one of you is different and diverse but together, you are the body of Christ. If one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts.

Do you see how Paul is turning this body analogy on its head? He isn’t saying that their important people and less important people, just like there are important parts of the body and unimportant parts. He’s saying that all parts of the body of Christ are equally important. No one is more important than the other. If one person, one part of the body, hurts, then the whole body hurts.

Look around. How often do you think of yourselves as one body? I often hear that faith is individual. Faith is personal. People come to church to be spiritually fed for themselves. While this is true, this isn’t the whole truth. Faith is communal. Faith is a community. Faith is never just about us – we exist for others. To love the neighbor. To care for the poor. To bind up with wounded. The community of faith has many members, but we are one body.

According to Paul, together we are the body of Christ. Which means if one of you gets cancer, we all get cancer. If one of you loses a spouse, we’ve all lost a spouse. If one of you has a baby, we all have had a baby. We stand together, not separate. And it is not just us. But our community as well. If one person is homeless, then we all are homeless. If one person hungry, than we all are hungry. This is a radical way of looking at the world, because what it says is that each person matters and is important. It says that each person is a crucial part of the body of Christ. And to ignore them, to act as if they don’t matter is to ignore Christ.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor during World War II and opponent to the Nazi regime, is good example of what this looks like when lived out in real life. Sitting in the back of a truck and headed deep into the Bavarian Forest, Bonhoeffer sat with fellow prisoners heading to the concentration camp at Flossenburg in the final days of World War II. Bonheffer was sitting next to a Russian soldier. As they travelled the Russian soldier and Bonhoeffer talked and became friends. When the truck stopped for the night and it became clear that many of the prisoners would soon meet their demise, pastor Bonhoeffer was asked to administer communion. He agreed and stood to begin, but the Russian soldier, his friend, remained sitting. He said he was an atheist and therefore it would be hypocritical for him to partake. Upon hearing his response, pastor Bonhoeffer sat back down and is reported to have stated, “Then neither will I partake, for how can I be sure that in leaving you for the communion table I would not be leaving Christ.”[1]

To Bonhoeffer, even a Russian Communist Atheist was part of the body of Christ. And to leave him for the Communion table, was to leave Christ sitting on his own.

As we seek to feed bodies with the love of Jesus this year, as we help people come to church who can’t get here on their own because of bodily limitations. As we visit people who are confined to their homes because they aren’t as stable on their feet as they used to be. As we learn more about the shelters in town that provide a bed and a roof for men, women, and children. And as we care for people’s bodies this year in other countless ways, I don’t think we will get anywhere if we don’t realize that together, we are a body. The body of Christ. That it takes all of us to live out this thing called faith. We don’t just come to church for ourselves, we come for one another. To support one another, to pray for one another, to encourage one another.

I saw this play out in a small way yesterday. Yesterday morning, 7 people got together at Steele County Foodshelf. Our task: putting labels on cans of corn. At first, it seemed pretty menial. I even wondered if it was a waste of time. But quickly, we all found that we had a part to play. Rueben was responsible for bringing boxes of unlabeled can to the table. Cameron was in charge of opening and unloading the boxes. Jace, Cory, and Jonh Lowy were the labelers. Jessie and I took the labeled cans and put them back in the box, for Rueben to pick up. We all had a part to play. No part was more important than the other. Together we labeled 647 cans, or 27 boxes. And the work seemed unimportant but only until you saw one of those boxed unloaded onto a shelf, and a young woman take a couple of cans to bring home to her family. The work seemed unimportant, but only until we learned that in the last year, the number of family needing the foodshelf went from 300 to 600. 600 families in our community. And suddenly, what we had done in that short amount of time seemed very, very important. If one part of the body is hungry, the whole body is hungry.

God enters into the world through flesh and blood. We believe in an incarnate God. It’s through you. It’s through me. It’s through us. Together, we are the hands and feet of Christ in the world. So, if I cut to the chase, here’s the point. It’s simple. It’s not meant to be complicated: you matter to this world. What you do matters to this world. Your church needs you. The world needs you. Your life is not just your own. You are part of something much bigger than yourself. You are apart of the body of Christ.  AMEN

[1] Andrew Root and Kenda Creasy Dean, The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry, p. 108.

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