Third Sunday After Epiphany
Year C, RCL
January 27, 2019
North Fork Ministries
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
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.
In his letter to the people of Corinth, the Apostle Paul uses the body, the actual physical body, as a way of depicting the membership in the body of Christ, and specifically the early Christian community. Paul wasn’t the first, in the Greco-Roman world of which he was a part, to use the body as way of understanding human community. He did, however, offer a rather different take on the structure. Instead of thinking of the body in a hierarchical way, designating the head or the heart or the liver as the most important parts of the body, Paul recognized that every component in the body plays a vital role in the well being of the whole. No part is greater than another. Indeed, as Paul wrote, “God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body”. No one member is greater than any other, no matter what his or her gifts.
If we think of the church as a body, as Paul suggests, what part of the body do you think you would be? Are you the hands of the church? When something needs to be done, when a need arises, are you quick to roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, and get it done? Are you the church’s strong shoulders? – someone that others can lean on for support? Are you the ears that listen patiently - making sure that others are truly heard? Are you the eyes that possess a clear vision of where we are headed as a people? Are you the legs that can run with an idea? Are you the knees that kneel in prayer that God’s mission here be accomplished? Are you the brain that can devise a plan and implement a strategy to get us there? Maybe you are the compassionate heart pumping the lifeblood through our congregation? Maybe you are the voice, lifted in songs of praise and thanksgiving, or offering wise counsel. Maybe you are the funny bone – making sure that we never take ourselves too seriously. Or perhaps you are the arms that embrace the stranger, the unloved, and understand our particular body’s kind of hospitality.
Every person here today, every person in our directory, has a role to play. We are all part of the body of Christ. And every component in that body is important.
Here is the confessional part of the sermon. The part of my own body that causes me the most concern are my feet. My feet are a mess. I’ve been running on them for half a century, and they look like it. My feet are flat. They have bunions, corns, and calluses. My toes point in odd directions. And last week I have a painful stone bruise on my instep . My feet often ache. They turn cold easily. They complain constantly. They demand an inordinate amount of attention. And yet, they carry me everywhere I go.
Some members of the body of Christ are like my feet. They are in pain. They are in need. They are wounded. They have been abused. They cry out for attention. They are troubled and sometimes troublesome. Yet they carry us forward. They provide us with an opportunity to practice care, generosity and understanding. By our reaction to their need, they tell us who we are as a people of God, and how we are progressing on the path toward becoming a people of compassion. They are our troublesome teachers and essential members of the body of Christ.
The real picture of the body of Christ is a little more complex. There is really no clear division between the parts of the body in need and those healthier parts that can address the need. St. Paul tells us that “…all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” We are all connected. When we show kindness to those that suffer, we are being kind to ourselves as well.
I remember my professor of pastoral care advising me to keep in mind that everyone I will encounter in the parish is wounded. Everyone, even the most arrogant, confident and self-assured. We are the walking wounded – all of us. “And we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
I’ve talked before about Dr. Edwin Friedman and family systems theory. An important component of family systems theory is the idea of “self-differentiation.” That’s the process of learning how to remain connected to those around you, those you love, and at the same time, separating yourself from them in a way that allows you to become an autonomous, self-nurturing individual. A differentiated person can be intensely involved in the lives of others, but at the same time not allow his or herself to get too caught up in the problems and opinions of others.
The apostle Paul was definitely a family systems theorist. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” Paul’s statement raises all kinds of interesting questions for us as a people of God. How can I develop a close relationship with you and still stay true to who I am? How can I show genuine compassion for others and yet not be overwhelmed by their suffering? How can I take pleasure in your achievements, find joy in your victories, and not become jealous.
A healthy church is a really good place to practice that kind of self-differentiation. Most relationships at the workplace are too formal, too fleeting, or too distant to allow you to practice achieving any real, substantial self-differentiation. Family relationships, in which people live within the same emotional skin, can be so intense, so close, that in the beginning stages of becoming a self-differentiated individual, it is too easy to fall into old patterns of absorbing the anxiety around you and reacting, without thinking.
A healthy church, however, if you are willing to be involved in it, can provide a safe place to practice being separate parts of the same body. Church, at its best can be a place where we accept an appropriate level of responsibility for each other, a place where conformity isn’t expected and where differences are celebrated - a place where, in relationship with others, we can, most fully, be who we really are; where our interconnectedness, as a community of Christ, creates and forms our truest self.
“For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”