Sermon text: 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a
The Church is the Body of Christ. It’s a metaphor frequently used by Paul, and it’s one of my favorite images for the Church. Can’t you just picture us as all the many parts of the body put together to exist and to survive and to thrive? Somebody gets to be the heart, another person a hand, another the throat, another a nose hair. All of us put together for the common good. Yet, the fact that Paul used this image of the body is somewhat surprising in the first place.
The one body has many members. While Paul is the only writer of the New Testament to use this image, it was frequently used by Roman politicians to encourage social unity, especially social unity founded on hierarchy. The idea being that a healthy social body corresponded to a healthy human body.
For Roman society, that meant every part of the social body was in its place and doing an assigned function. Every body needs a head, and that was provided by the rulers, the wealthy, and the elite. Every body also needs hands and feet to do the hard and dirty work, and in society that was the function of most everyone else.
Disease struck the social body when any part failed to keep its place or perform its function in some way. Of course Paul flips the script and goes against common ideology when he says that in the Body of Christ even the weaker parts are important, and when one part suffers, all suffer.
Personal experience makes me agree with that statement: when one part suffers, our whole body suffers. We know how a small burn or blister or cut can be all consuming when the rest of us is fine. It’s amazing how my whole world stops if you give me heavy nasal congestion.
During my first summer working at Camp Sequanota I fractured my toe on the sloped sides of the camp’s swimming pool. I was being assault by Pastor Carol and a posse of children she had recruited, and when I got in the pool to splash back, I broke my toe. It would be the equivalent of your index finger on your foot, the one next to the big toe. I’m now entirely sure what that toe normally does, I assume it assists with balance and mobility and weight bearing, but when it was broken it was on my mind all the time, and all you can really do is tape it to the one next door.
That’s the case with our physical bodies and that’s the case with the Body of Christ. When one of us is hurting, we all share that pain. That’s because we’re all interconnected, we share a central nervous system, we depend on each other. Therefore, there’s no hierarchy in the Body of Christ. There’s no one person or role that is more important than another.
But that’s not how the Church in Corinth was functioning. That church was fractured. Some members claimed that they were more important because of their social standing or spiritual gifts. It caused division. People competed with each other over status. They debated about which spiritual gifts were better. The church was in chaos.
So as Paul writes to the Church in Corinth, this church that he planted, these people who he spent a year and a half nurturing and teaching, he say’s “Knock it off!” He tells them that the gifts that God gives each of us individually are for the unification and edification of the Church.
Unity doesn’t mean that the less honored members get abused or roughly treated or ignored. Instead, it means that all parts belong to one another, and the weak parts are treated with special care. This is not the hierarchy of Roman society, this is a deep unity of the whole body, which each part connected and supported by the others.
So even though we may perceive some people to be weak—even though we may think so-and-so doesn’t measure up—they don’t have spectacular gifts from the Holy Spirit, they can’t sing well or exercise leadership or do great deeds of power, it is precisely these members of the Body of Christ that are exalted and indispensable. For we are interconnected. As the Body of Christ we experience unity in diversity. That unity begins at the baptismal font. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
There are many other examples where we can see our interconnectedness and the importance of every member. As I pondered this reading, I thought about the time I spent working as a Chaplain at York Hospital in Pennsylvania.
York Hospital is a fairly large regional medical facility. It’s a level 1 Trauma Center that sees constant action, about 2000 trauma cases a year. The hospital has 575 beds, with at least 6 Intensive Care Units. All told, about 4,400 people work at the hospital.
The longer I spent in the hospital, the more I was amazed at the different people and jobs that were necessary for making it all work well. And when I was there overnight, working my 24 hour shifts, I certainly saw the hidden pieces of the hospital staff.
When I think hospitals, I think doctors and nurses. But what would a hospital look like if there were only doctors and nurses? What would happen in a hospital if there weren’t also lab technicians, cooks, dishwashers, orderlies, housekeeping, maintenance, paramedics, chaplains, social workers, secretaries, office workers, administrators, therapists, and pharmacists? As I looked around the interdependence was so very apparent. If one piece was missing, everything else came apart.
The same is true for us as the church. The Holy Spirit has given each of us different gifts that can be used to unify and build up the Body of Christ through mutuality and love. Each of us has a part to play. We all have gifts. The question is, are we all using them to build up this body?
Because here’s the thing: As disciples we are all called to follow Christ’s example of cruciform love. We love and give of ourselves to the world. But how exactly do we do that? What gifts has the Holy Spirit given you?
Are you an ear? Listening to the stories and needs of our neighbors.
Are you an eye? Seeing where our ministry is needed in this world.
Are you a foot? Propelling us forward into new territory.
Are you a hand? Doing the work of Christ.
Are you a mouth? Witnessing to the profound goodness of God.
Are you an arm? Reaching out to others or wrapping folks up in a hug.
Are you a stomach? Helping us to digest the truths of life.
Are you the toes and the inner ear? Providing balance to our lives.
Are you a nose hair? Filtering out the dust so that we may function properly.
You see, there’s lots of body parts, and there’s lots of Spiritual gifts. There’s an amazing amount of diversity, and it’s all needed to unify and edify this Body of Christ. So I encourage you to think on your gifts. Think on the needs of this church. And let’s find ways to unite them. AMEN