1 Corinthians 12:12-27
For 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 were to 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 were to 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.
This is the Word of God, for the people of God. May our hearts be open to listen and respond.
The human body has 206 bones, 639 muscles, countless blood vessels, veins, and arteries. It has a respiratory system, a digestive system and an immune system. Every square inch of our body has about 19 million skin cells. The average head has about 1000 hairs on it. We have about 9000 taste buds in our mouths. And in just the amount of time you will have spent in church this morning, about 1 billion cells in your body will have been replaced.
The body is an amazing thing, “fearfully and wonderfully made,” as the Psalmist wrote. It is complex and beautiful— one of the most miraculous feats of engineering in all of the natural world. It is the perfect example of unity in diversity, or of interdependence and interconnection—every part of the body is unique, yet every part of the body plays a role in the overall health and well-being of the whole. No one part of the body could do it all on their own, and if even one part begins to fail, the whole system can often be threatened.
Thus it has been, since the earliest days of the church, that the human body has been one of the most powerful and poignant metaphors for the church and for the universal Body of Christ. The complexity of the church— with all it’s different kinds of people, from many countries and backgrounds, and with it’s many functions and roles in society— mirrors that of the human body. And perhaps most importantly, the church is at it’s best when it’s members recognize their interconnection and interdependence on one another— that every part and every member is vital to the health and well-being of the whole.
The metaphor of the body seemed an appropriate and fitting text for today, since we are in the midst of a month-long focus on the theme of interdependence and since we just so happened to welcome new members into our church today. So the question is— what does it actually mean for us to be members of the Body of Christ? How does that matter for how we relate to one another here in this particular community? And what difference does it make in the world we live in?
Well for starters, I think it has a lot to say to anyone who has ever wondered, “do I have anything of worth to offer?” “Is my presence valuable?” Or, “do I matter?”
One of the things that is remarkable about Paul’s metaphor is that he takes what was quite a popular metaphor of the time and turns it completely upside down. In Paul’s time and place--first century Rome— the metaphor of the Body was often used to describe Greco-Roman society—the body politic. But in that context, it was made very clear that certain parts of the body—the head, for example—represented the higher classes, and were clearly of more importance and worthy of greater honor and respect than that of the weaker members of the body—for example, the poor. So the metaphor of the Body was used in Greco-Roman society to reinforce class hierarchy, so that everyone knew their place, and everyone know just how much (or how little) they were worth. But Paul is very clear to completely reverse and even dismantle this cultural and societal norm. Paul’s version of the metaphor is seen not through the lens of a hierarchical, class-driven society, but rather through the lens of the gospel—a gospel that proclaims that the last will be first, and that God will take the lowliest and the least, and raise them up to the highest places of honor. A gospel that proclaims savior and king of a poor, carpenter’s son from the small nothing town of Nazareth. In Paul’s version of the metaphor, all members of the Body, no matter who they are or what they are called to do are worthy of honor and respect. And in fact, those who would have the least honor out there in the world should be given the most honor, and the most regard, when they walk through the doors of the church.
So the good news here for anyone who has ever wondered if there is a place for them—if there is a place where they are valuable or worthy—is that in the Body of Christ, the answer is a resounding and irrefutable yes. The homeless woman who can’t offer a dime in the collection plate is equally as important to the Body as the wealthy member who pledges a healthy portion of their income. The troublesome child who keeps interrupting worship with his cries is just as precious and indispensable as the older member who sits respectfully and quietly in the pew. In the body of Christ, all are worthy and all are valued. Whether you are up front reading scripture or singing in the choir on Sunday or whether you are cleaning out gutters at church clean up on a Saturday morning, God has called you and your gifts are worthy and honorable. Whether you teach our children in Sunday School or serve on the board of Deacons, whether you help serve at the soup kitchen or serve coffee on Sunday morning, God has called you and your gifts are worthy and honorable.
So the metaphor of the Body tells us that we are all valued and that we all have a place. And that right there makes it a metaphor worth holding onto. But there’s more.
In the human body, each part is important, but perhaps equally if not more important that all the individual parts are the things that hold them all together—the ties that bind— so to speak. What are the tendons and ligaments that bind us all together? What is the beating heart that keeps us alive and thriving? Well I’ll tell you what it’s not, and I know you will all be shocked to hear this, it’s not committees. It’s not our finances or size of our endowments. What binds us together are all the ways that we are the hands and feet of Christ to one another. Those are the ties that bind. Every time we offer kindness to someone in the church who has recently experienced loss. Every time we visit someone in the hospital or send a note of encouragement. Every time we donate food for the food bank or give money to missions overseas. Every time we forgive someone who has hurt our feelings or offer encouragement to someone who feels discouraged. Every time we give someone a ride to church or offer a hand of welcome to a stranger, or reach out to the poor introvert at coffee hour who looks uncomfortable and uncertain of being new at church— every time we do these things, we are offering the hand and heart of Christ to one another, and we have achieved the greatest success that any church could ever hope to see. Which leads me to my final point.
There is a word of wisdom here in this metaphor for anyone who values the church but who wonders what the future of the church will be— given waning influence and declining numbers in many parts of the country. There is a temptation, when thinking about the health of our Body— the state of our Church—to look towards statistics. To looks towards things like attendance numbers, the amount of our pledges, the number of vacancies on committees, the rolls of our Sunday School— to look towards numbers as primary indicators of the health of the body. And then, it’s all to easy to being comparing ourselves with other churches that are bigger, wealthier or more influential, and start to feel disheartened about the state of the Body. But to feel that way is to give in a cultural illusion about what success really is and what health and fulfillment really look like. Attendance, pledges, volunteer numbers—these may have some value as indicators, but they are not the ties that bind. In the church universal, the global Body of Christ, there are big churches and small churches. Catholic cathedrals and Protestant house churches. There are liberal churches and conservative churches, some with young female pastors and others with middle-aged male pastors. There are churches with old buildings and buildings that are brand new. There are english speaking, spanish speaking, bilingual and trilingual churches. There are traditional churches with pastors that wear suits and ties and alternative ones whose pastors have piercings and tattoos. There are some that struggle to fill the pews and others that struggle to find enough room. Well guess what. Not a single one of them is better than another. They are all members of the Body of Christ, all worthy and unique and honorable in their own way. Each one of them absolutely vital to the health and wellbeing of the whole. (Also, perhaps an important side note— each are beautiful and worthy, but none are perfect, nor can we ever expect them to be.) What gives value to a church—to any church, of any size—is in their ability to be as Christ to one another and to the community around them. Their ability to offer kindness and patience, forgiveness and compassion to those inside and outside of their doors. And if that is happening, then whether or a church is big or small, rich or poor, then the Body is alive and well and that is the picture of a successful church.
So brothers and sisters, this is your church. This is your Body—imperfect but worthy, just like each one of us. These are the ties that bind us together in community—love and kindness, compassion and empathy, grace, patience, and forgiveness. May you find your place here, knowing that the best you have to offer is what you already have and who you already are— that you are enough, just as you are, for this is the Body of Christ where you are worthy and all have a place.