The church is called to be the “Body of Christ.” What does that mean? How can we be the hands and feet of Jesus, and how can many different and unique individuals become united as one? Join us on Sunday and be part of something bigger than yourself!
I Corinthians 12:12-31
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 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.
Today, we celebrate Leadership Sunday. The elders, deacons, and foundation trustees met for most of the day yesterday: training, eating together, building relationships, and making plans for the church’s future. Today, we are grateful for their leadership in worship, and every day we are grateful for all the ways you all serve God through your service to the church and to the world.
The scripture passage this morning was not cherry-picked by me for such an occasion. Rather, it was one of the passages from our lectionary reading.
The lectionary, for those who aren’t familiar, is a pre-selected collection of readings from the Bible that many churches follow, including our own, most of the time, anyway. And it follows the liturgical calendar in a 3-year cycle, so we get exposed to different parts of the Bible.
So, it is perhaps by divine intervention that, on this day, when we celebrate the “priesthood of all believers,” that this passage lifts up for us that every part of the body of Christ is needed and necessary.
This concept of the “priesthood of all believers” was introduced, or more accurately given new emphasis, during the 16th century Protestant Reformation.
It upholds that every individual, no matter what they do for a living, no matter what titles they hold or what letters follow their name, has direct access to God without the need of a priest or a pastor to be your go-between.
So, if you want to pray to God; if you want to confess or praise God, you don’t need me or Victor or Cal to do that on your behalf.
Of course, there’s something special about coming together and worshiping as a community, but the point is, you don’t need me to get to God. God is present and accessible to you and to every, single person in this sanctuary and beyond.
That’s the first part of what the “priesthood of all believers” means. The second part, in my opinion, is just as, or perhaps even more important. And that is: each individual shares the responsibility of ministry. No one person, or even one committee or board can fully do the work left for us by the only Head of the Church, Jesus Christ.
I’m sure many of you are familiar with Theresa of Avila’s poem on the Body of Christ. She writes:
Christ has no body on earth but yours, no feet but yours, no hands but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Friends, we are the Body of Christ. And we need each other to do what God has called us to do. You play a vital part in ensuring that God’s love is shared with all the world.
Black church tradition does what I’m about to do quite often, and I learned to preach from a black pastor from Mississippi, so we’re just gonna try this here, and see how it goes:
Turn to your neighbor, and tell them, “You belong here, and we need you.” Tell them: “You have gifts I don’t have.” Say: “I have gifts you don’t have.” And finally, say this: “Together, we are the Body of Christ.”
We are the body of Christ, and all the members of the body, though many, are one.
Now, I was reading through this passage this week, and thinking about how it lifts up each part of the body as needed and necessary and indispensable.
And on some level, I completely agree. Because each and every one of you does matter. We cannot do the work of God in the same way without you.
Some of you are great at art or music, and this place needs you.
Some of you are great with spreadsheets and numbers, and this place needs you.
Some of you are great with words and writing, and this place needs you.
Some of you can smile, and light up the room.
Some of you can get angry, and shed light on where injustice is prevalent.
We need all of that.
We need all of you.
But then I thought of human bodies, and how it is true that when even one tiny part suffers (have you ever stubbed a toe or gotten a hang-nail?) it really does hurts, and it affects the rest of the body, but also how resilient the human body truly is.
I think of people like Tammy Duckworth, Senator from Illinois. Before running for office, Duckworth served as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot in the Iraq war and lost both of her legs and some mobility in her right arm.
In spite of that, or, I don’t know, perhaps because of that, she became:
the first Asian American woman elected to Congress in Illinois,
the first woman with a disability to be elected to Congress,
the first female double amputee in the Senate, and the first Senator to give birth while in office.
So, I think of Tammy Duckworth and how her body has undergone so much trauma and loss, and yet how she has grown and birthed new life into the world and how she is whole and full and faithful in so many aspects of her life.
Or I think of people like our very own Lou Grosso, Victor’s husband. As most of you know, Lou is blind. And he is fabulous. That conjunction there is important. It’s not: “Lou is blind, but he is fabulous.” It is Lou is blind, and he is fabulous. He is a complete and whole human being without his sight, and he is doing things in this world I only wish I could.
These are the kinds of bodies, I want the Body of Christ to be. Bodies that intimately know loss and pain; bodies that are familiar with trauma and change. And bodies that are resilient and rise again in new and amazing ways.
After all, the Body of Christ as we read about it in our gospels was crucified, dead, and buried. And on the third day, it rose again.
So, church, Body of Christ, do not be afraid of loss. Do not be afraid of change. Do not be afraid of even death. We have gone through it all. And resurrection is the promise.
This particular body, Calvary Presbyterian Church, has gone through all kinds of loss in just these past few years. We have lost pastors, both through resignation and through death. We have lost beloved members and friends. We have even lost some traditions and ways of being church that we held dear.
It sometimes feels like our body will never be whole again. And maybe it won’t, not in the same way any way. It will always bear the scars and pains of what we have endured.
But we are all broken in some way. And as Leonard Cohen sang, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
Friends, the true meaning of this passage from Corinthians isn’t that losing any one part of the body is wholly devastating or unrecoverable. Paul himself left the church in Corinth, that’s why he’s writing to them because he’s no longer there. So, they were familiar with change and death and loss. That was all a part of being the Body of Christ.
We need not hold so tightly, unable to let go as changes and transitions inevitably happen in the life of the church. Grieve, yes, of course. But acknowledging and dealing with our grief should allow us to move forward rather than stay stuck.
The point of this passage is this: unity is possible in the midst of diversity. In fact, diversity is necessary for us to be the Body of Christ.
Paul is teaching us how to be one without being the same; how to have unity without uniformity, acceptance without assimilation, & solidarity without sameness, because at the core of our community is not uniformity but love.
All of this talk of being the Body of Christ is a preamble to First Corinthians 13, “the great love passage.”
Love is what holds us together. Love is what will see us through. Love is what makes us one. Love is what makes the Body of Christ.
Through love, we can be united in service to one another and in service to God in the world.
We can be one in mission, one in call, as we set out to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it,” Paul writes.
So, friends, let us love fiercely; love boldly, and let love take root in you, transforming us to transform the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.