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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
January 23, 2022
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
We’ve spent the last few weeks reflecting on the ways Jesus brings us together. We started with recognizing that Jesus is our common ground. And that that does away with “us” and “them” and “insiders” and “outsiders,” and makes space for questions and cultural differences and language differences and other differences.
Our reflections deepened with our understanding that, in our baptism, Jesus joins us to one another in him. That in Christ, we are all united, interdependent, connected, and one. Not just in theory, but in the flesh.
The apostle Paul takes it a step further in his first letter to the Christians in Corinth, when he reminds them that all of the differences we have are gifts given by God’s Holy Spirit. That they are to be celebrated because they’re rooted in God’s grace and they’re for the good of the community.
And in today’s reading from 1 Corinthians, Paul makes the importance of all of this as plain as possible – he puts it into terms that are clear and that most all of us can relate to. Using the metaphor of the human body, he roots the relationship and the interconnectedness in the Corinthians’ ritual and liturgical life together.
He reminds them that they’ve all been baptized into one body and made to drink of one Spirit. That all members of their congregation are equally necessary for its flourishing. So, elevating certain members over others is problematic for the whole body because it will ultimately damage the community.
This includes spiritual gifts, as well as other divisions along socio-economic, racial, gender, or political lines. Because for Paul, diversity in the body of Christ isn’t just an ideal that a congregation can aspire to. It’s an essential component to the full functioning of that body.
He recognizes that every type of spiritual gift is necessary. So by using the image of a human body and the importance of its parts, he’s given them something they can recall each time they gather as a Christian community. Because it reminds all of them that God loves and values each of them equally.
On an intellectual level, we know this. We know God loves and values each of us equally. Reading Paul’s words 2000-ish years after they were written, the image of Christian community as a human body is one that many of us grew up with, so it’s familiar. And we know that it’s a tangible reminder of our unity and our standing in the body of Christ.
Intellectually, we know this. But we’re human – and so there are times when we struggle with actually putting all of it into practice. There’s a disconnect between our heart and our head. We get caught up in wanting things done perfectly over maybe allowing things to be done differently, or we make fun of someone who’s different from us in some way – maybe it’s the way they think or the way they dress.
We do that often enough and we slide into the temptation of downplaying what Paul is saying, and begin to think that not every member is important – or that some are more important than others – and treat them as such. But think about the last time you smacked your pinky toe on the corner of the coffee table. It’s all-consuming, right? Or when you hit your funny bone. Or parents, when you step on a Lego brick in the middle of the night in your bare feet.
The parts of your body that you don’t even think about completely take over when they’re in pain or not working the way they’re supposed to, and the whole body can only focus on them until things are right again.
What Paul is getting at here is that it’s the same way with the church community. When one person suffers – when one person is left out or made to feel less than – the whole body, the whole community, is affected by it. The community doesn’t function the way it’s supposed to unless all the members of it do. And that isn’t to say that we need to be in lockstep with each other.
But it is to say that we need to make sure the individual people in our community are well. And in order to do that, we have to pay attention and be in relationship with them. So that we know what’s going on with one another and can help when it’s needed.
In other words – this is about individual people, but it’s about them in relationship to our community, for the wellbeing of our whole community. Not just the group you tend to hang out with most of the time.
It’s about knowing who is here and who isn’t. Who is welcome and who is not – not in theory or even on paper, but in practice. Recognizing that each person here, and each person who wants to be here, has value and something to offer.
This is about radical unity – recognizing that God’s Spirit takes each of us and our differences and brings us together in Christ. Not so that we’re the same, but in a way that allows everyone to participate as they are. In a way that recognizes our interconnectedness, and that there’s no hierarchy or stratification or level of value in God’s eyes. Because we’re all equally loved and valued by God.
When I interviewed here, I don’t remember if it was during my face-to-face interview with the call committee and other church leaders or during the big meet-and-greet, but one of the questions I asked people was, “What is it about Saint Andrew’s that makes you stick around?”
One of the youth answered, “These are my people. I can walk in here on a Sunday morning or any other time, and know that these are my people. It’s okay for me to be who I am because I know they care about me and about what happens to me.”
That level, that depth, of love and care is critical for each person in a Christian community. The recognition that God loves and values each of us equally is what makes us thrive. And living into that isn’t something that just happens, we have to work at it. We have to nurture and cultivate it.
The apostle Paul knew that; it’s why he spent so much time writing about it. It was vital that the community in Corinth internalize that for themselves, and it’s equally as vital for us. Because when it becomes a part of who we are as individuals, it becomes part of who we are in our life together.
When that happens, we become each other’s people on more than just a surface level. Every person who walks through our doors, or who participates online, knows that here – in this community – people care about them and about what happens to them.
When God’s spirit brings each of us and our differences together in Christ, it isn’t to make us all the same. It’s to allow everyone a place to be who they are and to participate in the community as they are.
It recognizes who we are as individuals and our interconnectedness, and it assures us that there’s no hierarchy or stratification or level of value for who we are in God’s eyes. Because we are all equally loved and valued by God. Thanks be to God! Amen.