1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
The Body of Christ
There are some weeks that I just feel the synergy of the Holy Spirit working in just about every cranny of this building. This week is one of those weeks. Last week we got to talk about the varying kinds of spiritual gifts and living into the rich abundance of Christ’s transforming love. This week, we get to talk about being a member within the body of Christ – which just so happens to fit perfectly with our Officer’s Retreat yesterday and with our annual congregational meeting! And this is exactly why I love following the common lectionary. I couldn’t plan this kind of thing and here we have it handed to us.
Seriously though, thinking about ourselves as the individual members of the body of Christ brings up some important things for us. The first is that this is kind of an “all-or-nothing” deal. You can have personal faith that you keep to yourself, but if you’re not sharing that faith within a community then you are not stretching yourself and learning. And you are not letting your God-given gifts work in someone else’s heart.
Who owns ministry?
My call story has always centered around voice – finding my voice, using my voice, trusting my voice. When I was in first grade, I got in trouble for singing during our art lesson. I didn’t even realize that I was singing, it just sort of seemed to flow out of me – this happy little carol that I had just learned at church. The teacher (who went to my church) kindly told me that now wasn’t the time for singing. Unsurprisingly, I was embarrassed, and my natural inclination towards shyness grew even stronger.
In eighth grade, my mom informed me that I would re-starting piano lessons with our new organist. I had taken lessons until just before the 6th grade, and I am naturally musical … but I am not a good piano player by any stretch of the imagination. The first few lessons with Rip (our new organist) were excruciating … mostly because my shy, perfectionist self winced every time my fingers slipped. My shoulders started to slump and I felt like crying within 10 minutes of starting our lesson. To his great credit, Rip gave no indication of impatience. Instead, he suggested we take a break from the piano and asked me to pick up a hymnal and sing a few songs. It was like my soul flew open right there in that empty sanctuary and soared over the church pews along with my voice. I had never felt so comfortable in my skin – we had found a gift of mine. Our lessons quickly switched from piano to voice, and I looked forward to our half hour each week. I craved that time when I could feel like I was good at something, like I had been given something special.
Rip had more plans than just lessons though, and he was soon encouraging me to sing solos for worship and in our church musicals in the summer. Although I still felt shy and self-conscious, I accepted. I don’t kid myself that I was a wonderful singer, but it was something that I truly enjoyed doing and something that I felt confident doing. The other thing that I noticed is that members of the congregation would frequently find me afterwards and tell me how much they enjoyed a song that I sang. They thanked me for doing something I loved! I began to recognize my gift of singing as something that had been given to me by God … and therefore something that I could not keep to myself.
You can call just about anything a ministry, and so I began to look at singing as a ministry in my life. In fact, I believe that it was not a gift of mine … rather a gift of God’s. This passage on the body of Christ reminds us that our gifts that we are given – be they organizational, artistic, practical, or whimsical – our gifts do not belong to us. They belong to (and are meant to honor) God. Likewise, the ministries of the church do not belong to any one person or group. Our ministries belong to God.
The body of Christ in haiku
Called as one body
We are many and varied
Owning each other
Belonging to God
Our gifts are made to be used
The Maker’s glory
Compelled by our baptism
Faith is the body’s
Are all parts of the body equal?
This passage feels very egalitarian, but in truth it is not. Not all body parts are equal. (Would any of us honestly choose to be the bum?) We use some parts more heavily than others. My right hand does all of my writing. My left arm is the arm I use to carry my children. My right eye has astigmatism while my right leg is shorter than my left. My knees absorb the brunt of my weight (and ache before a rain) while my ankles simply help my foot flex. Clearly, not all body parts are equal … but they are all part of me. If I had to leave a part of me behind, I would miss it terribly. Indeed, people who have lost a limb from disease or injury often report feeling as though that limb is still there. They call it phantom pain. So while not all the parts of the body do the same amount of work, the body does rely on each part or member to participate.
If you withhold your gift and your participation from the life of the church, it (and you!) are missed.
What gives us value?
Every member is important to the body. And not just because of their function, every member is important because it belongs to the body. We have value because we belong to God. We are not valuable because of the amount of work we do; we are not valuable because of the important decisions we make; we are not valuable because of our brilliant intellect. We are valuable because God says we are valuable. It really is as simple as the song “Jesus loves me” says it is: “the Bible tells me so.”
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee…” -John Donne
Claiming your place in the body
Sometimes we are called to lead and to serve and sometimes we are called to be led and served by others. Sometimes we are the ones extending help, and other times our gift is graciously accepting the help and support offered. What is your place in the body of Christ? As you examine your place in this part of the body of Christ, how do you feel called to use your gifts? Your leadership was hard at work yesterday and they identified some of this body’s key spiritual gifts: caring for one another, praying, being friendly, and extending hospitality. These are wonderful gifts that God has planted and grown here. The leadership also identified communication as one of its key goals for this coming year. As we move forward as a congregation, let us continue to identify our strengths, our gifts, and where we feel called by God.
Let us pray, Most Holy Creator, we thank you for the mystifying and complex creation that is the human body. As we mirror that complexity in the body of Christ, we ask you to illuminate our gifts for us. Help us to value each other’s gifts as equally as our own, and show us the way forward. Amen.