January 27, 2019 - Sermon - Rev. Mark Simone

Important things about being the Body of Christ-


            The problem with reading scripture is that sometimes we get into this rote, information taking posture, and we press through the words of in the Bible, and we see it all so seriously. This is perhaps why some portions of our Christian faith have become ridged and inflexible. And not just in our day, but since the beginning of the Christian Church.


            The sadness is that we miss an important part of Paul’s writing and teaching. Paul loved to make fun of abuses and he pressed upon the obvious. Paul likes to mess with his readers, and now, this morning, with us. Granted, much of his work is truly serious and he can become emphatic at times, forcing us to see the importance of the life and teachings of Jesus. But Paul also loved to react at what he considered, well, maybe stupid. Like the idea he challenges in Galatians when he learned that the members of the church were actively indulging is many sins and behaviors that condemned by the Christian faith, so that they could get the full benefits of God’s forgiveness.


            It’s one of those, I would rather do what I want and ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission and be denied. Learning of this, Paul asks the Galatians, and first he calls them fools, if they were under the influence of perhaps a witch.


            In this portion of 1 Corinthians, Paul is messing with us a little. The Message version makes this a bit clearer for us. You may follow along in your new pew Bibles if you like, but I am reading from a different translation. And unfortunately, due to our unusual circumstances this morning, we are not projecting this translation.


1 Corinthians 12:12-31 The Message (MSG)

12-13 You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ. By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.


14-18 I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.


19-24 But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Head telling Foot, “You’re fired; your job has been phased out”? As a matter of fact, in practice it works the other way—the “lower” the part, the more basic, and therefore necessary. You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach. When it’s a part of your own body you are concerned with, it makes no difference whether the part is visible or clothed, higher or lower. You give it dignity and honor just as it is, without comparisons. If anything, you have more concern for the lower parts than the higher. If you had to choose, wouldn’t you prefer good digestion to full-bodied hair?


25-26 The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one-part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one-part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.


27-31 You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything. You’re familiar with some of the parts that God has formed in his church, which is his “body”:

miracle workers
those who pray in tongues.


But it’s obvious by now, isn’t it, that Christ’s church is a complete Body and not a gigantic, unidimensional Part? It’s not all Apostle, not all Prophet, not all Miracle Worker, not all Healer, not all Prayer in Tongues, not all Interpreter of Tongues. And yet some of you keep competing for so-called “important” parts. Amen-


Early on in my Christian life, I learned in a Bible study that the church in the city of Corinth was perhaps the most problematic church in all of Paul’s apostolic ministry. Paul went about founding churches, and then he raised up leaders and went someplace else. Paul was also, later, under house arrest and could not visit the churches he helped to set up. So, Paul wrote lots of letters of instruction and encouragement. In our New Testament, we have 13 of these letters, but we know that there were others that have not survived the ages. Actually, it is certain that there was at least one more letter to the Corinthians that has been lost.


One clear way to understand Paul, is that he says himself that he did not like the writing part but wanted to come and be with them. Paul never originated any of his letters. If you read them, you will see telltale signs that he is always responding to questions from each church or person. He is answering questions, not creating the initial dialogue. So key to understanding Paul is to figure out what is the question or questions he is answering. He never said, “Hey, about that false prophet problem or I heard you have some persecution going on – here’s what you do.” Rather, he is responding.


In I Corinthians Paul finds himself responding to tons of church troubles in that congregation. Among them were:

·        A growing division in how the Christian faith was developing within the church,

·        A massive moral issue of one young man sleeping with his stepmother and no one knowing what to do about it,

·        A nutty uncertainty if doing anything was appropriate, so the issue was largely ignored and allowed to continue. The overall response by the church was to become arrogant about the whole thing.

·        A sort of sectarian pride was developing in the church about how various parts of the membership focused on the divisions rather than the immorality, leaving the situation unaddressed.


Hearing these things, Paul asserts his apostolic authority. Though he was not there in person to lead the corrections necessary to preserve this church community, he had sufficient information to discern or “judge” the matter. This young man was guilty! He said that the leadership of the church was to gather, and in a formal way remedy this problem. The “offender” was to be “delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh.” In other words, Paul said kick the guy out of church.


Paul makes clear that the ultimate goal was that the young man might “destroy” his ungodly urges and reclaim a life of purity. Paul believed that the toxic relationship had to be forced outside of the boundaries of the church. I see it as one of those, “Turn it over to God and pray for a good outcome” situations. What else could be done? This is just one example of how Paul responds to such issues.


By the 12th chapter, where out text focuses this morning, Paul is done with the immorality and deals with the strange attitudes in this church family. He uses the human body as a means of poking fun at the idea that any one part of life or culture is better than another.


Without being political, I know we can accept the notion that our country is very divided along many issues and views. Among ourselves we can argue Wall or no Wall. Global warming or just some unusual weather trends. Immigration yeah or nay. Like all of society in 2019, we, as the church, live within various understandings of what are the real facts or fake news. And if one stands back a bit and just listens, which I do with great regularity, it is so interesting that all factions, and this occurs even within factions, are sort of using the same response template but putting in their perspectives in the obvious blanks.


Many are talking, but is anyone listening?


And it is here that Paul begins to deal with the issues of division within the church at Corinth.


            Rev. Brent Kercheville raises this observation in an online article, “The first point Paul makes is that we are to be one. There are many parts to the human body, but it is still one human body. We have all kinds of different parts on our body. But that does not change the fact that with all of those parts you still have one body. It is the same with Christ. Paul says we are united because we are all baptized in one Spirit and all drink of one Spirit. Paul says that as Christians we have experienced the same thing in the Spirit.”


            What I take from that is Paul is referring to the differences that every person experience in their lives, but understating that these changes are part of a whole that must be respected and considered together.


            A couple of years ago I lost the hearing in my left ear. I am totally deaf, and my right ear operates at somewhere below 60% - with a hearing aid. The little crystals that float in our ears to give us equilibrium cannot float in my ear because that section of my ear filled with blood. My balance is significantly troubled, and I can sometimes be seen wobbling or pitching. I ain’t dancing kids. I’m trying not to fall.


            But because my damaged ear is housed in a complete body, the rest of my body compensates and makes it possible for me to do things. My eyes direct me to notice what may become a collusion point. My hands and knees, I have learned, are there to buffer the occasional fall or stumble. It is all working together to keep me going.


            The other part of the what Paul is relating is that there is a strong message here about the importance of seeing the Body of Christ, using the innumerable diversities of functions of the human body, to speak to the points of diversity. In our current culture, it seems that we are continually lifting up the many differences. In my racial heritage, I have always seen myself as an Italian-American and that was a good thing growing up in Ravenna, which has a lot of Italians. I now note that the new trend is to divide up the regions or areas and be that Italian. I have heard corrections given by friends – I am a Sicilian-American, or a Northern Italian-American and so on. I think this misses the point of celebrating diversity. Noting that we are different is a given. Each of us is an unrepeatable miracle. Our gifts and interests and all the rest differ, but it is who we are together that bring God the glory. Years ago, when a new member was joining my previous church in Ravenna, the woman said she loved the church because it was clearly created by God to be a beautiful patchwork quilt of the people of God worshipping in that church. Simply lovely.  


            Rather than making this more confusing, let me offer this as perhaps the best way to understand the message of scripture. Permit me to apply all of this body business to the structure that is to be a microcosm of the church. Our families.


            Families teach us important stuff about life, living together and even disagreeing. We learn differences as we grow in diverse ways in our families.


            For example – children in the home teach us these life lessons:

* No matter how hard you try, you can't baptize cats.
* When your Mom is mad at your dad, don't let her brush your hair.
* If your sister hits you, don't hit her back. They always catch the second
* Never ask your 3-year-old brother to hold a tomato or egg.
* You can't trust dogs to watch your food.
* Don't sneeze when someone is cutting your hair.
* Puppies still have bad breath even after eating a tic tac.
* Never hold a dustbuster and a cat at the same time.
* School lunches stick to the wall.
* You can't hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.


Diversity – difference – creativity – observation – perspective


And as the leaders of the church are to lead, so are parents to lead which brings us to these GREAT TRUTHS THAT ADULTS HAVE LEARNED:
1) Raising teenagers is like nailing jello to a tree.
2) Wrinkles don't hurt.
3) Families are like fudge...mostly sweet, with a few nuts.
4) Today's mighty oak is just yesterday's nut that held its ground.
5) Laughing is good exercise. It's like jogging on the inside.
6) Middle age is when you choose your cereal for the fibre, not the toy.


            Be the Body of Christ. Here at Federated and in all the world. The key is in the becoming more like Jesus in all that we do. Be like him for the world. And great things will continue to happen-