This is the starting point for what I preached in Lake Mary and Sanford. Halfway through I tossed the manuscript and let it rip. So I ended up with 2 unique sermons that I couldn’t begin to reproduce here. Scriptures: Luke 4:14-21 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-31
Do you remember the old Lever soap commercials?
They showed a series of body parts -an elbow, a foot, a back, a baby’s backside, and the voiceover would say “Lever 2000- a new soap that’s better for all your 2000 body parts.”
When I read this particular passage about the Body of Christ, I think of those commercials. Partly because Paul lists out various parts, reminding us that in addition to needing a good scrub now and again, every part of the body is important.
Now- not always, but often, passages that make reference to the Body of Christ do so in the context of Spiritual gifts. The 12th chapter of the first letter to Corinth does just that. In the opening verses of this chapter, Paul describes the gifts the Holy Spirit confers. And he also reminds the Corinthians why these gifts are given…
To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all.
This verse speaks to one of the problems in this church- a lack of vision for what benefits the whole. In this community, discussions of who had what gifts had become competitions, leading to jealousy and self-promotion.
This focus on self, the fascination with the success or influence of the individual at\ the expense of the whole, is something we are familiar with in our own time and place. Many Americans struggle to put self aside. I believe this is partly because so much of our cultural mythos – the stories we tell about the coming of age of our nation – is built around the “Rugged Individualism.”
We celebrate pioneer families who created a life on the prairies or in the swamp lands, days away from their nearest neighbor.
We admire the brilliant shy kid who goes from building computers in the garage to running a software company valued in the billions.
And of course, there’s the star athlete who comes to a losing franchise and propels them into the championship game.
We tell these stories to inspire one another. After all, if these plucky men and women can overcome great obstacles, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and achieve great things, so can you!
Now- I’m not saying this is all bad. It is important to develop self-confidence and gain the skills one needs to persevere through the difficult days, or weeks, or years life brings.
But the narrative we hold up as the model doesn’t tell the whole story. We leave out the detail that our models for self-sufficiency are the rare exception, not the rule. That even these extraordinary people had mentors, guides and support somewhere along the way. And that very few people survive when they set out to face life completely alone.
The truth is- we are not designed to go it alone. As Christians, especially, we should be sensitive to this truth. It goes right back to the beginning. God created Adam and considered him good. God also created Eve – not as an afterthought, but because it was not good for Adam to be alone.
Both of them (and each of us) were made in God’s image, in the image of the triune God that we worship. We believe in God the Creator and Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – three distinct persons in one unified whole. Bound by love in a never ending dance. Like a cord of three strands that appears to be a single piece.
We were made to be in families- small and large.
We were made to be in neighborhoods and congregations- small and large.
We were made to be in communion with one another and with God.
And so, it makes sense that when Paul speaks of the gifts that are given through the Spirit, he reminds us that they come together to form a whole. And that together these gifts meet the needs of the community… to build up the Body for the reconciling work that we are called to do together in this world.
To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all.
Now I can only think of one person capable of doing the entirety of the God’s work in the world on his own. Jesus- God in the world. In the reading from Luke this morning, we heard Jesus make a very public claim about his ministry as he read from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
When he sat down, all the people gathered in that synagogue looked at him. But they knew his as Mary & Joseph’s son, the bright young man they had watched growing up. They were waiting for him to teach about the passage he read.
And the sum of his teaching was one sentence:
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus was essentially saying, “I am the one you’ve been waiting for.
I am the one who will bring freedom, healing, comfort and God’s favor to those who have been oppressed, held captive, and left hungry and blind.
I am the one who will meet those needs in this physical world AND in the spiritual realm, as I bring the power of forgiveness to bear on the burden of your sins…
all in the name of the Lord.”
That is a bold, audacious claim. It’s no wonder that they were taken aback by this teaching. After all this was Joe the Carpenter’s kid… Thankfully, they didn’t manage to chase him off the cliff, because we have record of how he lived the ministry he described.
As he healed lepers, he forgave their sins, bringing them into community with God and with the people who had cast them aside.
He gave sight to the blind man who cried out from the side of the road, and he opened the eyes of his disciples so that they proclaimed, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
He fed crowds of 4- and 5000, quieting their stomachs so that their ears could hear and their hearts and minds believe his teaching.
He observed the heart of the law, if not the letter, he broke the bondage of legalism and ritual observance with grace and mercy.
All the while, Jesus was obedient to God and God alone, even to death on the cross. And after he had revealed the power of God through his resurrection, he commissioned his disciples to go and continue this work: Healing, loving, teaching, releasing, reconciling, living so that others might see Jesus in them, and preparing others to do the same.
When we read Acts (the sequel to Luke’s gospel), we see how the church grew from a handful of frightened believers into a movement of thousands of Christ-followers. And we can see how many different people God used to accomplish the work of birthing the church.
Some preached, some healed people, some traveled to tell others about God’s mercy, others stayed to care for the widows and orphans. Some sold their material goods to assure that everyone had enough. They lived as Christ taught and sometimes they suffered as a result.
At this point, I was going to go on to talk about how because we aren’t in this alone, we don’t have to feel overwhelmed by all the work there is to do in the world. Which is true for us as individuals, and for congregations and other groups of Christians doing good work together. But, as sometimes happens when you pray that God would give you the words you are meant to say on a particular day, the Spirit takes you in an unexpected direction. And this is what I was given this morning…*
In the midst of describing how each part of the body has its own work that it was made to do, Paul says this:
When one part suffers, the whole body suffers.
When one part is made to feel ashamed of the work it is doing.
When some parts are held up as most important, leaving others to doubt their contribution.
When one part is left to figure everything out on its own, the whole body suffers.
When one part suffers, we all suffer.
Paul is painting a portrait of the Corinthians. An accurate portrait, warts and all, so that they can see the truth about their body. Rather than allowing the gifts from the Spirit to build up the body, they were tearing one another down. There are wounds left unhealed, being left untreated. And they are self-inflicted wounds.
I don’t know why God wanted me to focus on this portion of our passage today. It could be that I needed to preach this to myself. It may be that there are wounds among you in need of healing. It may be that we are being called to look beyond our own walls to the ways this congregation is part of the larger body, they church universal. I don’t know.
But I have heard it said that church wounds are the worst wounds, because we expect better from the Body of Christ. And when one part suffers, all of us suffer. So it is incumbent upon us to bring together the gifts we have to offer. To build up the body, to end the suffering.
*this last bit captures the basic moves to the point where the sermons totally diverged.
I’d love to hear your comments below… where are you seeing signs of restoration, of the body healing itself and offering its gifts to the world? Where do you long to see healing and new life in the Body of Christ?