Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a; Luke 4: 14-21
The Rev. James M.L. Grace
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
This morning we hear a fairly lengthy part of the Apostle Paul’s letter to a church in Corinth. Corinth was a city in modern day Greece, and it was in some ways similar to Houston. Like Houston, Corinth was a port city, which meant it was a center for commerce and trade. Also, like Houston, Corinth was known for its culture arts. Unlike Houston, Corinth was not known for its Tex-Mex cuisine.
It was in the city of Corinth where the apostle Paul started a Christian community. Church buildings at the time had not yet been invented, and this group of people likely met in someone’s home. It sounds almost idyllic, doesn’t it? People gathering together, to worship God and share what they had with the poor. There was no vestry, for example. There were no committees, no annual budgets, no air conditioning units to maintain, and best of all, no stewardship campaigns! It must have been awesome!
Except that it wasn’t. In fact, Paul’s church in Corinth was anything but idyllic, and the part of the letter that we hear today offers several reasons why.
The Corinthian church was one deeply steeped in arrogance. Members of the community thought they were more sophisticated, more knowledgeable, and more capable than their counterparts. Paul scolds this church elsewhere in the letter, telling them that they are not nearly as wise as they think, and that they are acting like babies. The church at Corinth was immature, unspiritual, disorganized, and schismatic. Which is why Paul writes this letter.
In his letter, Paul reminds the Corinthian church that they are the body of Christ. When Paul uses the word “body” to describe a church community, it is not the only metaphor Paul uses to describe the church – other metaphors he uses include the church as a building, or the church as a temple, or the church as a field. But when Paul describes the church as a body, as he does today, that is intentional. The “church as body metaphor” is one that Paul uses when there are problems of disunity in the church, as there clearly are in the Corinthian church.
In saying that the church is the body of Christ Paul is not doing something new. The metaphor of “one body with many parts” was pretty common during Paul’s time. Also common was an extension of that metaphor where you have different parts of the body arguing with each other, as we see in today’s reading where an eye insults a hand, and a head insults a foot. The point being, that all parts of the body are necessary and important.
I was trying to teach Paul’s concept of the church as the body of Christ to a group of children and how each of us is a part of the body, and one time a child asked me “if we are all parts of the body, is that why they call you (pointing to me) the rectum?” I said “Well, it’s actually rector, but that’s kind of the same thing.”
The point that Paul makes in the letter is that this church in Corinth is a body with different and diverse parts, each who contribute in their own way. Each part of the body is unique, and each part is of equal importance. What Paul is saying is that each person in the church is no more important than the other – they are all an indispensable part of the body and it is by God’s grace alone that each one belongs.
Paul continues this analogy one step further, pointing out how each part of the church, of Christ’s body, is unique. For Christians, to be different is not only acceptable, but it’s expected, even necessary for the wholeness and vigor of the church.
I love the epistles in the New Testament, because they openly show the struggles, mistakes, and hypocrisy of the church since its very beginning. And yet, in spite of itself, God loves the church, with all its mistakes, all its conflicts, all its arrogance. Why? God continues to love the church because of its people. The Episcopal Church is not a church nationally known for its diversity. For a long time, the Episcopal Church has been criticized as the the church of affluent white Anglo Saxon protestants. No more. The Episcopal Church reflects the beauty of God’s creative diversity in many ways. We still have more work to do, but we are proudly one body with many diverse parts.
Each of us is called to contribute our part. So many of you contribute so much to this part of Christ’s body – St. Andrew’s. You give financially, you give time, you give talent. For those newer to our community, how might you share part of what you have with Christ’s body the church? That’s really a question all of us should consider regardless of whether we are new here or have been here for years. What is your contribution to the body of Christ?
We are all equally loved by God, equally valuable, and equally asked to share our blessings and resources with one another. AMEN.