Grace United Methodist Church
January 24, 2010
1 Corinthians 12: 12-31
12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
Have you ever thought about what first brought you to the Church? I grew up in the church, but at some point we all make decisions that either bring us to the Church for the first time, or keep us in the Church if we are already there. Why are you here at Grace United Methodist Church? Was it the outstanding sermons? Are you here because the building is pretty or because of the body of believers that surround you? That is the members; those folks who have allowed the call of Christ to be lived out through their lives. One of the big questions in church circles today is, “What brings people to the church; particularly young people?” I was reading several articles this week about Generation X and Generation Y and the Church. “Gen Xers” are considered those born from 1961 to 1981, while “Gen Y” consists of those born from 1982 to 1995. One of the defining marks of these two generations is a philanthropic desire; a passion to be involved in affecting positive change in the world. A lot of the reason that there are a decreasing number of young adults to be found in churches is because when these “Gen Xers and Yers” look at churches, what they see is a bunch of people who are just pew warmers, when what they want to see is people fully living out the values of Christ and Christianity in the world. A United Methodist Bishop recently put it this way, these young persons want to see “people who are living Christianity not [just] practicing Christianity.”
If we look at it from Paul’s perspective heard just moments ago, we would say that young adults are hungry to see the body of Christ at work and to get involved themselves. We should all be hungry to see the body of Christ at work; but even more than that, we should be anxious to be at work ourselves, to put our God-given gifts to work in our community and world. The Church is to be the place where, together, we learn how to be God’s genuinely human beings, worshipping God and serving him by reflecting God’s image in the world.
The Bible uses many analogies for the Church, and even Paul himself refers to the Church in many different ways: building, temple, or field to name a few. But in this passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we hear what is perhaps Paul’s most famous analogy for the church; the body. Certainly, the Church is more than what is alluded to through the images of the body, but it is nevertheless an extremely important thought that Paul has put before us, especially when we consider that Paul used this analogy only when there were problems of disunity in the Church.
So, the Church is called the body of Christ. Bodies can be united and strong, or they can be broken and weak. Have you ever thought about what it would be like if the members of our physical bodies behaved like the members of the spiritual body sometimes do?
HEART: “You know, I’m just stuck in a rut. For the last 45 years all I do is beat and beat. Ba, dum…ba, dum….ba, dum. I’m tired of it. It’s time for someone else to step up and do this job. Okay, feet, it’s up to you. You pump the blood.”
LUNGS: “We are so under-appreciated around here. I don’t think the other organs realize that they couldn’t do their jobs without us. If we quit doing our job for a few minutes, everyone will finally see how valuable we are to this place. The brain thinks he’s big stuff. Humph! Let him do without some oxygen for a while and we’ll see how important he is!”
LIVER: “Why do I get all the dirty work? You think it’s fun making bile? I’ve been in this body for 45 years now and do you think anyone has ever asked me to make any decisions, pump any blood, or perform any functions that are noticeable outside the body? Sometimes I wonder why I bother.”
APPENDIX: “Ha! Just watch the rest of those organs work. Day after day, hour after hour, they work themselves to death. I’m just along for the ride. Why contribute when I can just sit here and get the same nutrients and oxygen that they get? Why get involved?”
You get the idea. The point is that the individual parts that make up our bodies were created specifically for certain tasks within the body as a whole. The body works as a finely tuned machine when all the parts do what they were uniquely gifted to do. The parts of the body are not jealous of each other and do not covet each other’s functions. There are no unimportant parts — except the appendix. Of course, we all have weaknesses that (like the appendix) can be a real pain when inflamed, which is why it is all the more important that we cultivate our spiritual gifts and serve according to the blessings of God. The gifts we each possess are not just for us; they are God’s gift to the whole church through us. I don’t think any of us want to be like the appendix; just along for the ride. And it’s detrimental to the church and the church’s work in the world when that is the case. It’s great for us to have God-given gifts, but those gifts are absolutely meaningless unless we put them to use in the context of the whole body that is the Church.
So from Paul’s illustration to the Corinthians, we can see certain things that ought to exist in the Church acting as the body of Christ in the world. First, to be fully united and functioning, we ought to realize that we need each other. There is no such thing as isolation in the Church; we are a “community” in the deepest sense of the word, bound by belief in a common Savior and a call to follow his work. In my mind, there is no stronger bond. And yet, sometimes people in the Church become overly absorbed in the bit of work they are doing and think it is of supreme importance. The result is that the greater work of Christ is forgotten, the bond is broken, and we digress to neglecting or even criticizing others who are working in different ways according to their gifts. Each of us has a part to play, and if we are to be healthy, we need the work that everyone can do.
The health of the body is why we should not only realize that we need each other, but we ought also to respect each other. In the body, there is no question of relative importances. If any limb or any organ ceases to function, the whole body is thrown “out of whack.” In fact, God has so arranged the body such that greater honor goes to the seemingly inferior members so that there are no divisions in the body. Remember the words of Jesus to his disciples, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.” With great humility, we should offer praise and respect for the gifts others put to service for the kingdom because each of us, as a part of the Body, has a great task. All service ranks the same with God, and it ought to be the same with us.
Finally, our unity in the body of Christ means that we ought to sympathize with one another. If any one part of the body is affected, all the others are also affected because the whole body suffers with that one part. The Church is a whole. The person who cannot see beyond his or her own work and life, and even beyond his or her own congregation, has no real grasp of the unity of the body.
We often wonder how we might more fully become the body of Christ. But what we must recognize in Paul’s writing is that as believers we are already the body of Christ, and we should relate to one another in a manner appropriate to what we already are. We are studying the spiritual gifts not so that we can figure out how to more fully become the body of Christ, but so that we can learn how to work together to continue Christ’s work in the world. We must realize our need for one another and thus treat the other members of the body with respect and compassion. And then as a united and healthy body, we must step out into the world to be the hands and feet of Christ; to carry on Christ’s work in our time and place.
Recently, the Christian band Casting Crowns came out with a popular song called, “If We Are the Body.” The chorus of the song goes like this, “If we are the Body/Why aren’t His arms reaching/Why aren’t His hands healing/Why aren’t His words teaching?/And if we are the Body/Why aren’t His feet going/Why is His love not showing them there is a way?” “Christ is no longer in this world in the body; thus, if he wants a task done within the world, he has to find a person to do it.” We are those persons. We are to be the body of Christ at work in the world today, just as Christ himself was 2,000 years ago! And there is so much work to be done; there are so many to people to be healed, so many people to teach and to share the love of Christ with!
So the question is this: Are we going to allow our brains to suffer from lack of oxygen, or are we going to start breathing in air? Are we going to let our limbs rot from lack of blood, or are we going to get our hearts pumping? Are we going to put our gifts to work, or are we going to expect someone else to get the job done? Are we going to join together as a cohesive whole, borne out of mutual need and respect, or are we going to try and do our own thing? Christ has set the example for us. None of us on our own can even come close to continuing the work that Christ began 2,000 years ago. But if we join together in a combined effort, we can be the body of Christ in the world!
LET US PRAY: Christ has no body now on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours. Ours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the earth, ours are the feet by which God is to go about doing good and ours are the hands by which God is to bless us now. May it be so. Amen. (St. Teresa of Avila)
 Luke 9: 47-48
 William Barclay, “The Letters to the Corinthians,” in The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), 113.