1 Cor. 13:14-31
17-May-20 1Corinthians 12:14-31
Back in the idiocy of my youth, in the winter of 1985, in an act of sheer and profound stupidity, I stuck my hand inside of the business end of a running snow blower. As soon as I thrust my hand in there, and heard the crunching of bones and felt the tearing of flesh, I realized that I had done something that I should not have done. I think that I can even remember saying to myself, “Boy, you should not have done that!” (Or something similar)
Well, I got a ride in the ambulance to the hospital, got my wedding ring cut off, had x-rays and lots of stitches, and went home a few hours later with a hand wrapped in so much bandaging material, that it looked like a prize-winning squash. I was also clutching, in my good hand, a fistful of the most wonderful pain killers in the whole world. And when I thought that I needed it, I took one of them. And life became absolutely glorious beyond imagination. That pill made my face feel all warm and soft. It made the pain go away, just like that, and it changed my whole outlook in a most wonderful way. I remember thinking, who needs a hand, anyway? Take my whole arm off, if you want to. Do open heart surgery, nothing can set aside this awesomely good feeling. I am in heaven!
And then, by the grace of God I realized that my brand new happy life was coming from that pill, and not from within my soul, and so I did not take another one. And let me tell you, I paid dearly for that decision. My hand ached and throbbed. At times, the pain was excruciating. At night it kept me awake because I would roll over on it, and during the day, it would bump into things, and make me howl, and say bad words.
I do not tell you this story in order to elicit your sympathy. I didn’t get much sympathy then, and I don’t expect any now. People who do stupid things don’t deserve sympathy. Love and compassion, yes, but not sympathy.
I tell this story because the one thing that I remember the most about that miserable chapter of my life, was the absolute inconvenience of not being whole. And any of you, who have suffered a major illness or injury, or who have endured surgery, or who have suffered the common cold, or who have watched a loved one pass from this life into the next, know exactly what I am talking about. When we are not whole, or when we believe that we are not whole, there is always misery, and a powerful sense of loss and despair. We long, in the deepest parts of our souls, to be whole. It is the way that God has created us to be.
And in our passage today, the Apostle Paul is describing the misery that occurs when a church is not whole. I think that this is now the ninth week that we have not been able to gather together for worship. Because of the time that we are living in, we remain scattered, separate, and distanced from one another. And every one of us has experienced the pain of not being part of a whole congregation. And along the way, we’ve learned a couple of new terms that have become very familiar to all of us. And those terms are “essential” and “non-essential”. It seems as though our whole world has been divided up in to those two categories. And either way we look at them, they are both rather exclusive terms. And I suppose, that living in a broken world as we do, that those terms are wonderfully functional. They don’t contribute to wholeness in any way imaginable, but they are functional.
In our struggle for wholeness among the followers of Jesus, we need to acknowledge, right away, that there are no essential Christians anywhere. There is no such thing. And it is also equally true that there are no non-essential Christians. Neither of those terms works at all among the followers of Jesus. There are no Christians who are more important to the work of the church than any others, and there are no Christians who are less important in any way at all, in God’s Kingdom.
And to illustrate this truth, the Apostle Paul uses the imagery of the human body to describe the church. It is an apt metaphor for the church, because the human body is, in and of itself, a sacred entity. The body is a holy thing. Later on in this chapter, Paul says that the church is the very body of Christ. That proposition is profound beyond our ability to fully comprehend it. We will never fathom the depths of Paul’s mind on that, as long as we spend time on this side of eternity.
When the church is the body of Christ, we become the visible presence of Jesus Christ in this world, and the implications of that are mind-boggling and heart-challenging. In this world, the followers of Jesus are everything that Jesus was while he was on this Earth, and we are everything that Jesus is now, in his exalted state, in heaven. In our baptisms, we have been broken like him in his death and we have been raised to new life with him in his resurrection. We are the bearers of his healing power and examples of the wholeness that his resurrection body exhibits. We should be sensing by now that that the divisions that we create for ourselves in the church are contrary to the very being and nature of our Lord. To think of ourselves as essential, or as non-essential, is not only demeaning to ourselves, and to our brothers and sisters in Christ, but it is also demeaning to our Lord himself.
And yet, we do divide ourselves in this way, and so the Apostle Paul capitulates to us just a bit, and he speaks to us as if we really are comfortable with these kinds of divisions in our congregations. But he also speaks to us with the intention that we will one day prefer to be whole, with no divisions at all.
As it turns out, the human body does a pretty good job of keeping itself whole. As a rule, feet don’t get jealous of hands, hands don’t boast that they are better than feet; ears aren’t overly concerned that they can’t see very well, because every ear has a next door neighbor that’s an eye. And noses! What about noses? Well, there’s only one of those, if you don’t count nostrils, and sure, noses don’t always listen so well, but the ears take care of that for them, and even though all of this is very funny and quite ridiculous, and the Apostle Paul absolutely intended it that way, it teaches a very serious and profound lesson.
And that is that God is the one who designed and arranged the human body, and that God is the one who designed and arranged the Christian church. And when God is both the designer and the arranger, nothing can be improved upon. And so therefore, we have no authority to change what God has done. Simply put, we have no right to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, or less of ourselves than we ought. We have no authority to boast about our accomplishments or to be in misery over our failures. We are forbidden to imagine that what we are called to do in the Christian church is more important or less important than what our sister or brother is called to do. There are no exalted positions in the church. And there are no positions in this church that are not exalted.
And as if to drive this truth home rather powerfully, Paul becomes tactfully graphic. He begins to talk about the parts of the body that we cannot see. So far he’s been talking about the parts of the body that we can see. He’s mentioned feet, hands, heads, eyes, ears and noses. But now he zeroes in on some parts of the body that we’d just as soon not talk about. Ever. There’s something special about these parts because they have a very sacred and holy function. These parts: participate with God in the creation of new life. These parts contribute to the wholeness of marriage, which is the most sacred relationship that any of us can enjoy on this earth. But that is their purpose and function in the human body. What is their function in the church? Who are they, and why does Paul say that we clothe them with the greater honor and that we treat them with greater respect?
I am convinced that these are the folks, created in God’s glorious and beautiful image, who don’t fit very well into this world, and who get set aside, forgotten, rejected, and perhaps even tossed away. They are the hidden members of our society that we have erroneously decided are less than whole. God, on the other hand, has determined that they are worthy of greater honor and greater respect. And that is why in God’s Kingdom that there is no such thing as an essential member, or a non-essential member. Unlike in the world, all persons fit rather perfectly in God’s Kingdom.
The bottom line is that all followers of Jesus are part of his body, and all are equally important, whether they be hands, ears, eyes, noses, feet, or privates. We are the body of Christ. We are the visible presence of our Lord in this place and in this world. Jesus’ body, once broken for us, is now whole. If we believe that we are his body, we also must strive to be whole. Even when we are artificially separated from one another.