Third Sunday After Epiphany
TEXT: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
For 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. For 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. (1 Cor. 12:12-13)
How do you feel about your body?
Is that a strange question to ask? I’d guess that most of us would rather not think about our bodies. And if we do, we may not think very complimentary things. It’s too fat or too skinny, too short or too tall. It’s bumpy, or lumpy, or just plain unattractive. Kind of like the kid who was so ugly that his parents took him everywhere they went so they wouldn’t have to kiss him good-bye!
At least, that might be the way we think about it. So it’s kind of odd to hear Paul saying: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27).
Now all of you together are Christ’s body, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it. What a statement! You—yes, you—are the Body of Christ.
Take a moment and think about the members of your local congrgation. Each one of you makes up one part of the body of Christ. As Paul searched for a way to describe the church of Jesus, the metaphor he kept coming back to was this one: the similarity between the church and the human body. In Romans, First Corinthians, Ephesians and Colossians, Paul makes over 30 references to “the body of Christ.”
Even those of us who are familiar with the Bible tend to skip over things like that without really taking the time to think about it. We all know what a body is; after all, each one of us occupies one every day. But do we ever pause to contemplate these vessels in which we reside? Can we see how this flesh and blood is like the church of Jesus Christ?
The first thing we need to recognize is that the analogy of the body applies to two definitions of the church—the “church catholic” (or “universal”), and the local congregation. Certainly, “the body of Christ” refers to the “church universal”—to that great, all-encompassing group of Christians throughout the world who call themselves by so many different names.
My own denomination—the United Church of Canada—is part of the same body as the Anglican Communion, the Roman Catholic Church, all the Baptists and Lutherans, and everybody who identifies as evangelical or liberal, Reformed or non-denominational. Not to mention the Coptic Church in Egypt, the Orthodox in Ethiopia, house churches on mainland China, Presbyterians in Korea, Pentecostals in Samoa, and Methodists in Bermuda.
I’m told that, in this Year of Our Lord 2022, there are over 33,000 distinct Christian bodies worldwide. That statistic includes over 3.4 million worship centres and more than 2.5 billion Christians of all ages. Those are impressive statistics!
However, the local church needs to be viewed as the body of Christ, as well. Not just those huge mega-churches that dot the North American landscape, but also those small, struggling congregations that struggle to survive and serve day-by-day. But why? Why did the Apostle Paul choose something as frail as the material body to illustrate something as mighty as the church of Jesus Christ?
Someone has said that the personality is the thing which gives unity to the many and varied parts of the body. When it comes to my body, that’s me. “It is I.” This is a hand and this is a hand. That’s an ear and there’s another ear … and here’s an elbow … and they’re all separate. But “I” bring unity to make all of those things part of my body.
What I am to my body, Christ is to the Church. It is in him that all the diverse parts find their unity.
Do you see what I mean? Alone you are just a Marlene or a Margaret; a Dorothy or an Irene; a John or a Douglas or a Robert.
But add Jesus Christ … and you become part of his body!
Jesus is no longer in the world—at least, not in the same physical body which once he had. And so, if Jesus wants a child taught in Sunday School, then he needs someone like you or I to do the teaching. If Jesus wants someone to be touched by compassion, then he needs us to be compassionate. And when, today, Jesus wants to weep … he needs our tears.
“For 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” (1 Cor. 12:12).
Each part of your body has something in common—and that something is you! Your left leg doesn’t belong to one person and your right leg to somebody else. Instead, each individual part of your body has “you” in common. You are the common denominator that ties everything together. Just so, the body of Christ has a common focal point—and that is Jesus.
At the same time, there is a diversity within the body. No two body parts are identical. Not only are your hands and feet different, but your two hands themselves are different. Each one of your fingers has a different fingerprint. We look at our bodies and we marvel at how God has created this phenomenal piece of equipment!
We have ears that hear, eyes that see, and feet that walk. And none of us object to that arrangement.
When was the last time you said, “Boy, I wish I could see with my toes?”
Or, “I wish I could smell with my ears!”
Neither do we say, “I wish I was a big foot or a very large eye.”
The diversity of the body is no accident; it’s all part of the Creator’s plan. It’s funny, isn’t it, how—even though God insists upon unity—he complicates the matter by also insisting upon diversity.
All too often, we try to make every member of the body of Christ identical. According to some people, all Christians ought to look alike, dress alike, think alike, have the same haircut, read the same translation of the Bible, enjoy the same type of music, and vote for the same political party.
In other words, those people think that all Christians ought to do things one way. And you know what way that is, don’t you? That’s right—their way! But, you know, God did not make us identical at our first birth—and I don’t think he intended to make us identical at our second birth, either. Each of us is essential to the well-being of the body. I like the way Eugene Peterson translates Paul’s words in The Message:
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? (1 Cor. 12:15-17) *
We smile when we hear that. But, in the church, we often do the same thing. We put ourselves down.
Someone says, “Because I can’t preach like Billy Graham, I’m not a part of the body.”
Or, “Because I can’t sing like Ray, I’m not part of the body.”
Or, “Because I can’t play piano like Marilyn, I’m not part of the body.”
But we don’t just need preachers any more then we just need soloists. Or piano players. Or people who can tell children’s stories. When you think about it, we need teachers, and we need prayer partners, and we need people with big hearts to love and with long arms to hug.
Paul is adamant that each one of us plays a vital role in the body of Christ. The thing is, we all need to be heading in a common direction. The challenge before us is how to preserve our diversity while maintaining our unity.
It would be relatively easy for us all to be different (most of us are quite different, as it is). And I’m sure that if we really wanted to—and if we tried really hard—we could become fairly united. But to be different and united at the same time … well, that isn’t easy!
But if we consider once again Paul’s analogy, we see that—with our physical bodies—this is not only possible, but is in fact essential. I can be scratching my head with my hand, walking across the floor with my feet, seeing with my eyes, hearing with my ears, and smelling with my nose—all at the same time! The secret to keeping the body of Christ on the right path is that we must be working toward a common goal. And, hopefully, that goal is to introduce people to Jesus.
If your left foot wanted to go one place, and your right foot wanted to go another place—you’d be in a real predicament, wouldn’t you? But you say, “I’m going to walk over there.” And the instructions leave your brain and travel through your central nervous system, causing each of the required body parts to work as necessary to take you on that journey.
In the same way, Christ fixes the direction that he wants the church to go. And then each of us—as a part of this particular body—moves in unison toward that goal. Or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members may—as Paul says—“have the same care for one another.”
“If one member suffers,” he says, “all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it” (1 Cor. 12:25-26).
Did you hear that? When one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts.
What happens when a part of your physical body gets hurt? If you hit your thumb with a hammer, what happens?
Actually, several things happen all at once. Your mind registers pain, tears come to your eyes, you grab said thumb with your other hand, and you start jumping up and down while … words … spill out of your mouth …
What happened? Even though it was just one very small part of your body that was hurt, many other parts of your body became involved in reaction to the pain. In just the same way, when one part of the body of Christ hurts, it is up to each of us—as additional parts of the same body—to react (hopefully, to help lessen the pain).
It may be the kind of hurt that comes with the death of a loved one. Or a divorce, or a lost job, or a betrayal. It may be that someone has given in to temptation and needs to be lovingly restored to the body. That responsibility lies not only with the pastor, or with the members of the board, or with the person sitting next to you. No. It lies with you.
So, as we contemplate the future direction of our shared body, the question I want to ask each one of you is this: what role will you play? What function will you perform? How will you help to make this body all that it can be?
The apostle Paul has reminded us that “in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body … and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13).
There’s no question that God has given spiritual gifts to every single one of us. Each one of you has gifts—each one of you has talents and abilities to share, for the common good. And—right now, more than ever—this big-little-harmonious-divided church of ours needs all of them.
But the good news is: we have been baptized into one body. We have been made to drink of one Spirit. And we have been made to have the same care for one another.
Sure. We still have some personality conflicts. We have our differences. Some of us are eyes. Some of us are ears. Some of us are arms. And some of us are armpits …
But you know, we do have care for one another—and great love for Christ, who is our head. That’s why one out of every three persons on the planet gathers in Jesus’ name on a Saturday or Sunday morning. We’re here for one another, because of Jesus, who binds us together. That is our saving strength. He is our saving strength.
Thanks be to God.
* The Message Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson.