Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
TEXTS: 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 and Mark 4:35-41
… But [Jesus] was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38)
Besides the gospel reading from Mark, the Revised Common Lectionary for Proper Seven, Year B also serves up this Epistle reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. So, we read the gospel account of Jesus calming a fierce storm on the sea of Galilee (after his terrified disciples woke him up, that is). And then we hear the apostle Paul going on at some length about his favorite metaphor for the Christian Church—that is, the image of the church as being like a human body: “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).
And Paul goes on: “Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to 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. And if the ear were to 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.” (1 Cor. 12:14-16)
Okay. You get the idea. The church is like a body. Like I said, it was Paul’s favorite metaphor: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
The church is the Body of Christ. For Paul, the church is Christ’s Body upon the earth. Not simply the broken bread upon the Communion table, but the people—the women and children and men—who come to the table. We are the Body of Christ. We are the ones who carry out Jesus’ mission, here and now.
We often hear that said. In fact, we often say it! We are the Body of Christ. But, I wonder: how often do we seriously consider what it means?
For a body to be of any use, the parts of the body have to be coordinated. They need to be engaged with one another. They need to be working in harmony.
Almost everyone these days has a cellphone. Here’s a question for you: How come you’re not supposed to be texting your friends while you’re driving a car?
It’s called “distracted driving” because—even if you’ve got one hand on the steering wheel and one foot working the accelerator and the brake pedal … if your eyes aren’t focused on the road ahead, you are in for BIG trouble!
Likewise, if your brain isn’t switched on—if your head isn’t in the game, so to speak—you shouldn’t be using a table saw. Or you could find yourself suddenly without fingers! Like Paul said, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor. 12:26).
But you know—just as when an infant is learning to walk—coordination, and balance, and focus are not automatically present. It takes a length of time to develop.
And if the head isn’t fully connected to the rest of the body … Well, then it’s like one of those “headless chicken” videos on YouTube; the body just flails about wildly, running in all kinds of directions until it finally collapses.
Consider the disciples in that boat with Jesus. This story is told in all three of the synoptic gospels. Here’s what Luke’s version sounds like, in Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, called The Message:
One day [Jesus] and his disciples got in a boat. “Let’s cross the lake,” he said. And off they went. It was smooth sailing, and he fell asleep. A terrific storm came up suddenly on the lake. Water poured in, and they were about to capsize. They woke Jesus: “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” Getting to his feet, he told the wind, “Silence!” and the waves, “Quiet down!” They did it. The lake became smooth as glass. (Luke 8:22-24*)
“Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” They’re absolutely in panic. They don’t know what to do. And yet, at least four of them were professional seamen!**
Without Jesus, though, they came undone! They lost their heads.
This is worrisome, isn’t it? I mean, these are the same men to whom Jesus was going to entrust his entire mission and ministry upon the earth. You might hope they’d be a tad less excitable! How would they cope, once Jesus was gone?
Of course, if you’ve read the Book of Acts, you know the answer to that question. After Jesus died and rose and then ascended—“blasted off for heaven,” as someone has said, leaving them here to finish the work—this group of seeming incompetents and cowards became …
Well … they became apostles.
Joined later by Paul, this bunch of misfits spearheaded a movement which would eventually displace the pagan emperors of Rome, and become the official religion of the Empire. To be sure, their efforts were not always perfectly coordinated, but over time they certainly became far more effective—and unified—than they were that day in the boat.
So, what changed? Well, remember that we are in the season of Pentecost. There are those who argue that—never mind what the liturgical calendar says—we’ve been in the season of Pentecost for the past 2,000 years. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to the church, just as Jesus promised when he said, “… the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).
The Holy Spirit—who dwells in every believer—connects us one to another, and—even more importantly—connects us to Christ, who is “the head of the body” (Col. 1:18).
Because of the gift of the Holy Spirit—and through the power of the Holy Spirit—we are knit and bound together as one body, of which Christ is the head.
Yeah. Christ is the head.
That’s the good news for the church, my friends.
Jesus is the brains of this operation!
Thanks be to God for that. Amen.
* The Message Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
** Peter, Andrew, James, and John were all fishermen.