Meditation on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton
Jan. 27, 2019
“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. 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. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The 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.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and 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; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And 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. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.”
I am happy today to finally be leading worship with you, after having our service canceled due to ice and snow last Sunday! I have two weeks of ministry in Coshocton behind me, and I have met many of you! I still have many more people to meet and come to know in our community. It’s going to take time to know one another. Please keep praying for me, for there is lots to do in my first year of learning, loving and serving here. I want to know your family stories, personal histories and personalities, what makes you laugh, what brings you to tears, what makes you anxious. What are your hopes for the future for your families?
One of the most important things I want you to know is that each of you has gifts, but also that you are receiving gifts of the Spirit every day! It isn’t a one-time thing that happens at our Baptism! You may have different gifts tomorrow than today, new gifts that you never had before or didn’t know that you had. Our transformation into new creations in Christ will take a lifetime. It’s all the work of the Spirit, made evident by the fruit we bear in our lives. You are already using your gifts, though you might not be aware of all the ways. Others may see your gifts more clearly than you do. You might not know that you are making a difference, especially if you are one who serves quietly, behind the scenes. Like you, up in the balcony, handling our sound today! You are needed. You are making it possible for everyone to hear God’s Word.
Please know that your gifts are NECESSARY for the health of the Body. You are needed!
Here’s what happens when you use your gifts to build up the Church and grow God’s Kingdom: You are and will be blessed with more opportunities and gifts to serve the Lord. Jesus says in Luke 12:48b, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”
This scripture convicted me in 2007 that I was resisting the call to parish ministry. I liked being a journalist and was grieving the loss of my identity when I left my job to go to seminary. It was humbling to come to realize that I was struggling with my own pride and selfishness. God wanted me to serve the Church more directly. He had a plan to use the gifts he had given me in a way that took me out of my comfort zone. That plan is continually being revealed to me, day by day. And he wanted to heal what was broken in me. For we all have something broken in ourselves that God wants to heal. In my serving the Lord and His Church, I am made whole. I want this for all of you!
The apostle, Paul, writes in Philippians 2:2-8: “2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul is again trying to encourage the Church to be one in Christ and become like Him. He uses the metaphor of a human body for the Church as he tries to bring peace and unity to a congregation in chaos, embroiled in conflicts and divisions. Pride fuels boasting and arguments about righteous eating. Legal disputes between believers land in public courts, rather than the “saints” extending God’s grace, forgiving one another and working out their problems in the church. Paul hears of members struggling with sexual immorality and other sins destructive to individuals and the community.
This image of the human body for a community, with members having different functions for the good of the whole, was familiar to people in Paul’s time. He didn’t invent this metaphor; Aristotle, Plato, Plutarch, and Seneca also wrote about the community as a body. But Paul did change the metaphor to teach the Church to value the diversity of its membership and treat everyone as equals. This is a radical idea for his time–that the Church would welcome Jews and Greeks (which is code for Gentiles or everyone who isn’t Jewish) and not just rich or poor, but “slave or free” in a society where there are slaves; some people have no rights, no voices or value as human beings. They are merely property for their wealthy owners. Can you imagine how the slaves felt when they heard Paul’s message–that they were as valuable a member of the Church as someone who was free? Can you imagine how those who felt they were superior to slaves or Gentiles might have felt to hear Paul’s message that everyone was equally valuable to the community because of their gifts and talents?
The new thing Paul does with the metaphor is the Church is the Body, of Christ. The Church belongs to Him! Practically, this means living by His Word, seeking Him in prayer, seeking His will and to be obedient and pleasing to Him. It means loving and caring for one another as He loves and cares for us and being known by our love for one another, as he tells his disciples in John. But of Christ also means the Church embracing His mission as our own, as Jesus has claimed us in our baptisms. How did Jesus spend his days? Traveling, teaching, serving, praying and preaching, feeding, giving and forgiving, eating and drinking with sinners (I like that one), blessing children, welcoming strangers, speaking up for the voiceless, challenging the proud and powerful, fighting injustice, touching and healing, and encouraging his followers to live more faithfully.
As he tells his hometown congregation of Nazareth in Luke 4, He is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, the one anointed “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Today, we call on the Spirit as we ordain and install elders and deacons for active service in the Church, the Body, of Christ. Each has different gifts and talents, personalities and life experiences, hopes and dreams. They won’t be like the elders and deacons that have served the Lord and His Church before. They will be, with God’s help and our encouragement, all that God is calling them to be.
Please pray for them and lift them up, especially in the beginning. But don’t stop after a few months because they might grow weary. Your support is needed. Your words have the power to bring life to others. Use them to build up our leaders and Christ’s Church and never to tear down. They have come, like their Savior, to serve and not to be served. They have come to help us love one another and be known by our love. They have come to pray for us and urge us to serve the Lord and His Church with all our gifts and talents. They have come to help us claim Christ’s mission as our own—as He has claimed us as His own—and to encourage us to live more faithfully.
Let us pray.
Holy one, we are grateful for the gifts you have given us and your loving Spirit that fills us and forgives us, setting us free from the bondage of sin, including sins of pride and selfishness. Heal us, Lord, unite us as Your Body. Make us whole. Stir us to claim Christ’s mission as our own. We praise for all our elders, deacons and trustees and for all the precious volunteers in Your Church over the ages. Empower them to bravely and wisely lead us to live more faithfully. In Christ we pray. Amen.