Sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:12-21, 26, 27
3rd Sunday After Epiphany | January 27, 2019
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! Amen.
The lesson for our consideration is recorded in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 12:12-21, 26, 27.
Dear brothers and sisters, fellow “parts” and partners in the body of Christ, the Church.
If you’ve spent some small amount of time on the Internet, you’ve probably come across some very interesting things. Yes, many sinful things, too, but that’s a topic for another, or several other sermons. What I wanted to note, however, is something that used to be quite popular—maybe not so much, nowadays, but do you remember those quizzes that used to be available on such sites as Facebook? You take a quiz to find out what kind of movie hero you are, what kind of animal you’re most like, even what part of a slasher film you’re most likely to die in (I went down pretty early, if you must know.) But what I never saw was a quiz that could tell me what part of the body I am. There probably was one such quiz, but it doesn't really matter, because I’m not talking about an actual human body part (I don’t want to know that – I’m probably an earlobe)! But is there something that can tell us Christians what part we play in the body of Christ, the Church?
Now, friends, we each have gifts or skills—or even desires—that make us gravitate towards the kind of activities or service that requires a willingness to use those gifts or skills. For some of us it’s quite obvious what we’re good at doing, others among us may have to search for a while to find where we function best.
Problems arise, however, because sometimes we don’t want to play the roles to which we’ve been “assigned,” for lack of a better term. A portion of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians tackles just that issue, when he discusses factionalism in their congregation. In our lesson for today he returns to that discussion, when he describes the Church in terms of the human body. The Church is One Body, and it has One Mission.
The human body has many different parts. Outside of birth defects or illness, they all fit together perfectly and function together perfectly. And every part of the body is useful. Medical science used to believe that the tonsils, the appendix and certain other body parts were expendable. This notion came, in part, at least, from the false belief in evolution – that they were leftovers from our more apelike ancestors. But now medical science recognizes what God?’s Word has known all along, that every body part has a use.
And just as a human body has many different parts, so does the body of Christ. There is great diversity to be found in the church, and no part of it is superfluous or useless, and different does not mean inferior.
Now, keeping in mind Paul’s discussion of hands and feet, eyes and ears, look how absurd it is for body parts to be jealous of each other. Feet and ears do not have independent thoughts; they do not envy, and they do not talk. Feet do not covet the role of the hands, and ears do not covet the role of eyes. The body does not work that way. Little children arguing on the playground can take their ball and go home, but body parts cannot. Even if body parts could covet the role of another, nothing would change, because they would still be part of the body.
Likewise, you might have personal experience with people who have quit coming to worship, quit contributing financially or quit the congregation altogether because they did not get their way on some—often non-theological—issue. They refuse to abide by the will of the majority, and sit home and pout. Is your own sense of personal dignity or self-worth leading you in such a direction? What good does such behavior do for the congregation, or the church at large? As much good as a foot that stops walking because it is jealous of the hand.
Next Paul moves on to the totally ridiculous in order to drive his point home. Is the entire body an eye… or an ear? How often have you seen a giant eyeball or a giant ear walking around? Never. A creature like that couldn’t function because it wouldn’t have the full complement of other senses and body parts.
Paul reduces the attitudes of the factions in Corinth to absurdity. Certain gifts were coveted, but if everyone had the same gift, they would be like giant eyeballs and ears. A human body could not function under such circumstances and neither can the body of Christ.
So what’s the solution? It’s right there before us: the solution to divisions in the Church, and desertion of the Church, which we call the body of Christ, is CHRIST.
Paul reminds his readers, and I mean us, dear friends, that we all have been baptized by the same spirit, and have all drunk of that same Spirit. He’s talking about faith. Faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin, from all our sins, even covetousness and pride, is what binds together the members of Christ’s body. No other religion in the world can lay claim to that kind of unity.
As for its mission, well, this lesson doesn’t seem to speak too plainly about that. But what is the purpose of the various parts of your human body? If we can answer that question, then we can understand how Paul’s illustration of the body applies not only to the church’s internal functioning, but also to its mission.
You see, God has arranged the parts of the human body in strategically correct positions. The eyes, ears, arms, legs, etc., are put together for maximum efficiency. For instance, how well could you walk if you toes faced the opposite direction? The body was put together with a plan.
Well, the body of Christ was also put together with a plan. God put specific talents into the church to make it move and grow and prosper.
Paul makes yet another point about the relationship between body parts. “Higher” body parts like eyes and heads do not despise “lower” body parts like hands and feet. The eye needs the hand to remove foreign particles from the eye. When the head is sick, it needs the feet to take it to the doctor.
In the congregation, Sunday School teachers need council presidents need janitors need pastors need elders need Ladies’ Guild members need organists need hedge trimmers. You’ll notice that I didn’t put those in any particular order. All members perform valuable functions in the congregation.
And it all works because the God who saved us through the merits of his Son is also the God who orders the universe, even down to those who serve our own congregation.
Each part of your body is designed for a task to make the whole body function as a unit, to carry you through life, from cradle to school to work (then possibly to Florida or Arizona) and to the grave. Likewise the parts of Christ’s church, that is, you, are designed for a task to make that body function as it carries out its mission, the work of the Holy Spirit, which is not only to see to the spiritual health of Christians but to reach out with the Gospel message of forgiveness and salvation to non-Christians, to draw them into this body of Christ.
Remember these words of the Holy Spirit spoken through Paul’s pen: “you (plural) are the body of Christ, and each one of you (plural) is a part of it.” This is a letter to the entire congregation at Corinth, and to anyone who reads it afterwards; not just to the pastor and elders; not just to men; not just to adults – but to everyone: pastors, elders, laymen, lay women, children, confirmands, students of all ages, new Christians, old Christians, weak Christians, strong Christians. All are part of the function of that one unit, the body of Christ, as it goes about its mission, to take Christ to others.
Dear Christian friends, I can’t provide you with a quiz you can take to find out where you ought to be or what you ought to be doing. But I can tell you this: you’re right where God wants you to be, and you’re just the right tool for the work he wants done, for the blessing of his Church and the continuing work of its mission. So be a blessing, in whatever you do, and know that He will bless your work.
The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.