Sunday, January 23, 2022
Building the Body
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy, TX 77493
January 23, 2022
1 Corinthians 12
Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth always carries great power with me. Paul is writing about what is wrong with the church in Corinth. In addressing their issues he reaches out across the centuries and is talking to the Christian Church today. We, as members of the modern church, are Corinth written in large letters across the face of the earth. I am just as guilty as the rest and find myself thoroughly convicted, at times, by Paul’s passage in regards to how I view and treat other parts of the body of Christ.
This passage is also very timely. This week is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. A time when we are all called to pray for all Christians. We need those prayers more than any other time for the church in the world is very divided.
I am not alone in this thought of us being like Corinth. I saw a meme on the internet the other day. It was a picture of Paul with a pen in his hand and paper in front of him. It said, “To my brothers and sisters in the church in America, I don’t know what to say to you, what a mess.” It was widely shared and the vast majority of the comments agreed with the sentiment. Now think about what that says of how the world views the church as a whole. My friends we have serious work to do.
Paul’s image of the community being represented by a body was a standard metaphor in the Greek rhetorical world. Paul however stands the normal metaphor on its head if you will. The standard metaphor was loaded with hierarchical images. Some body parts were more important than others, like the head and the heart. Others were subservient or inferior to the more important parts of the bodies. Paul would have shocked his audience by his statement that they are all of equal importance.
Last week ,Paul made clear that there are a variety of gifts of the Spirit, none are more important than others. Paul this week makes the point that no part of the body is more important than the other, that all parts are dependent upon the other. Eyes and ears are both needed for without one or the other the body is either blind or deaf. Without hands or feet, the body’s ability to do the work given to it is diminished. Paul speaks of the inferior parts, which are the internal organs, are what we clothe with great honor. This was a revolutionary look at what had been a standard metaphor. What was different for Paul is that we are united by the one Spirit, who gives each of us our gifts and therefore all equal. We are united in our diversity.
Paul then goes on to enlarge this metaphor with the statement that not only are we are all equal, but that we in fact need each other. This is so very true of a church community. What is also true is that sometimes one part of the body causes us pain.
One thing that struck me as we looked at this passage Tuesday morning at Bible Study was how the body is interconnected. I’ve learned a lot about this as I work with a chiropractor and a good massage therapist for a pinched nerve and some other issues dating from an injury and many years in and directing marching bands. But here is the connection. I first found out I had a pinched nerve because the massage therapist that was working with me could never get a knot out of my back by the shoulder blade. I also had a strange tingle in my right hand, the thumb and first two fingers. My massage therapist sent me to a chiropractor that she knew and when I told him what was going on he immediately knew that it was the nerve that comes out of you neck between C6 and 7. That nerve caused the muscle to retract and caused the tingle in my fingers. So a problem in my fingers and back was caused by a problem in my spine. Another time a cramp in my foot was being caused by a muscle issue in my hip. Everything in the body is connected and sometimes one part of the body causes other parts to suffer. Now stay with me.
This is also true for the church. There are people who are part of the larger body of Christ that occasionally cause me and therefore the whole body pain. These are those moments that the media love to pick up when someone makes an unfortunate statement like blaming a hurricane on some group or another. Remember I used to live in Virginia Beach and we had Pat Robertson to pray away the hurricanes. Then there is the person who makes some statement that drives a person out the door and makes them one of the nones, those without a faith tradition, that we have heard so much about lately. Some of our members are here at St. Paul’s because another part of the body of Christ caused them great pain.
We must be so careful that our actions always build up the body and do not cause the body harm. Unfortunately, this is not always easy for there are so many times that I run into a decision that will hurt someone regardless of the choice that I make or that we make as a parish or a church. This always comes back to the issue or prayer. When faced with these difficult decisions it is always best to step back, pray, and listen to what the Holy Spirit may have to say to us.
The other piece I want to pick up in this issue of gifts that build the body is the need to pray for discernment of those gifts and how those gifts can be used to build up the body. For when we use our gifts to build up the body of our parish we are truly living into our mission and vision. However, to really live into our mission and vision we need members of the body that express those gifts.
I was talking with a couple people after the parish meeting, and they mentioned that we had not done anything with gifts discernment. That will be a part farther down the road in the Mission and Vision process. I have a book on gifts discernment entitled 3 Colors of Ministry. This is a workbook to help people and congregations discern what their gifts are for ministry and how they may best use those gifts to build up the body. One of the interesting chapters encourages me as the rector to look at the gifts of the entire parish and see what the strengths are and possibly some of the areas that may need some attention. The thought is that there needs to be a balance in a parish of gifts for the parish to function as a healthy body.
What came to my mind is this is sort of like a personal trainer that you might use at a gym. When I started with my current trainer she led me through a workout and said, “well your legs are in very good shape, but your upper body strength could use some work along with your core muscles. That core is important to the health of the whole body. All of you would feel better if you spent some time on that.”
As we move forward with our Vision and Mission work we will be identifying what is important, critical to our future as a parish. We all need to consider how each of our gifts can help to bring the kingdom. How as our part of the body we can help by sharing those gifts.
However there is one great gift of the Spirit that we all have been given and that is love. As I finish this sermon I once again find myself humming a very famous old hymn. The hymn begins with the words we are one in the Spirit and each verse ends with “and they will know we are Christians by our love.” Showing others the love of Christ without reservation without exception will do more to strengthen the body than anything else we can do. And love is the topic of next week’s passage in Corinthians.
So join me in singing this hymn and consider how you are called to live into the words. The words are in the announcements.