Third Sunday After Epiphany, 2016
Luke 4:14-21, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
You know how we can know something in our minds and how we can say it to other people, perhaps even teach it? You know how we can outwardly affirm certain pieces of information or perspectives but still feel unsettled about them? For whatever reason, the information can’t make it from our heads to our hearts. Whatever it is makes sense, but I don’t really believe it. And when I talk with people about this phenomenon, I will unfailingly place my hand upon my heart…because I really “get” something if it’s in my heart.
The message I hear in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth was one such message where I understood it and appreciated it but felt unsettled about it. Then, one day this past summer, Paul’s message finally made sense not only in my head but also in my heart. Paul uses the physical body as a metaphor for the spiritual body of Christ. Paul tells the Christians in Corinth that, like a physical body, each member of the body of Christ is important. To use the body as metaphor, Paul tells the Corinthians that ears, eyes, hands, arms, necks, noses are all important. All serve an important—and individual—purpose, and when they cannot or do not serve their purpose, the whole body suffers. Each part of the body is unique and valuable even though and especially because each part of the body is different than and has a different purpose than all the other parts. The ears are neither asked nor expected to see just as the eyes are neither asked nor expected to hear. Each part of the body is not only important in its own right but in its relationship to the other parts of the body. Think about this. What if the body were made up entirely of noses? What could the body do well? What could the body not do? The body is interconnected. Most of us have probably experienced some sort of illness in our lives, and most of the time, when we’re sick, we can’t segment our bodies and say half of us is well and vibrant and able to go to work while the other half of us is sick as a dog. No, our bodies don’t work that way. When one part of our body, like our sinus cavity, is ill, our whole body is ill. Of course, when we look at the body in this way, it makes complete sense to us the point that Paul is making. At least, it made complete sense to me. Each person is a part of the body of Christ, and all members of the body, though many, are one body—important, valued, interconnected.
My guess this morning is that none of us would disagree with this assessment: that all members of the body of Christ, every single person, of every status and socioeconomic class, of every age and gender, of every sexual orientation and race, every single person is important, valued, and interconnected. I am almost ashamed to say this: even though I intellectually assented to the equal importance and value of each person, what I didn’t understand is that, in the body of Christ, no member is an object of pity. Every member has a purpose, has agency, has the power of the Holy Spirit at work in them. No member of the body of Christ is an object of pity. Paul writes about how the weaker and less honorable and less respectable members of the body are indispensable, are clothed with greater honor and greater respect. And so I thought that I could distinguish between members of the body of Christ who were more or less strong, honorable, or respectable. But Paul goes on to write: 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. In other words, God has already made each member of the body of Christ honorable, and every member of the body of Christ deserves the same care from the other members.
As Christians, we may have been taught that there are some people who are deserving of our pity, perhaps people living in poverty or people living with disabilities, perhaps people who have endured abuse or people who are struggling with a mental illness. We may have been taught that the people who deserve our pity have few gifts or resources of their own. So, we may have been taught that we must use our gifts and resources in order to help others who do not have these gifts and resources. Poor them. They and their circumstances are so sad. And of course, to understand my heart here is to step into the nuance of my words. We ARE absolutely called to care for one another with our gifts and resources but not because we perceive need in others. Rather, it is our own need to give and especially to give of ourselves in relationship with one another. What I realized in my heart was that I am in need. We are each in need. We each struggle. We are each limited. We each have a purpose, but we don’t have everyone’s purpose. Each purpose, each member is important, valued, interconnected. The members of the body whom we assume do not have a purpose DO, in fact, HAVE A PURPOSE. The members of the body whom we assume are too broken to give of themselves for the sake of the whole body of Christ is wildly disempowering and usually inaccurate. People are not objects of pity. I need you as much as you need me. You need the person next to you as much as the person next to you needs you.
Because we are each of us members of the body of Christ, because we are each of us beloved children of God, we are not objects of pity but rather people of God who are blessed by relationships with other members of the body of Christ. You are a blessing to me, and I am a blessing to you. In every relationship, the blessing goes both ways. For we know that the nose needs the eyes to see and the ears to hear even when the nose’s sense of smell is excellent. God has given us to each other, not to pity one another, not to lord over others the purpose or the gifts we have been given but to freely share not only our gifts and resources but ourselves in relationship.
This is what now makes sense not only in my head but in my heart. If this makes sense to you too, I invite you to allow this knowledge to transform the way you interact with others. We are all stumblers, journeyers, sinners who need God and one another, and in our need, God gives us the body of Christ. Thanks be to God! Amen.