The text for this sermon is I Corinthians 12:12-31.
Amazement is not too strong a word for how everything works together in our body every single second of every single day. Something brushes against your arm in the dark. Millions of nerve endings communicate to your brain. Electrical impulses shoot through the stored data, identifying that what you felt was animal fur. This causes another response deeper in our brain. Fear. There shouldn’t be an animal in this room. Directions are sent from the brain to your vocal cords. You scream. More directions to your arms. They come to your chest for protection. At the same time, your legs are told to move to the door to escape. At the door, memory tells you that there was a lightswitch. Your finger perfectly toggles the little switch. Lights come on. Our pupils on cue go from huge to let in light in the dark to small in order to master sight from the flickering incandescent bulb. Our neck pivots our head to where our memory tells us we had been. Our eyes focus. We see the animal, lying on the dresser that our arm must have touched. Our vocal cords are told to let out a warning yelp. It is…a fake fur coat carelessly thrown. We sigh. Our face flushes. Embarrassed. Remarkable. Our bodies are truly a lesson in working together.
Paul, the first century writer of our scripture from Corinthians is just as amazed by our body then as we are now. As a person of faith, he credits our creative God with designing the body so that her function in the world is so seamless. Every part of our body, has an important role to play. Our brain might hold all of the knowledge, but without feet to run, we aren’t fleeing the danger she has remembered. Our body works when the sum of her parts are doing what they are supposed to and fails when they are not.
Paul uses the example of our amazing body as a metaphor for God’s intention for the church. In baptism, God has grafted us into the body of Christ Paul writes. We don’t become Christ in these waters. We become one part of the greater body of Christ. The body of Christ in its largest sense is the joining together of every Christian, in every nook and cranny of this world. Yet, Paul is thinking smaller in his letter to the Corinthians. The body of Christ is also the church, the community we live out our faith.
Like our physical body, our churches work perfectly as intended when everyone is doing the thing they were created to do. Hands being hands. Feet being feet. Those trained to be teachers are teaching. Those able to lead are leading. Those able to heal are healing. This also means that a hand can’t wake up tomorrow and say I want to be a foot today, either. We all have our own important role to play. The church isn’t healthy when any one of us is not using the gifts we have been given.
Last November, Messiah hosted a huge Harvest Festival that was a fundraiser for HEART. Through the work of many people we wound up raising $7000 in one day. Leaders planned, musicians sang and played, cooks cooked, decorators decorated, salespeople convinced businesses and people to donate products to sell, organizers marshalled labor to tear down and set up our limited space. My job as Pastor at Messiah and leader of the Board at HEART was clear. I was to welcome people, schmooze I call it. Thank them for supporting our church and the food pantry. Encourage them to continue their support and even increase it.
By 6:00 PM, I was exhausted and I still had the important dinner crowd to meet, greet and thank. So instead, this hand decided to be a foot. I hid in the kitchen and did one of my favorite tasks, washing dishes. I stayed in that kitchen washing dishes for two hours when I should have been in the halls and hallways, shaking hands and thanking our many patrons. The crazy thing was that people gave me praise for being willing to do such a “menial” task, as if it were not important. Where would we be without people willing to wash dishes? They should have criticized me for not doing the job God had prepared me to do. Sometimes it is hard to be a hand, but things don’t work as well as they could when we refuse.
While some parts of our body get more attention and honor than others, those parts whose work is hidden are just as important. So it is with the church. As the pastor, I get credit in the world for what Messiah accomplishes. You are doing such great work at Joseph’s Coat pastor. No, it is Sara Crist who quietly volunteers every week doing the good work. The meal at Messiah Night was wonderful pastor. Well, tell Richard Hangsen who cut vegetables all Wednesday afternoon. Pastor, I can’t believe you got your people to serve a meal to homeless men on Christmas Eve. I didn’t, Dave and Sally Long organized that and got people to say yes. I have a role to play and it is important, but it is no more important than the role you have to play.
Paul makes clear that in the Body of Christ, the Church, there is radical equality. All of us are vital. Our church needs every gift that God has provided. Our body is weaker, less effective in the world without your gifts. If you don’t sing in our choir, our choir won’t make as pleasing a sound for God in heaven and won’t move us closer to God in worship here on earth. If you don’t teach our children, they won’t learn the stories that will give their story meaning. If you don’t mow our lawn, then money will have to paid for someone to mow it, taken from another ministry. We each have a role to play. If we don’t play it, our body is unhealthy.
We all have different gifts. Together out different parts form this body of Christ. We all share one responsibility, though, supporting the work of our church financially. Sharing our wealth in an offering of thanks to God is the one gift that nearly every one of us can give. We might not all be able to give the same amount, but only the most financially burdened can’t afford to give anything. God’s radical equality applies to our financial gifts, too. Though our offerings might be of varying sizes, they are equally important.
And nothing works in our church without money to pay for it. Lights don’t stay on. Music can’t be purchased. Rent can’t be paid at Joseph’s Coat. Food can’t be purchased for our Y Family Shelter dinner or our Messiah Night Meal together. Salaries can’t be paid for leadership of choirs, youth, children and this church. Our body of Christ, placed by God in this corner of the Kingdom of God, needs her members to share their hard earned money in order for any of our work to happen.
There is one God, who binds us together in baptism to be the body of Christ. Our gifts and talents when generously given delight God, build up the church and serve God’s creation. Our body is made beautiful by you. Amen