Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
Since my arrival here, I think I have preached almost exclusively on the Gospel reading on Sundays. This pattern works well because of the ongoing narrative that plays out through the lectionary, whether sometimes disjointed or not. Every once in a while we are offered a two week telling of a story, and this week is one of those times. Next Sunday we will hear the conclusion of the story of Jesus reading and teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth. This affords me an opportunity to turn my attention elsewhere today without losing the narrative, and especially as it falls on the same Sunday as our Annual Meeting, how can I pass up an opportunity to talk about Paul’s first letter to the Church in Corinth?
Paul writes to a church that is fractured. There are competing members of the church and the relations in that community are very broken. Paul wants to make a case for unity and connectedness which the church is struggling to maintain. What better way to talk about the unity of the Body of Christ than in terms the listeners would already know? Paul sets about describing the body of Christ in terms of body parts. Ears and eyes, feet and hands. This idea of imagining society as a body, an straightforward example, exists throughout classical literature, so the church Paul is writing to has heard this sort of language before. The difference is that Paul’s writing takes this common trope and turns it on it’s head. Pun very much intended.
The image of society as a body was often used to showcase how some members of society were more important than others. Surely a brain has more importance than a pinky toe. Except….have you ever stubbed your toe? There are certainly times when that little toe is far more important. Of course all of this is set in a very different time, with different science, and a different understanding of medical function, so we know now that truly every part of the body serves some function, and if one part is harmed, other parts may be too. Paul’s description pushes in a different direction. Paul wants the church to understand that every member is equally important to the survival of the church and the community. I really like the phrase, “if the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?”
The idea that the lowest members and the highest members have their existence tied together in the function of the body of Christ is what Paul is driving at. We know that there were times when poorer members were kept from entering the room where the mass was being celebrated, because there wasn’t enough room for them, or perhaps they were not invited to the larger feast of the community. Paul addresses these sorts of practices a few times throughout his letters and his aim is to reflect the same values of the Kingdom of God that Jesus did. Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew that the first will be last and the last will be first. The hierarchy of the Kingdom of God is proclaimed as something upside down from how most of society functions, both at the time and still today.
Finally Paul moves into showing that this subversion of hierarchy isn’t just for the members, but extends as well to the hierarchy of the community. He lists rolls like apostle and preacher, and gifts like speaking in tongues or healing. These are all members of the body of Christ and they all flourish together, not singularly. Just before this passage we read today, in First Corinthians, Paul has that similarly well known writing about their being many gifts but one Spirit. This is in many ways a continued explanation of that. Teaching that every member of the body is equally important, just as every gift the Spirit is important, because we are all bound and buoyed up by the same Spirit that Christ has sent into the world to assist us in carrying out the work of the Kingdom of God and Christ’s ministry. As one body functions only together, so too will we only thrive if we strive to work together.
How, you might ask, does this apply to us here at St. Andrew’s? Well, without sounding too congratulatory, I think it’s important to acknowledge we don’t struggle with the same issues in the same way that the church in Corinth did. We are not fractured, we are not divided entirely, and though we all have our differences we gather ourselves as one parish to proclaim with a loud voice in this community the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
But, it is important to be reminded that no one person can shoulder all the work of this parish, nor does this parish thrive without all its members taking a part. Imagine if the Altar Guild was to simply stop coming, or the secretary to disappear. The building committee, the worship committee, the choir, the folks that are greeters out in the narthex, or those that sign up for coffee hour, or those that volunteer for our pantry. These are just some of the many facets of life and ministry here at St. Andrew’s and without one of them the rest of the body hurts.
In the grand scheme of things I tend to think I’m more an elbow. I bend and move, and try to support others in their work. I have a function here just like everyone else, and I don’t deserve any more praise at a successful working of ministry than anyone else here receives. We thrive or we perish together as one body.
As I turn my thoughts to our Annual Meeting and all the reports that have been written around the various ministries I think about our body of Christ here at St. Andrew’s. I think about all the work that has been done and all the work that we have before us. Much of that work is by choice. We can as a community decide to continue working to our mission or not. We can enliven ourselves and as we come into a new age of this parish, begin discerning anew our gifts, our call, and our lives together. I want you to take time to think about where God is calling you. Pray about what gifts or interests you feel called to explore.
Truly this body has so many parts, so many members and each one of us has something important to offer. Maybe you have a love for cleaning and pressing linens. Don’t laugh, I actually loved doing that when I was a sacristan in seminary. Maybe you love to read. Maybe you feel called to healing ministries. Maybe the Spirit has awakened in you a passion for some other ministry that is yet to be started. Maybe you are called to just show up from time to time and share in the sacraments. Wherever it is that the Spirit of God is calling you, let us enter into that discernment together. We should all be praying about and exploring together the different gifts and parts of this body and how that work contributes to the wholeness of the community.
As the one Body of Christ, it is our call to do all this together. Some days we will do it better than others, but we are always called to prayer and discernment about where God is inviting us. We all gather around this table, to share in the sacrament of bread and wine, the body and blood, as one body, so let us always strive together to live into that vision that Paul gives us, and the command that Christ gives us, to be one in the Spirit.