Many and One

January 27, 2019

Service for the Lord’s Day

Annual Congregational Meeting

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

12: 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.  27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:12-31, NRSV)

Let us pray: In you, O Lord, we find our joy, through your law and your prophets you formed a people in mercy and freedom, in justice and righteousness. So, we pray that you will pour out your Spirit on us today, that we who are Christ’s body may bear the good news of your promises to all. Amen.

Every so often a biblical text seems to fit the focus of a Sunday or the work of the church so perfectly, that it makes me wonder if it is truly a gift from God. This Sunday is one of those occasions when the focus of our worship and the work of the congregation coincide with the wisdom of the lectionary. Today is the annual congregational meeting and the epistle reading for today is the well-known admonition from the Apostle Paul using the metaphor of the human body as the body of Christ, the church. Paul deals with what it means to be united when we are so different. How to be one amid diversity. How to remain together with such talented and gifted people who make up the church and how we relate to each other.

My sermon for today is based on Paul’s teaching in Corinth around the year A.D. 54 or 55, two decades or so after Jesus. The new Corinthian church was growing and doing well. They reported that they were filled with knowledge and using the “spiritual gifts” that God blessed them with.   But, with most growth and change not all the news from Corinth was so good. These gifts that should have drawn the Corinthian Christians closer together was instead causing jealousy, division, and schisms in the church. The lines were being drawn between the more conservative Jewish Christians and the more liberal Greek Christians, between the politically enslaved and the politically free, between those who emphasize speaking in tongues and those who emphasized speaking boldly about Christ, between the followers who were loyal to the teachings of Paul or Peter or Apollos.  There were many factions in this church, and each of them was equally passionate and committed to their viewpoints and beliefs.  So, they asked the Apostle Paul for guidance, “What shall we do with all these divisions in the church?” Chapters 12-14 of the book of I Corinthians are Paul’s cohesive response to the issue of diversity and division with the church.

Paul says, “The body is one and has many members.” “The body” in this case means more than one thing.  He (Paul) is mixing his metaphors here in a beautiful way as he uses the physical body to describe the communal body of the church sense.

I can’t read this passage without thinking back to my former church in small town Tennessee and the old curmudgeon Roman Catholic Priest, in our local ministerial association used to say about this text…” some members of the body of Christ are the hemorrhoids! Every church has got them.” Anyway.

So, there we sat gathered around a table, on Wednesday morning. All very committed members of the Indian Hill Church but we were also Republicans and Democrats, Independents and moderates. Young, middle age and elderly. Discussing the recent unpleasantness in Washington DC that was captured on a camera phone and quickly went viral for all to see, to pass judgement and to condemn. If a picture is worth 1000 words, then video tells so much more.  As time passed and the story evolved, we found out that it was much more complicated than it first seemed, a face-off between a Catholic High School Junior and a Native American elder on the steps of the Lincoln memorial over a week ago.

It was clear that as we discussed the recent event that we would never come to a conscious and that is not my point, because we are all entitled to our opinions and our viewpoints, no matter how diverse.  No, what struck me was what kept us together.  When it was clear that we all would not agree on the interpretation of this recent event why did we continue talking? What kept us from throwing salt shakers and silverware at each other?  Trying to stab each other with our forks or worse.  Dividing up into camps of Red and Blue, declaring war and never gathering around a table again?   It is what I believe the Apostle Paul is getting at in this passage.

There is one Spirit, but a variety of gifts as well as opinions.

There is one Lord, but a variety of ways that people serve.

There is one God and Father, but a variety of ways that people work for the kingdom. God gives different gifts to different people.

Some, are hardcore to the right;

Others, just as hardcore to the left.

A Few of us are much too confused to be either.

Some, a passion for a more literal interpretation of the Bible,

Others, a passion for a more open and progressive interpretation of the Bible.

All of us, however, is bound together with love. 

In just the same way, that each and every one of us in this room today is inspired by the one and same Spirit, the Spirit who gives to each person their unique and different perspective, their passions and their gifts. This is what Paul is teaching.  Diversity in oneness is okay, not only is it okay it is a gift from God.  Work together to stay together.

Just as the human body is a unified whole, composed of millions of different parts, so is Christ and his body.

The human body is miraculously complex,

With 60 million cells,

With 36 million heart beats every year,

With 300 billion red cells produced every day,

With 60,000 miles of blood vessels in each body.

Just as the human mind cannot begin to fathom the complexity of its own body, so it is with us, with the body of Christ. Our minds cannot comprehend the complexity of the body of Christ.[1] 

Christ is a living body, composed of billions of parts, miraculously complex, with billions of members, located in millions of different settings, with thousands of different languages, with thousands of unique cultures and billions of expressions of the true faith…throughout all the centuries of recorded time.

The human mind cannot begin to fathom the complexity of the body of Christ, any more than the human mind can imagine the 60,000 miles of blood vessels in one’s own physical body.

As the Apostle Paul says, we have these gifts, these passions in our hearts, these workings, these ways of serving God and God’s kingdom; but if you don’t have love inside of you for our sisters and brothers, who think and feel differently than you, then you are nothing. The greatest gift that God has for you and me, all of us, is love is love.  Love for people who don’t think like you.  Love for people who do not share your point of view of the world, of politics, of life.  Love is a sappy, over used, misunderstood word— but it is what holds us — the body of Christ together. The greatest of these is love.

Amen.


[1] Reverend Edward F. Markquart, Division, Diversity, and Oneness in the Parish: A Conflict Drama