1 Corinthians 12:12-31
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way.
I’m sure that some of you have seen the Facebook “10 Year Challenge” over the last couple of days. But for those of you who have not, there are a few different iterations of the challenge. Essentially, there is a meme challenging people to post their first-ever Facebook profile picture beside your most recent picture to see how well you have aged over the last decade or so. Of course, there is a conspiracy theory going around that says Facebook wants you to do this so that they can gather more data on their users. They already have your age and ethnicity, now they can refine their algorithms to assess your health, whether it is declining quickly or steadily, and sell that information to the insurance, pharmaceutical, and health care industries.
I think it is more likely that someone who has aged well thought it would be fun to show off their timeless nature to their friends. But I could be wrong.
What I think would be more interesting would be to go back to your first written Facebook post and see how much you have changed over the last decade. I decided to scroll through my timeline this week to get a feel of how I might be different now than I was in 2006 when I made my first post. My first post, from November 15, 2006 “out at a party”. No punctuation or capitalization. And I checked the timestamp. I posted that at 10:45 am; it was a Wednesday. Why was I out at a party on a Wednesday at 10:45 in the morning? And why did I step aside from that party to find a computer with an internet connection to post such an important bit of information, because remember that we didn’t have smart phones then.
While I have no idea what was going on that day, I did find it interesting to scroll through my posts to see how I’ve changed. Not my looks, but my thoughts and ideas. Over the years I’ve posted about school, I’ve posted a lot about church. And for a period, I posted a lot of political stuff. I was kind of confrontational, aggressive, and cocky. I got into a few online debates along the way.
I was a bit of a jerk.
My more recent posts include pictures of my family, the snowy rolling hills of Virginia, and uplifting stories meant to showcase the best of humanity. I can still be a bit edgy, but I’ve come to realize that social media isn’t the best place to be that guy. Those are conversations best had face-to-face with people you know. Preferably over coffee or a shared meal.
I’ve changed over the last decade, not just in appearance, but in theology and politics as well. I’m going to guess that you have as well, and that’s okay. If you are exactly the same person you were ten years ago that means one of two things: either you were perfect ten years ago, or you haven’t improved in that span of time.
While I’ve surely takes some steps backward, I feel as if I have made significant strides in relating to people who see the world differently than I do. This includes people in this church, people across the conference and denomination, and people of other religious persuasions. These conversations are helpful, meaningful, and I would argue, biblical. We are the body of Christ, and when we cut off parts of the body, the entire body suffers.
Our scripture for this morning is a part of a larger section from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. When we read scripture, it is always important to look at the context. We can’t just lift a verse or two out of an entire chapter and assume we understand what it means. If we go to the beginning of chapter 12, we find Paul talking about spiritual gifts. In verse 7, Paul says that everyone has a gift from the Spirit, gifts for the greater good of the world. Your gift isn’t for you to keep for yourself, but to make the world more like God intends for it to be. There are gifts of wisdom, healing, discernment, interpretation, and speaking in tongues.
The point Paul is making is that everyone has gifts. But Paul also realizes that not everyone’s gifts are valued the same in their society, just as they aren’t in our day an age. This sets the stage for our passage for the morning where Paul uses the metaphor of the body to describe the church. There seems to be some competition among the body parts in this metaphor. Feet are wishing that they were hands, the eyes are saying that there’s something between them and it smells, and the ears seem to be ready to defect from the body altogether and start their own entity all because they aren’t eyes.
Paul is intentionally trying to be silly because body parts don’t get jealous or territorial. They just do what they were created to do. In verses 25-26, he explains how bodies parts really work: “…there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
This metaphor is a reference to those spiritual gifts that Paul mentions earlier. He gets it, we see the gifting of others and get jealous. We wish we could sing like this person, preach like that person, memorize scripture like another, whatever it might be. But what you bring to the body is important, and without you and your gifts, the body would suffer.
Paul ends this section by naming some positions in the church. Apostles, prophets, teachers. He names some gifts and notes that not everyone will serve in the positions, not everyone will have these gifts. The chapter ends with these words: “And yet I will show you the most excellent way.”
What is the most excellent way? Paul spends the entire next chapter telling us. He says that none of these gifts matter, not one bit, if we don’t have love. The love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, is in response to quarrelling among the members of the church about who has the best gifts and who gets to serve in the most respected roles. Paul says, If I prophesy, if I have knowledge, if I speak in tongues, if I have faith to move mountains, none of it matters if I do not have love for my brothers and sisters.
I sure hope this isn’t the first time you are hearing this: Your gifts matter just as much as the next guy’s. Don’t look at the foot beside you and think that you are better or worse than them or more important to the church. We need you, and we need them. Without either of you, we would be less.
But I think that this passage was meant for more than just a local congregation. I think it was meant for the broader church. I intentionally skipped over the first few verses, but I want to come back to them now. Verses 12-13 say, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”
Paul isn’t just talking about this little Gentile church in Corinth, which was made up of former pagans. He is talking about the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, the Gentiles in Ephesus, the former slaves in Galatia. Each one brings a different gift to the conversation, each one serves a different role in the body of Christ. The world may value these gifts differently, but in the Kingdom of God, each one is needed, and to want to do without one would cause the entire body to suffer.
At our last church council meeting I shared that I had recently concluded my 9-year-term as a member of the Conference Council. Someone asked something along the lines of whether or not it had been a good experience. On one hand it has been an opportunity for me to get to know some of the people scattered across our conference, which stretches from D.C. to Tennessee and North Carolina. Or, another way it has been put, we stretch from academia to Appalachia. That’s really quite amazing, but it also comes with its challenges. I have seen churches leave our denomination and/or our conference, and been a part of those conversations of process and procedure. As our district chair, my name will forever be attached to the motion to release two churches from our conference, two churches from our district, our county. We’ve lost churches on the conservative side and churches on the progressive side. I’ll be honest, it makes meetings a lot easier without some people there and some congregations represented. And I believe that the body of Christ is weaker because of it. We no longer have to even engage those voices.
Glen Guyton, the Executive Director of our denomination put it well when he recently wrote, “With the rise of congregations joining conferences based on political or ideological affinity rather than geographic proximity, we may be losing a key strength in our denomination, regional diversity. Our middle adjudicatory could move from small diverse bodies that have to deal with differences on the micro level to ideological monoliths steeped in identity politics. Our denomination will suffer if issues of diversity aren’t first lived out in the local context. If we can’t struggle and forebear regionally with those in close proximity to us, we will never be able to do so at the national level.”
Though it is not exactly what Paul was discussing in 1 Corinthians 12, I think this is a modern example of what he was saying. When we split, separate, and no longer interact with one another, we lose diversity and the ability to talk to people who hold different perspectives.
I think this is why over the last few years I have really tried to engage other denominations in conversation. Rather than stereotyping certain groups, which is the easy way out, I find it helpful to ask members of a group what they really believe. I’ve had some great conversations with Methodist and Catholic friends, and I’ve been reading a lot of Catholic authors on human rights issues. I also find it helpful to read things that stand in opposition to things that I believe. I think it strengthens my understanding of my own belief and keeps me from misunderstanding another’s beliefs.
Does this mean we always agree at the end of a conversation? Absolutely not! But if I really believe what Paul says, that the greatest spiritual gift is love, then I’m going to try to love my brothers and sisters who are in different churches, conferences, and denominations.
You may have seen the meme that made its rounds earlier this year where two men stand on either side of a number painted on the ground. One man says, “It’s a six!” while the other says, “It’s a nine!” The caption under the picture then reads, “Just because you are right, does not mean that I am wrong. You just haven’t seen life from my side.”
There are times when that is absolutely true. If we grew up in a different place, or were raised by different parents, or went to school in a different location, we would probably see the world differently. But this week I saw a follow-up meme with the text of the original crossed out. The caption then reads, “But one of those people is wrong, someone painted a six or a nine, they need to back up and orient themselves, see if there are any other numbers to align with. Maybe there’s a driveway or a building to face, or they can ask someone who actually knows. People having an uninformed opinion about something they don’t understand and proclaiming their opinion as being equally valid as facts is what is ruining the world. No one wants to do any research, they just want to be right.”
I’m not saying that everyone is right and that anything goes. I’m saying that we all grow when we maintain relationships and conversations. We don’t have to be best friends, and we don’t even have to worship together. But the body of Christ is weaker when the foot decides to leave rest of the body.
Next week we are taking an additional offering for a Spanish-speaking church plant in our community. The plan is for this church to be a part of our district; our conference is divided into conferences based on geographical location. Our district is essentially the Mennonite churches of Augusta County. But there was a suggestion made that this new church plant could join with other Spanish-speaking churches to from a Latino District, or something like that.
I hope that the church planters are able to connect with other Spanish-speaking churches, but I don’t want to see them form their own district. I think we are stronger together, in spite of our differences. We can learn from one another, support one another, and grow together.
The body of Christ has hands and feet, eyes, ears, and noses. The church has progressives, conservatives, Latinos, and Europeans. We have people who work to bring social change, we have people who work to bring the Gospel. We have missionaries, we have teachers, we have healthcare workers. And no, we don’t have to all be best friends. But we do all have to love one another.
As I looked back through my 12+ years of Facebook posts, I think that I still agree with most of the things that I said over the years. I just don’t agree with how I said them. We are the body of Christ, and one part is not more important than another. When one suffers, we all suffer. But when one thrives, we all thrive.
May we thrive together, for the Kingdom of God.