Unity and Diversity in the Body
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. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
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. 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. 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? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
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!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 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, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that 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.
~ 1 Corinthians 12:12-26
I wonder, do any of you like to do puzzles? I know that some of you do because we have several puzzles that are part of the lending library in Maxcy Hall. But I have to say, I have always loved doing puzzles. Actually, puzzle making is something that my family has done together for years, especially when we are on vacation in Maine or Little Compton. I’ve always found the activity of puzzle making relaxing, though you can make yourself crazy over finding just the right piece, sometimes. And I’ve spent some late nights, bargaining with myself, saying “Okay, I’ll go to bed once I just get one more piece!” Or “Once I finish this section.”
But the part that I love about puzzle making is the fact that it takes every piece to complete the picture. Every piece is important, and every piece has its own gift to share. Some of the pieces have straight edges and make the outside of the puzzle. Some help to spell words of the puzzle or complete the small details. And others that may seem plain, mundane and every day, come together to make the sky or the sea or to frame the background of the picture. When you make a puzzle, you don’t throw any pieces away. Every piece is important!!
Friends, this fall we’ve been dreaming of a new way to be church and we have reflected on the awesome responsibility that was given to the early followers of Jesus to start and to build the Christian Church. It has to have been overwhelming! What made it even more difficult is there was no model for the early disciples to follow, no denominational leaders to turn to, and the New Testament hadn’t been written yet! There was no structure in place or even discussed as to what the church should resemble or should be. Jesus had simply told his disciples before leaving them and ascending into heaven, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) So, their job, as the church, was to witness, a word that we are not usually very comfortable with here in Oldtown. But what that really meant was that it was their job to tell the story of Jesus, to tell others about what they had seen and heard and experienced. And that is exactly what they did.
Now did they all tell the same exact story? No, they told the stories of their experiences and the stories that they had been told by others. And did they immediately build a building hoping that people would come and listen to their stories on Sunday mornings? No. They told their stories to people they met on the road and in the town square. They shared the stories over dinner and as they worked to help others. While they told their stories, they showed hospitality and reached out to help those who needed it.
So, they not only witnessed and preached about the good news, but they taught it by example through their everyday actions. And little by little, the church began to sprout and grow as the disciples traveled and shared the good news of Jesus, in word and in deed, with others.
Folks, it was a messy start. And to be honest, the road has never been completely clear and straight and narrow. It’s still messy today because as followers of Jesus we’re supposed to understand that the church is not about a building. It’s not about a denomination or a title or a name or a particular preacher or a set of rules. The church is about the followers of Jesus, the stories that they share, the things that they do, and the way that teach others by their own example.
Friends, today we celebrate World Communion Sunday, a day when we break bread and celebrate communion along with our brothers and sister all around the world. But do we all understand communion the same way? No. Some followers of Jesus believe that the bread and the wine truly become the body of Christ, (the fancy word for that is “transubstantiation”) and others simply share the elements to remember the story of Jesus, knowing in their hearts that what happens at the table is a sacred mystery. Some churches share high liturgies and serve wafers and wine in shiny golden chalices and on fancy platters, while others share a simple story and share bread and juice in and on humble stoneware. But is one way right and the other way wrong? No. It is simply a difference in interpretation. It’s the way that we understand the story because of what we have been taught and what we have experienced in our lives.
But here’s the big question for today: with all of God’s strength and power and wisdom, don’t you think God could have found a better way to structure the church so that it was run like a well-oiled machine so that we could all understand the same way? Couldn’t Jesus have left a more complete business plan for the disciples to follow, detailing exactly what they were supposed to do?
Well, folks, to be honest, that comes from our human way of thinking. We want the answers given to us so that we don’t have to think, and we want the work done for us so that we just have to show up to get credit. Unfortunately, that’s not the way that God imagined it.
This was God’s plan. God came to Earth as Jesus to teach by his own example how to act and what to do, how to treat others and how to allow our faith to center us and guide us on our journey. Then, God made each one of us in God’s image, placing within each one of us special gifts and passions.
And that, my friends, that’s where our reading from 1 Corinthians comes in because today’s reading tells us that every person is given something to do that shows the world who God is. In the body, some of us are eyes and others ears, some are hands and feet and teeth and noses. We are each unique in our own way. None of us are exactly the same, and that’s a good thing! Every one of us is an important piece of the puzzle. Every piece matters. Not one piece can be thrown away!! And just like the body is made up of different parts, the Body of Christ is made up of different parts too.
Friends, the church was not started by one person, and it can’t be led by one person. It takes all of us to listen for God’s still speaking voice and to follow our individual calls, because God gives each of us gifts and passions that make us who we are. And when we share our true selves and the things that we love to do with one another, that’s how we build up the church.
So friends, take a minute and think about something that you are good at. Think about what you are passionate about. Are you a storyteller or a good listener? Are you organized or outgoing? Do you inspire others or are you good at fundraising? Perhaps you have a creative spirit or a heart of compassion or an ability to help others heal in mind body or spirit.
Well, those are all “gifts of the spirit,” God-given gifts that are freely given to make you into the person that you are! My friends, each person here today has a gift to share. Every person is an important piece of the puzzle, and there is not one person that matters more or less than another.
Now some of you have already begun to recognize and identify your gifts, and if you haven’t yet, don’t worry. They are in there, you just haven’t found them yet. But the best way to find your gifts is to simply be yourself. God made you just the way you are for a reason. You see, we don’t need to be perfect at everything. That would defeat the purpose. Friends, we are ALL given individual gifts that work together to build up the body of Christ and to make the world a better place.
A wonderful example of truly being the body of Christ is the canned goods collection we were a part of today. The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church. Every part is dependent on every other part, the parts we talk about and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts that are often hidden. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the joy of the celebration. Friends, as the Body of Christ, and as individual pieces of the puzzle, we all called to work together to make the world a better place!
So, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, stay open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in your life. Don’t be afraid to be the person that God created you to be. Remember that you matter! And then whatever you do and where ever you go, make good choices, and use your gifts wisely, always striving to make the world a better place!
May it be so, thanks be to God. Amen.