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Recipe for Whole-iness"
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
When Paul was working with the early churches, he frequently had some difficulty holding things together. In many respects, his situation probably was not a whole lot different from that of our bishops and district superintendents today.
But while our bishop and district superintendent have access to such modern conveniences as the automobile and the telephone, Paul didn't.
Although Paul travelled a lot, he wrote even more. And that's to our advantage. Because when he wrote, although he may have had only one church in mind immediately, I'm sure that he had all of the churches in mind when he composed his messages.
And the manner in which those messages were put together make them useful for us today, almost two thousand years later.
One of the problems in his churches was simply holding things together. And to address that problem he addressed the church at Corinth with a metaphor, much like Jesus might have used a parable.
Beginning with the twelfth verse of the twelfth chapter of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, we read, "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.
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."
Now, one of the problems in the early church was the question of who rightly belonged in it. There were Jews who thought that the Gentiles had no place, and if they did, they should first become Jews to belong. And there was also class discrimination. Should Slaves be a part of the church or not? Or should they form their own group?
Even today, there are two major African-American Methodist churches in this country: the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church Zion; both formed because the white Methodists treated African Americans as if they did not belong in the predominantly white church.
But Paul's message is clear: "Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many."
And we may look at the millions of United Methodists in this country, or the tens of thousands in our conference, or even the thousands in our district, and shrug our shoulders and say, "So what?" But Paul isn't talking only about numbers. Paul is not talking only about quantity. And he suddenly shifts direction on us.
"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."
Now, that seems reasonable enough. But do we really believe it? Do we really believe that the one who uses the feet to deliver the message is no less a part of the body of humanity than the one who used hands to write the message?
Or do we rather elevate some skills as wonderful, and ignore other skills so much that those who have those skills feel forgotten, left out, as if no one thought those skills had any importance at all?
But Paul is just warming up. "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."
And if we listen real close, we will realize that Paul isn't just talking about eyes and ears and hands and feet. He's talking about acceptance and rejection, and affirmation and denial. And he's telling us, rather bluntly, that denying truth does not make it go away.
We may reject others, but they are still with us in the body of Christ. We may deny that we have any significant part in the events of the world, but that does not put us outside those events. We continue to be part of them because we are in the world.
And Paul asks us, "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?"
Now, this opens up lots of possibilities. We might ask, what would the world be like if everyone had the same occupation, if we all had exactly the same likes and dislikes.
For one thing, the world would be colossally boring; but for another, there would be a great many tasks that would not get done. And consider this: What if all the churches had one or two thousand members? Would that meet the needs of all?
"But as it is, God arranged the members of the body, each one of them, as he chose."
Now, too often we hear the first part of this message, the "God arranged" creation part, and we tune out before we hear the "he chose" part. And that, I think, is what is most important here to Paul. All of the parts of the body are important because God CHOSE them for a PURPOSE. And while we're busy quibbling over which purpose may be more important than another purpose, we forget that God chose the purpose.
And if God made that decision, who are we to say that one is more significant than another?
"If all were a single member, where would the body be?" Quite obviously, there would BE no body! But how often do we wish we could perform the tasks of others, disdaining our own role in life?
Or how often do we look down on others, thinking that what they do is LESS than what we do?
Consider this: What would happen if every one in the country who works at the minimum wage, or less, should suddenly cease to work and the jobs should suddenly disappear? I suspect that the country would come to a stumbling, uncomfortable halt. The absence of those parts of the body might shut it down.
"As it is, there are many members, yet one body."
Politicians, at least in this country, have the remarkable habit of tearing each other to shreds as they campaign, and then, after the votes have been counted, the loser calls for uniting behind the winner.
Every four years, we unite behind a new or a re-elected president, because this country is, I believe, like one body. But, in another sense, this country is part of a larger body, part of the body of Christ in the world.
"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."
But how is it possible for one part of the body to even THINK of another part, "I have no need"?
I suspect that when we think like that we are like children running away from home. Children who don't really know what their needs are, because they have taken for granted that they will be taken care of.
"On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable."
New York City once discovered that it is not a good thing to laugh at the garbage collectors when they ask for an increase in their wages. The garbage collectors realized that there was only one thing that would bring New York to understand that they were important: don't pick up the garbage. And although New York is not particularly noted for clean streets and clean air, New Yorkers found that it can always get worse.
And New York found that garbage collectors are indispensable.
"...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; whereas our more respectable members do not need this."
I think it's fairly clear here, how this might apply to the physical human body. But what is the meaning beyond that? I think that Paul is telling us what we SHOULD be doing as the body of Christ.
So just how do we clothe with greater honor that which we think less honorable? Well, for starters, in the church we need to invest greater honor in any task that others do that we just take for granted, or that we don't want to do.
"...God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another."
The reverse of that is that the superior part of the body gets the lesser honor. Yet, I'm not altogether sure what to make of this. We know just a little bit more than Paul did about physiology and anatomy.
And I have no idea what was on Paul's mind when he thought of such things as brain and heart and lungs and liver and kidneys and all that sort of thing.
But I do hear echoes of Jesus' teaching that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. And we know that those body parts which we can't see are really those parts which are responsible for maintaining the parts we CAN see.
And I can't help but think of the movie set.
When we see a movie, in the theatre or on the television screen, we see what would appear to be a natural, effortless picture. But behind the camera is a mass of humanity and machinery which are necessary to the production.
I read once of a scene on a television program that comprised less than two minutes of that program, yet took four hours to produce. And some movie scenes, which take us only a few minutes to view, can take WEEKS to put together. When we see the body of a fellow human, much like we are unconscious of a movie or television production crew, we are also unconscious of the complex organs, of the complex thought processes, that keep the human body and soul going.
And even though Paul didn't live in the twentieth century, he knew, all to well, what we know now.
"If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it."
And we know that if part of the body starts to malfunction, other parts of the body will attempt to compensate, to take up the slack. But at the same time, all parts of the body will begin to feel that malfunction, and will begin to suffer along with it.
And Paul tells us, "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it."
And all that he has told us about the human body is intended as metaphor for the body of Christ. And we don't have to go far or to look very hard to see how if one of us suffers, all of us suffer.
I suppose we've all experienced--or at least heard of--drought. In wheat country, where I grew up, it can be especially brutal. Yet, there are those, outside of agriculture, who would think to themselves that is a problem for "somebody else."
They forget that they still need to eat, and that the problem is theirs too. We may not feel responsible for others, but we can't avoid being affected by their lives and their suffering.
"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."
I really do have to disagree with Paul on this. I don't believe God rank-ordered these positions first, second, third, etc. I don't see apostles above prophets above teachers and so on.
It may well be that some folks spend more time with their position; it may well be that some talents are more difficult to find; but does that mean that some are to be ranked higher than others? I don't believe so.
But Paul closes out this passage with a string of questions: "Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?"
And the answer to all of these questions should obviously be "No." But then again, maybe to some the answer isn't so obvious. How many persons have you heard say, "I can't do anything." What they mean is "I can't do EVERYTHING."
So they give up entirely. But God doesn't expect "everything." God only expects us to do what God has chosen us to do. And Paul tells us to "strive for the greater gifts."
So what is the recipe for whole-iness? It is finding and accepting those gifts from God which God has chosen for us. And in doing so, as part of the wholeness of the body of Christ, we will also discover the holiness that is awaiting us.
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