Rev. Eric Dillenbeck
January 27, 2013
“Are We the Body?”
A few Sundays ago I was with my kids at the house and did something weird. I twisted the wrong way and my neck and back let me know pretty quickly that this was not a natural movement. I came to the church the next day and I couldn’t move my neck. I was walking around this place like a robot; doing everything I could to keep my head straight. One doctor’s visit later, a prescription for muscle relaxers and I was on my way back to the land of being fully mobile.
What amazed me was how my whole body reacted to that discomfort. If I moved my neck the slighted bit I felt that pain in the tips of my toes. Speaking of toes, who has ever broken or injured your pinky toe? Every time you take a step you can feel the discomfort in the tips of your ears when that tiny part of your body isn’t working the right way.
The human body has 209 bones, 639 muscles, and about 6 pounds of skin, along with ligaments, cartilage, veins, arteries, blood, fat, and more. We are made up of hundreds of different parts working together to balance and sustain life.
With every breath we take, every move we make, each part of the body contributes its individual piece so that what we experience is a single movement. That is why the body is one of the most powerful images for the church offered in scripture. The metaphor conveys both complexity and unity.
Paul was not the first to use this metaphor, of course. It was a popular image throughout classical literature, but Paul was the first to revolutionize the illustration by stressing the interconnectedness of the parts of the body. Traditionally this imagery was used to stress a sense of hierarchy. The lower classes were like the unimportant parts of the body and as such should simply obey the directives given by the political and military classes which were compared to the essential organs.
Paul, on the other hand, beautifully emphasizes the equality found within the church community by emphasizing how essential to the overall function and purpose of the body each part enjoys. He says, “21The 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.”
It is a beautiful image that through the ages has captured the imagination of countless poets, theologians, pastors, and lay people. It continues to inspire an understanding of church community that encourages us to claim our unity and our diversity.
But when Paul’s letter was read to the community in Corinth it probably fell like a lead balloon. You see Paul was using this image of true community to illustrate the failings of his beloved community in Corinth.
Paul’s letter to Corinthians has been a tool to correct the bad behaviors that have developed since he left the faithful there. In that community there has arisen a habit of emulating the values of the surrounding society. They have been valuing certain members of the community more than others, giving greater honor to certain gifts and talents and paying more attention to the wealthy and privileged over and against the poor and less fortunate.
To this practice Paul speaks, saying “Hold on there. All members of this community have been claimed by the waters of baptism. And in those waters the Spirit dissolved all worldly distinctions. In those waters we have been made into the Body of Christ.” “You are the BODY OF CHRIST and individually members of it,” Paul says.
Being the Body of Christ means many things. First, in those waters of Baptism we each have been gifted with gifts and talents. Those gifts and talents are IMPORTANT. Sometimes we have a habit of either elevating certain gifts above others, or diminishing our own gifts because we don’t think they are important.
But Paul reminds us that we need everyone’s gifts if we are going to fully live as Christ’s body in the world. We need the apostles and the prophets. We need the teachers and the healers. We need the leaders and the evangelists. We need those who offer hospitality and those who organize the resources we have been given. We need the bold and the humble, the quiet and the loud, the young and the old. We need all of these if we are going to live as Christ’s Body in the world.
Second, Paul makes it clear that in those waters of Baptism we have been grafted into the Body of Christ. Each of us belongs here! There is an implicit tension here for our Post Modern, Post-Denominational, increasingly individualized world. Many people want to belong without belonging.
But as far as Paul is concerned, there is no such thing as belonging without participating. A body does not work when one part checks out or holds back. Not only will that part’s function be unfulfilled, but the rest of the body will be thrown out of balance. Belonging is not a one-sided affair. In the waters of Baptism we find that we are no longer alone, we belong to the Body, but at the same time we are assuming the responsibility of functioning as part of the body of Christ.
As the body of Christ we are immersed in the Spirit of God, and as such we continue Christ’s mission to bring good news to the poor and proclaim release to the captives. We are the ones who will help people see, by the way we love and treat one another, the Body of Christ in the world. We are the ones who will help free those who are oppressed by the shame and guilt they carry, who will help free those who are oppressed by the hateful actions of others. We are those who let the oppressed go free by inviting them into the deep and unending waters of baptism.
We are the ones who will proclaim, by the nature of our communal life, the year of the Lord’s favor. We are the Body of Christ. Each one of us has an important part to play so that together we may witness to power of Jesus at work in our life and through our life.