Friday, January 23, 2015

The Body of Christ (I Cor. 12:4-26) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Staying safe is something we all think about.  I read an article titled: “How to stay safe in the world today”.  Here is what it said:  “1. Avoid riding in automobiles because they are responsible for 20 percent of all fatal accidents.  2. Do not stay home because 17 percent of all accidents occur in the home.  3. Avoid walking on streets or sidewalks because 14 percent of all accidents occur to pedestrians.  4. Avoid traveling by air, rail, or water because 16 percent of all accidents involve these forms of transportation.  5. Of the remaining 33 percent, 32 percent of all deaths occur in hospitals.   Above all else, avoid hospitals.” 

You will be pleased to learn that only .001, (one one/thousandths) percent of all deaths, occur in worship services, and these are usually related to previous physical disorders.  Bible too study is safe.   Attend church, read your Bible…it could save your life.”

Our lesson from I Corinthians is about the church, the body of Christ, the family of God.  Let's reflect for a moment about the nature of the Church and about our church. 

Our lesson calls to mind the diversity in the church.   Look around you.   People in the church are not all the same, we are different.  “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.”    “Different kinds of service, but the same Lord.”  “Different kinds of working, but the same God works in all of us.”

Yes, diversity certainly keeps things more interesting.  What a dull world it would be if we all looked the same, dressed the same, talked the same, liked the same things, thought the same, and agreed on everything.   Diversity on the one hand should be celebrated, but on the other hand, it can cause problems in terms of understanding one another and relating to one another.

For example we think of gender differences in the church.  In Genesis, we are told that God created human beings, God made us male and female, we were created in the image of God. 

I'm sure, I'm absolutely confident, that God knew in advance about the problems that would develop when he made men and women. Gender says a lot about our personalities and behavior.  

In the book, You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in Conversation, the author tells about a study of male and female students at a Baptist seminary.  The study found that women are likely to suggest, whereas men are more likely to command.  When the women gave devotions they gently invited their listeners by saying:  “Let's go to verses 15 and 16.”  The men gave orders, “Go to verse 16 or turn to verse 17.”  Women use “let's” much more frequently than men.  Female nurses often say to patients, “Let's take our medicine.”   I have found that trying to command Nancy, my wife, to do something is not terribly helpful.

You'll always find exceptions to the rule, true, but research and experience consistently point to basic differences between the way men and women act, think, and feel.  For example, men generally base their self-esteem on achievement.  Women generally base their self-esteem on relationships.  Men are generally more aggressive than women.  One university study demonstrated that women were better able to read emotion in facial expressions than men.  Men and women see the world through different eyes.  What's the name of that book - Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus.  No wonder men and women don't always understand each other, we're from different planets.   Or am I way off here?

We in the church are diverse in terms of birth order.  Studies show that the oldest child is usually more conservative than his or her younger siblings, because the oldest often reflects the mores and attitudes of the parents.  Older children tend to be more anxious about being supplanted in the family nest.  They tend to be more dissatisfied with themselves because so much was expected of them as children.  Older children tend to go into the hard sciences, whereas later-born children are generally more attracted to the creative arts.

We are diverse in terms of our talents, abilities and spiritual gifts, as the passage tells us.  To one is given the gift of wisdom, to another the gift of knowledge, to another the gift of healing, to another miracles, to another prophecy and so forth.  We are different in terms of our God given gifts and abilities which God calls us to use in the ministry of the church and in our lives.

We are diverse in terms of our tastes and styles in worship and music.  Some are comforted by hymns and inwardly groan when asked to learn a contemporary song.  Others like new praise songs and inwardly groan when asked to sing a hymn.  For some music and singing is the high point of worship.  Other people would rather pray more, and have more opportunity for silence and quiet contemplation.  Still others come to hear a sermon, the sermon is the most important part of worship for them.  Others find it might be time to catch up on sleep during the sermon. We bring a wide variety of backgrounds and preferences for style and taste in worship and music. 

We think of diversity in terms of whether we are more right brain or left brain.    Science tells us that the way we think may be determined by which side of our brain is dominant.  Left brain dominate people are more fact-oriented, opinionated, literal, whereas right brained dominant people tend to be more creative, artistic, emotional, and visual. 

We are diverse in terms of our age, our race, our ethnicity, our life experiences and the wisdom and insights we have gained in life over the years. 

We are different in terms of our preference for service in the church: singing in the choir or in the Sounds of Worship; serving as a deacon or elder, usher, liturgist, or on a committee; teaching Sunday school; playing bells; serving homeless people on Sunday evenings; working with youth or young adults; decorating the sanctuary; or helping in the office.  

Our passage from Corinthians addresses the concept of diversity using another metaphor.  The church is one body with many parts.   Although there are many parts, it is one body.    This passage is speaking about unity, but not uniformity.  That is diversity within the context of unity.   Both notions are being affirmed.  Corinthians is clear that we in the church are not unified by our personalities or our experiences in life or our intellect, we are unified by the one God, God the father, son and Holy Spirit. 

The diversity that this passage was originally referring to was having Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, rich and poor all worshipping and working together in one church.   Such diversity created problems and our author, the apostle Paul, was attempting to teach, encourage and bring harmony in the church with this truth, this theological truth, about the nature of Christ's church. 

We are told that some of us are hands, some are eyes, some are ears, some are feet, but all parts are essential.  One might argue that the brain is the most important part.  Oh Ya.   If you don't think all parts of our body are equal, try stubbing or breaking your little toe.  It is amazing how one little toe can stop you in your tracks, how it can put your life on hold, and become an obstacle to your mobility. 

In the 1990's, Kenny Rogers of the Texas Rangers baseball team had just pitched the 12th perfect game in major league history.  The opposing team had no hits, no runs and no one even reach first base.  The Rangers played an outstanding defensive game in the field. The game featured a diving catch by rookie outfielder Rusty Greer in the  ninth inning to preserve this perfect game.  Greer said:  “I was going to give it my best effort whether I caught it or not.”   Someone raised this question:  “Did the pitcher hurl a perfect game or was the entire team responsible for that no-hitter?”   The answer was without question, it was a team effort, the pitcher could not have done it alone.   He obviously could not have played all 9 positions in the field by himself.  He was dependent upon the other players and they were dependent upon him.  So it is with the church.

In thinking about this passage, I sometimes ask myself how do we do it?  How do we get along?  It's truly a wonder that anything gets done in the church.  It's amazing that we can work together in ministry and mission at all.   What is God's word, what is God saying to us in this text?

First, God created us as diverse people.  God intentionally did this.  It was God's plan from the beginning.  And God has called us, as diverse as we are, into His one church.  God created diversity so it must be good.  Diversity means that you are a unique person, one of a kind. God's intent was to create a rich tapestry of people in His church.

Second, all of the parts of the body of Christ, all members of the church, are important and equal, all are significant and necessary for the healthy and effective functioning of the body.   If one part of the body suffers every part suffers with it, if one part is celebrated, every part rejoices with it.   We are interdependent.

Third, God wants us to love and accept one another's diversity.  God wants us to celebrate and respect one another in the church, even though we may think and act differently.    We are to respect one another's differences, to respect our varied abilities and gifts, to be patient with one another, and to always strive to understand and affirm that each of us has a place in God's family.  We are not alike, we don't see things alike, but we are all precious persons in God's sight. 

Fourth, God imparts diversity, not to instill confusion or chaos, but so that in the Spirit we will work together for the common good.  We have a single purpose.  To build up the church, the body of Christ, in order that we might fulfill God's purpose for His church, which is to spread the gospel, to make disciples of all nations, and to win the world for Christ.    May God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be glorified in His church.   Amen!

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