14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
1 Corinthians 12:12-31
12For 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. 13For 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.
14Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If 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. 16And 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.
17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 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."
22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and 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; 24whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28And 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. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
Do you ever get fed up with someone at work? Maybe they have this really annoying habit that drives you nuts. Maybe they haven’t perfected their manners yet. Or maybe their concept of reality is so different from yours that you can’t even understand what they’re thinking .
Life in community is hard because we’re all different, and frankly, we’re pretty peculiar. It’s often hard for us to understand each other; sometimes it’s hard to put up with others, let alone enjoy their company. Our culture tells us to value diversity, but it’s much more comfortable to be around people who think and act in ways we understand.
Paul reminds us that our differences are a strength, not a weakness. We aren’t different to make life difficult or even interesting. We’re different because the church and the world need many different things. We have different interests and skills and ways of doing things because all of those differences are useful in some way for building up God’s kingdom and making the world a better place.
We often worry about how much time our kids spend playing video games, and rightly so. The data for how many hours a day are spent in front of a screen with guns blazing is truly alarming and there are significant risks to too much of this kind of pastime, to say nothing about how many other things often get neglected. But a recent study revealed that surgeons who played three hours a week of video games had better skills in laparoscopic surgery. God can turn even something we usually think of as a waste of time into an asset for serving others, and God can turn all of our differences and peculiarities into ministry.
When people find out that I am a paramedic they often say, “Wow, I could never do what you do.” I’m glad for that. First of all, it makes it much easier for me to find work, but more importantly there are thousands of jobs out there that other people are doing that I wouldn’t be able to do.
I worked as a paralegal during my first year out of college. The firm was a good fit for me in a lot of ways. It was a small group of lawyers working for justice in the sentencing and appeal phase of criminal cases. Many of our clients were poor and some had received unreasonably harsh sentences because they hadn’t had access to good defense lawyers in the first place. Others were women who had turned to crime in large part to get out of an abusive relationship. It was a friendly workplace with a strong sense of justice and I learned a lot there. But I only worked there four months because I don’t enjoy most kinds of office work and I’m not very good at it. God gave me gifts, but not those gifts. I’m glad God calls people like my former boss Peter to serve in that way, because the work is important, but it’s not where God has called me.
God made each of us for a purpose. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what God calls us to specifically, which can be very frustrating. And sometimes our calling changes over time as we change and learn new things. But at every point in our life God calls us to something and we’ll be happiest following that calling.
Some people can walk on their hands, but it works much better if we walk on our feet. And it works better if we use our hands to build and to draw and to cook.
The body needs all of its parts to be its best, and all the parts have to work together. Most of us take walking for granted, but when you watch a baby learning how to walk you notice that there’s actually lots of coordination involved in this simple process. Feet, ankles, legs, hips, arms, stomach, head all have to work together to walk properly. And of course the body does many more complicated things than walking. Each member of the body has to play its part with the others to work in harmony.
That’s why Paul uses the image of a body for the church. The church is made up of many members and each member is different. We look different, we like doing different things; we all have our unique perspective on the world. We are each different, but we are one body in Christ. We come together in love, in worship, in service, and we are one body.
Each member has something to offer, some set of gifts and experiences and interests that make the body stronger. On our own we can’t do much with our gifts, just like a hand by itself is powerless. But together we can do incredible things; incredible things that are only possible because we are a unified body with diverse parts.
There are some challenges to being a body, however. Paul warns the church about two dangers; the first is self-doubt: “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.” Some of us have high-profile, easy to recognize gifts. It’s easy to see some of the gifts God gives our choir members, for instance, or Carl and Sally in their preaching. Others of us have gifts that might be less noticeable. We might even feel like our gift doesn’t matter, that we aren’t an important part of the body.
When we feel that way we’re not likely to participate as enthusiastically in the life of the church and our spiritual life often suffers. But we are still part of the body, and as Paul says, “The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensible.” God called each of us here, and the body isn’t as strong or as beautiful if any of us is missing. All of our gifts matter and it’s up to us individually and as a community to find ways for each of us to engage our gifts in the church’s life. That’s something we’ll be talking about more in the future, so keep your ears open, but spend some time thinking about how God might be calling you to use your gifts here.
The second risk is pride about our own gifts and looking down on others who are different. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you.’” We support each other in ministry and none of us can be effective on our own. The body has to work together to work properly.
I turned on the TV yesterday afternoon and saw skiers jumping off a high ramp and doing triple flips with unbelievable corkscrew twists on the way down. It is incredible what the body can do. The human body is at its most amazing in action, not at rest. In the same way the church is at its best in action, not simply being.
This week we’ve watched the devastation in Haiti unfold with horror. It’s easy to feel helpless, but we also know that the church is in action there through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, through Church World Service, through many different organizations. The church is working in Haiti because the church is not just a body; it’s Christ’s body, and Christ is always among those who need him most.
Luke gives us an account of Jesus preaching in his hometown. This is the first time we see Jesus peaching, so we can think of it as something of a mission statement for him. He goes to the front of the synagogue; the attendant hands him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and Jesus begins to read: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Jesus sits down and tells the expectant crowd, “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus is saying that these things: bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, setting the oppressed free and proclaiming the year of God’s favor are the marks of God’s kingdom come to earth. The main passage in Isaiah he’s reading from shows the prophet announcing God’s deliverance. Jesus makes the same announcement, but he adds that the scripture is fulfilled today in that synagogue. He’s saying that the long awaited kingdom has come in him.
Jesus is also saying that the kingdom comes in a particular way through him. He could have chosen a passage about the salvation of Israel from her enemies or the military victory of God’s anointed king. But instead he talks about freedom from oppression, healing for the blind, and good news for the poor. Christ’s ministry is one of justice and love acting powerfully in a troubled world. We are Christ’s body, so his ministry is our ministry as well. We are called to proclaim good news to the poor, to heal the sick and open blind eyes. We’re called to free the captives and to announce God’s love to a world hurting for lack of love. We proclaim God’s kingdom to the world through our actions and through our words.
We also proclaim God’s loving kingdom through our life as a church. Our life together is meant to be a sign to the world of what God’s kingdom looks like. That means showing radical love for each other in small kindnesses and in powerful movements for justice. It means welcoming everyone who comes into this community with the love of Jesus and taking that welcome out into the community around us. It means treasuring our differences and valuing each others’ gifts even when we don’t understand each other. The life of the church is meant to be a demonstration of God’s kingdom to everyone who sees it.
Does that sound like a challenging calling? You bet it is. For any one of us alone that is an impossible calling. That’s why we need everyone’s gifts working together in one body. That’s why we need the gifts of those beyond our walls who aren’t part of the body yet, but who will have a place here too as God’s future unfolds.
On Thursday evening several of us had the chance to hear Joy Douglas Strome, a pastor in Chicago, speak at a gathering of Urban Presbyterians Together. Joy accepted a call to a small church in Chicago in 1996. The church had a long history of service and outreach, but had fallen on hard times. When Joy arrived the church had 48 members and 17 people were in the pews on her first Sunday.
Joy and her congregation got to work. They made welcoming the neighborhood and building coalitions a priority. They also made a heavy investment in faith development and adult education. They made use of the gifts within and outside the congregation and slowly things began to change. A young man came to church for the first time one week. A few weeks later he brought a friend. Life began bubbling up in this small congregation. Today there are 250 members at Lakeview and 200 people worship every Sunday. In her fourteen years there Joy has baptized as many adults as children. More than half the members are under 40 and many have never had anything to do with a church before.
God called that congregation with its different gifts and skills to reach out in love to others. God calls each one of us to ministry together. We are one body, filled with one Spirit. And together we go out into the world as a sign of God’s kingdom.
Thanks be to God.