February 19, 2017 / THE BODY OF CHRIST / Sara Wolbrecht / 1 Corinthians 12:4-31
One of the things I love to do both when I am driving and when I go out for a jog, is listen to podcasts – anyone else a podcast person? I heard a great podcast from Rob Bell this past week that dove into framing what’s happening in our culture and political world. (https://robbell.podbean.com/e/episode-138-the-thing-in-the-air-part-1-our-body). That I’ll reference a little bit to get us where we’re headed this morning.
It’s about a body. Your body. You are a whole person. A whole body. And yet your whole, big body is also made up of smaller bits. To break it down, your body is made up of smaller systems (cardiovascular, endocrine, nervous, digestive, lymphatic) – these systems work together. And these systems are made up of smaller cells, made up of even smaller molecules, built by even smaller atoms, all the way down to sub-atomic particles. All together, making it possible for you to breath, sit here, blink, laugh, think, feel, and binge watch Netflix.
Pretty amazing, yes? To remember even briefly and generally how complex these bodies of ours are? Take a moment and give that body of yours a hug – thank you God, for these bodies of ours and their complex parts, and all we can do in them and with them. Some great body love to get us started.
Now – in the same way that your larger body is made up of smaller components, your body, YOU are also, in the same way a smaller component in a larger body.
But we can forget this – how we’re connected to a larger body. That we’re connected to larger systems. Due to, at least in part, our hyper-individualism we’re enculturated with, modern thinking that keeps us focused on my body, my dreams, my work, my hopes, my stuff, me in the world. This very modern way of thinking, cuts off our awareness that we’re a part of a body. But what’s happening now politically –we’re all kind of waking up to a new awareness of how we are a part of a political body as Americans – in ways where we have just rolled along without really knowing what’s happening or being engaged.
But we’re waking up to this awareness that we are a part of a universal body as Americans, and as global citizen. Which makes for a crazy time but awesome as people are stopping to ask, wait, how does this system actually work? What can I do? And people are marching, protesting because they want to be an active, informed, functioning part of this body. Look around – and even though it’s hard – look at how lucky we are to be alive right now, right? As we wake up to what we’re a part of.
This awareness of a universal human body, this connectedness of humanity, it’s not a new idea from Rob Bell or anyone else. One of the central themes of the New Testament is that of a body – a universal, human body. The Christ Body. How we are all deeply interdependent. When it comes to caring for the earth, justice for the poor – we do it because we see the earth and the poor and those who suffer – we see it all as a part of us, part of ourselves – this is our body, this is our blood. Right? It’s all held together. We’re all held together. Which is why so often in the New Testament we hear the refrain of “there is no Jew, no Gentile, no rich, poor, no man, woman – there is universal human solidarity.
So for us, here at Salt House to have our January-February conversation, this series on the Force of Nature, the power of community that we’re wired for, today, is our day to stop and say, Oh! We are all connected! Our bodies with smaller parts are each smaller parts within the larger body of Christ. And to look at why this matters for us at Salt House, and for us as global citizens.
You with me? Alright. There is so much to say about what it means that we’re the body of Christ, but we’re going to focus on a place in scripture where this language comes from. This language of “bodies and parts” may be familiar to you because we find it in 1 Corinthians 12.
Here, Paul is writing to the Jesus-followers in Corinth, and this particular chapter, 12, is part of a larger argument that Paul is making, spanning 1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14.
Next week, we’ll actually continue on in to 1 Corinthians 13. You know 1 Corinthians 13. It is the great looooove chapter. Love is patient, Love is kind… But this morning, we’re looking at 1 Corinthians 12 – which is interesting, because this is actually the backstory of the love chapter. The prelude, the set-up. We hear the loooove chapter most often in weddings, out of its larger context. But this chapter 12 is its context – before all that looooove, Paul does some incredible work in chapter 12 to lay out a foundation for how we love in community. What it means to be in that interdependent body.
For context, a quick word about what’s happening in Corinth that Paul is trying to address. The Corinthian church was packed with all stars, folks who were successful and gifted and so Paul is writing to address a few particular concerns, including that when it comes to giftedness, the particular role someone has in the larger body, the Corinthians kept trying to make everything into a hierarchy. They’re competitive. Ranking certain kinds of gifts over others. Making certain gifts more valued in the community than others. And so we can hear that backstory in what we’re about to read.
So we are going to rip through 28 verses, most of 1 Corinthians 12. There’s more here than we can really flesh out, but I invite you into a posture of recognizing that Paul is speaking to a certain audience, yet also hear it for us, as a community, a body of people. And hold that alongside the question we began our worship with. Remember: What is something you have been gifted in? How are you wired? Spoiler alert: where we’re headed in 1 Corinthians 12, the piece we hear today, is about what we bring (our gifts, wisdom, experience) as an interdependent part of a larger body. So be connected to your responses about that question, hearing it as you are a part of this particular body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:4-31 (NIV) 4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
Right off the bat, Paul hits it: God is at work in designing us with great diversity and variety. Notice in this next sentence – the why – is it so we can just exist as uniquely and independently awesome?
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
Given for the common good! For community! Paul now gets into one of his infamous lists – a list of gifts – again addressing what was happening in Corinth. We’ll refer to this in a minute, after we get to a second list, so pay attention to the kinds of things you see here – what’s on it, is it the same as the other list we’ll hear in a moment?
8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
And now the moment we’ve been waiting for: Paul ties this into a metaphor – the body. Notice what he says about being a body, together.
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 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. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 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. 16 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. 17 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? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 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!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 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, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
One of Paul’s most spectacular and famous passages. You can hear how he is addressing that Corinthian context of hierarchy, competition. But it also affirms that every member has something to contribute to the whole of community – the common good, right? But it is also more than that.
It is recognizing the necessity of what people bring, and who they are – that their presence, their role, their piece of the body makes it possible for the body to function, to be a body, together. All the parts are needed, and I love too how Paul names what we know to be true – and again what we’re experiencing politically as we awaken now – the systems and parts are affected by the others. If there are toxins in the body, suffering, the whole system suffers, we all suffer with the ones who are in pain. And when the individual parts are thriving, man the whole body thrives.
Now, to finish the chapter, the other list of gifts…
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?
(The answer is no, Paul). And finally, to close this chapter and transition this conversation to that of looooove, Paul says:
31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way.
Paul WILL show them and us a “more excellent way” – the way of looooove in the great love chapter we’ll continue with next week. So my friends – we are the body of Christ.
For the remainder of our time, let’s look at those two lists of gifts, and springboard into what this means for us.
These two lists. In addition to these two lists, there are even more lists of gifts, sometimes called “spiritual gifts” in Paul’s letters. And maybe you know, that churches in the past and today they gather up the content from all of Paul’s lists a list of gifts, and then make into a questionnaire, so that church people can answer questions and deduce which gifts they have and how they might serve. And there is nothing wrong with that.
But look at these lists. They’re different. And Paul had different lists he spouted off to other communities – those communities weren’t hearing the other lists. When we put all the raw material together, what do we get? It kind of looks like a muddled mess! Completely different things – some similarities. Paul, is this just a muddled mess? No, Paul would say: this is the rich, diverse life of God’s people. There’s no all-inclusive list. We see here how Paul has not felt under any constraint to say on every occasion the complete sum total of everything he could have said. As if to say: there is no complete list. Nothing can capture all the unique roles of all the members of the body of Christ. And even though I am someone who loves questionnaires and personality tests and nice boxes around understanding who we are - I love how messy and organic this is – because this is real life, and this reflects the rich diversity of people.
One of the applications of noticing this might well be that the church as a whole should be flexible, and not feel under an obligation to insist on exactly the same forms of ministry on all occasions and in all places. Or to ask the people in the church to check certain boxes about who they are. And again – I love that. It’s an invitation to be the organic body of Christ.
That’s what we notice again: God designs us with rich diversity! And that being said, there will likely come a time when we come back to these lists of gifts in more specific ways, and yes, I’ll probably pass out a questionnaire to fill out and we’ll do the work of discovering who we are. Organic, yet I also like boxes.
For us today, I want to point us toward listening to who we are, to name within us our skills, gifts, experience, and hold that knowing that Paul would probably include your response on his list. Great at creating Excel spreadsheets, meticulously clean, a farmer, a mixed-media artist, a computer programmer, great with cars, great with kids, a skilled facilitator, a CPA. Rich diversity! So own your unique, quirky kick-butt self for how you have been wired to engage in this world. Way to go for being you!
So according to Paul, our quirky, unique gifts and wirings we carry within us – Paul’s whole point of celebrating this gifted diversity of God’s people is to say what? – To say – Yeah, that’s great, but please keep all that to yourself! For your own gain, your own purposes. Of course not! The whole point is the solidarity of humanity. The interconnectedness of a body. The necessity of each piece – you – present in the body of Christ that makes the body even possible. As Paul said, God designed each of us with a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. God designs YOU for the common good! Who you are – God designed you to be a gift to the body of Christ. This means paying attention, awakening to the rest of the body that you are a part of – the body of Christ is richly diverse including not only people of varying gifts, but also people in various places with our faith – with who we say Jesus is, with the kinds of questions and uncertainties we carry. We are all connected – as global citizens, to people around the world. And we are also, very much, each, given as a gift for the common good, to the folks we are sitting with today here at Salt House.
Where we find ourselves in the life of our new church, Salt House, is a very exciting moment. Do you feel the energy that is here – the sense of life here, that is so rooted in God fueling what is coming together in this life that we share. What God has accomplished already in us, through a small community with not a lot of resources – we’ve opened up our basement as a day center to serve families experiencing homelessness, we’ve partnered with the City of Kirkland and other ecumenical partners and said yes to selling 1/6 of our land to become a 24-7 shelter for women and families. This will change the landscape of homeless in the greater Seattle region – this will change history for the Eastside. Thank you, God, that we’re a part of this, right?
And not only those outward signs of what God is doing, but additionally what God has accomplished in us – through what happens in our hearts and lives in this sacred space share every time we gather – for worship, for a meal, for a beer, for a meeting. God creating a place of radical welcome where we don’t have to fit on any kind of list of entry requirements, a place for folks facing change and transition, a place where we’re trying to figure out how to love well with the love God has given us, a place to unceasingly listen together for what God is saying and how we might respond. Do you feel the incredible energy of God that is here in this body of Christ at Salt House?
And we’re about to begin building some of our body’s systems that can help our body, our community, function. We’ve done steady, slow work to get to this place – through growing our community, through developing leaders over the fall, and now those systems are ready to come online, through our Thrive Teams, teams who will lead an area of life for our body.
As you’ve been hearing, the teams we’re launching in 10 days (people! 10 days), are: (list that can come up all at once) Thrive Teams: Community Garden, Meals, Kids, Welcome, Music, Homelessness.
We each get to choose which system to be a part of, as together, the body of Christ at Salt House. And we become the cells that make up those systems. We need as many of y’all and everyone else who walks through our doors to make our body function. The necessity of what we bring, and who we are –your presence, your role, your piece of our body makes it possible for our body to function, to be a body, together. And as Paul said – the systems and parts are affected by the others. This isn’t just about getting together on Teams to get stuff done – though there will be some of that. It is about a body – as we’ve talked about in recent weeks – that cares for one another, accompanies one another, asks questions and is curious together. These teams are where relationship with God and each other will grow – have you been hoping to connect with folks here? This is it.
I will say – much like Paul’s list of gifts, our Teams, this list, are not an all-inclusive list of all the things that happen or need to happen at Salt House – but it is a start. Maybe you don’t see yourself in this list – if so, I encourage you to maybe try two things: first, see if God births in you another area that you would like to step into – and we’ll make it happen next round. Or second, realize that any of these teams could use your gifts. You don’t have to be a farmer to be on the Garden Team. You don’t have to have kids to volunteer with our kids. You don’t have to be a good cook to help with meals – there is plenty to do in the functioning of each team beyond those particular skills. All you need is a willingness to awaken to the reality that you are a part of the body of Christ, and see what God does with who you are.
These teams are a piece of our Lenten journey together – and I am so excited about what Lent will be for our body. I want to rip through what our Lenten journey looks like, to keep us together as a body who is on the same page. Lent is a churchy word to name the six weeks leading up to Easter.
Lent at Salt House:
Lent begins March 1st (Ash Wednesday, 7pm service)
Lent is 40 days, March 1st – April 16th (Easter Sunday, 10am)
About six weeks.
For the season, we’re focusing on experience, not content
We’ll see this in two distinct ways:
As a community, we’re reading a book, “Prayer: 40 Days of Practice”
Not a lot of content! But daily prayers to experience. To practice!
Simplified, experiential Sunday worship
We’re cooking up ways to dial back content, and in creative ways open ourselves up to hearing God. We’ll use the weekly practices named in the book to shape those experiences on Sundays – so you’ll want to read the book even if you’re not on a team.
So here’s the thing about Thrive Teams
Thrive Teams launch by March 1st
Teams will focus on an area of “Out” (ministry)
For Lent, Teams will meet more frequently, many teams once/week
Meeting more frequently for Lent will give Teams a chance to not only focus on the “Out” component of ministry, but will take time to get to know each other, pray, and reflect on this practice of prayer we’re using form the book. And just to make it clear:
Teams will talk about the “Prayer” book and their experience
Teams will embody the relational Up, In, & Out of Jesus
(Grow in relationship with God and each other, too)
After Lent, Teams will continue on a less-frequent basis
You have in your hands today brief goals and descriptions of the six Thrive Teams – we’ve heard spoken invitations the past four weeks from our leaders and we’ll finish those invitations next week, as we hear from Meals and Kids.
The final details of these groups are coming together – and we wanted to get it in your hands. As with all things new – there are many moving parts! But here is what we THINK we know at this point. This document is for you – to pray over, listen through, see what God is saying about where you might step in, letting your body that is miraculously fueled by small parts, become a part of our larger body of Christ here in this place. Please fill out a post-it and add it to our board today if you’re ready to make a commitment, otherwise, be sure to keep this with you this week as you consider where to step in.
And do hear me, too, that even as this is where we find ourselves as the body of Christ together, moving towards these groups, you may feel like you can’t commit to this – maybe you’re too overwhelmed, facing a hard time, or maybe you’re just still checking things out and not sure – you are always welcome to come to the first meeting to see if it’s right for you, and then opt out. And you are also, always, welcome to be a part of Salt House without stepping into a team – there is no shoulding happening about this. Just opportunity, and it may not be the right time.
To finish our time, weaving together these themes of our bodies, and the solidarity of humanity around the world, and the body of Christ as an expression of that humanity, we close with a meditation on our painting.
Dani Dodge, using her gifts as a painter, painted this for us live, over the four Sundays of December – as we experienced WONDER together. And we’ve been revealing the meaning of these constellations, one each week, as they inform our understanding of community. And today, we close by reflecting on the bee. See it here?
The Bee: The worker. Some may see the Monarchy that Bee serves as a negative, but rather than focus on that; we see Bee as a hard worker that demonstrates team work. Their community would fail if not everyone carried their own weight in work. It’s how we can pull together and be part of a thriving community when we work in tandem.