Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany (January 27, 2013)

Wordle: Untitled 

“Connected in the Body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31a)

People are connected to one another in a way that they never have been before in all of human history. With the advent of the internet, you can be in touch with someone on the other side of the world in a millisecond. Connections are made through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest on laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Texting seems to be more common nowadays than a simple phone call. At the same time, there seems to be dissatisfaction with these interactions.

A news story from KING5 online this week reported on a study that “found that participation in Facebook and other social networks can cause negative feelings and reduce members’ satisfaction with their lives … Envy may also cause users to embellish their own lives, which then sparks envy in others.” [1] Although we are more connected, we are increasingly disconnected. There is a certain emptiness, an increasing isolation from those around us. Just look around you the next time you visit a coffee house or a café. Inevitably, you will see people sitting around a table with their smartphones in their hands but not saying a word to one another.

Not that this is all new. The media have simply changed. I’ve seen older folks at tables with mere newspapers and novels in hand not saying a word to one another. This doesn’t necessarily indicate that there is a problem. Perhaps they have simply reached a certain level of comfort with their relationship. It’s okay for them to sit quietly with one another. Yet in another way it is a snapshot illustrating a greater problem in our world today. We are disconnected from truly meaningful relationships. This is especially true for those of you who have experienced varying degrees of brokenness in your families. Centuries before there ever was such a thing as social media, sin brought separation between husband and wife, parents and children, friends and foes alike. Sin has brought separation between us and God.

This is clearly not how God intended us to live. So God himself entered into this world in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth to do something about this sinful separation. He came “to proclaim good news to the poor.” And this Good News is that being reconnected with God is possible through Jesus Christ. With our sins laid upon him at the cross, Jesus was disconnected there from his Father’s love. In so doing, he earned the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting for all who trust in him and are baptized in his name. And he has also made it possible for us to reconnect with one another in a new, meaningful way. In Holy Baptism, God has connected us to Christ so intimately that we actually are “The Body of Christ.” This is what St. Paul said to the congregation at Corinth: “You are the Body of Christ and individually members of it.”

Paul first makes it clear that this Body is One. “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 one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” What we see with our eyes, however is division … division within families, divisions within congregations, divisions across the whole spectrum of Christendom. Nevertheless, united to Christ in Holy Baptism … as Christ’s Body … we are one. The Church at Corinth was a divided lot. Just read about them in the early chapters of Paul’s letter. Yet still, he says to them, “You are the Body of Christ.” And you, dear baptized of Messiah, you are the Body of Christ. Wherever God’s people gather around Word and Sacrament, right there, in that very place, is the local manifestation of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. The Church is diverse … young, old, rich, poor, PhD and GED, black, white, and all shades in between. At the same time, the Church is one. “All were made to drink of one Spirit,” the very same Spirit that was upon Jesus and anointed him to be the Messiah and our Savior. This is what all Christians have in common. With Christ and the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, you and I are also connected with saints around the world and in eternity. As a member of the Body of Christ, you are connected to something larger than yourself and your own little world.

Paul also teaches us that the Body is designed. “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” The Body of Christ is not a social group voluntarily gathering around a mutual hobby or a common cause. The Church is called and gathered by the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel. And God has placed you exactly where he wants you to be. He has given you the exact gifts he knows are best for the Church. This gives purpose and meaning, worth and value to each person here. God has given different offices and different gifts for the good of the Church. Some are no longer with us, such as apostle and prophet. Teachers, or pastors, we still have. Miraculous healings are not as common as they were when the Savior walked throughout Galilee and Judea. Neither is the miraculous ability to speak in other languages, in spite of what some Christians claim. But gifts of helping and gifts of leadership are certainly prevalent among us, as are other gifts not in Paul’s list in our text.  Consider the gifts and offices evident in our Old Testament lesson today. The Jews have returned to Judea after their seventy-year exile in Babylon. And there is Ezra the priest reading the Scriptures, Nehemiah the governor who oversaw the transition of the exiles and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, the Levites in charge of the worship life of the people, not to mention all the laborers who pitched in to help rebuild the city walls.

Paul explains how everyone is valuable and necessary, even those parts of the body that seem small and unimportant. Feet, eyes, ears, and noses are essential for their particular tasks in the body. For you sports fans, think of it this way. If everyone was a running back, where would the lineman be to block the defender coming to tackle him. If everyone was a pitcher, where would the infielders be to scoop up the grounders and get the runner out at first base. If everyone was a superstar athlete, how would the uniforms get cleaned, the field mowed, the stadium scrubbed clean after the game … yes, even the toilets?

In the Body of Christ, there is no place for feelings of inferiority or superiority. “The parts that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” Some in this day and age want to do away with the weak and helpless. They devalue lives that are disabled. They cast aside those who may be challenged intellectually. But even these weak ones have a purpose in God’s kingdom. Author Jerry Bridges tells the story of

“William Carey, [English] missionary to India [in the early 1800’s], and Carey’s bedridden, almost totally paralyzed sister. William Carey accomplished a Bible translation work unequaled in missionary history … We don’t even know his sister’s name. She is mentioned only as Carey’s sister. But while Carey labored in India translating and printing parts or all of the Bible into forty languages, his sister lay on her back in London and prayed hour after hour, month after month, for all the details, problems, and struggles of her brother’s work … William Carey’s function was highly visible, at least to us today; his sister’s function was probably unknown except to a few people. Yet both had a vital part to play in the missionary enterprise in India. God assigned each of them a specific function and enabled them by His grace to fulfill it.” [2]

Perhaps you’ve been tempted to say to yourself, “No one knows me. No one cares for me. The things I do are not really all that important.” First, we all need to repent of the ways we may have ignored you. Second, you need to know that God says that no one is dispensable. Besides, consider how “weak” and “dispensable” Christ appeared on the cross. Yet this “weak” and “dispensable” Christ was indispensable for our forgiveness and salvation as he shed his blood for us and rose again from the dead for us. The most menial, unnoticeable tasks are valuable and worthy when done in faith. It may not be anything done inside these walls. It may be something you do quietly for someone at home or behind the scenes. It may be something small that you yourself are not even aware of. This is the way God has arranged things. He is the great engineer and designer of our lives. This is the way he operates within the Body of Christ.

The Body is One. The Body is Designed. And finally, God’s Word teaches us that the Body is Nurtured. Paul writes, “But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” In Ephesians 5, Paul compares the marriage relationship to Christ and the Church. In describing the husband’s duties to care for his wife, Paul says, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body” (Eph. 5:29-30). Christ cares for his Body. He nourishes and cherishes you. The Body – his Church – eats and drinks Christ’s Body and Blood. And now, the Body cares for the Body. Jesus cares for his members. Therefore, we care for one another. The Body is affected by what happens to even the smallest members. A tiny ingrown toenail can cause sharp pains to shoot through your whole body … and yet a foot massage can make your whole body simply melt with pleasure. Likewise, in the Body of Christ, we suffer and rejoice together.

You ARE the Body of Christ. Let’s move away from thinking about “going to church” as a duty or an obligation. Think of it as a gift, as you come to gather with your fellow members in the Body of Christ. You ARE the Church gathered around Word and Sacrament. You are connected to each other in Christ in Baptism. You are carefully designed and gifted for the blessing and benefit of the Church and your life has purpose and meaning. You are cared for by Christ in order to care for each other.


[2] Bridges, Jerry (2012-09-14). True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia (Kindle Locations 1107-1108). Navpress. Kindle Edition.

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