January 24, 2016 – Body Language

Epiphany 3   January 24, 2016 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a   Body Language

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We live in a culture that’s more than a little obsessed with body image…

Consider – the beauty industry, the health industry, the sports industry – all the ways we obsess over the body and body-related images…

The apostle Paul has a rather different kind of body image in mind….As he tells us – together we are the body of Christ – individually members thereof. The body image that matters – is all about our shared identity in the body of Christ.

On the night before his death on the cross Jesus prayed all his followers will be one (John ch17)… The apostle Paul tells us – this is already the way it is… And yet, our unity is still very much a work in progress…

God has given the church all the gifts and graces, all the forms of ministry, all for the common good… And the apostle uses down-to-earth, yet imaginative language to describe how intimately interconnected with God and one another we are…

Today we’re hearing St Paul preach on the unity of the church, the body of Christ… By divine synchronicity, we’ve been in international Week of Prayer for Christian Unity since last Monday… In celebration of this theme of Christian unity, some of us from each of our churches worshiped at St John the Evangelist Catholic church in Pocasset last Tuesday evening, with members of their parish, at the invitation of their priest, Fr. David Frederici… I’m pretty sure all of us who were there agree – this was wonderful worship – and speaking for myself, also a great learning experience…

Fr David told me just before we began the service that he and I would process down the long aisle together. “When we get near the altar we just do a little bow,” he said. So with just this little bit of instruction, we walked down the center aisle, and sat together, looking out at everyone. (I had to get used to seeing the congregation seated on three sides, like in T-formation…) But there weren’t many people there, and the atmosphere wasn’t very formal, which helped. I didn’t hear our daughter Rohi calling out to remind me of something I’d forgotten, but…In the middle of the service, their music director came over and pointed out to Fr David where he planned to have the choir sing a song not in the program. Which made me feel right at home.

Members of our choirs joined together in song. (Their music director, good ecumenical host, chose four hymns that are all in our hymnal and familiar to us…Adding just one choir anthem we didn’t know…)

Connie (Odom Soper, from our Bourne church) and a member of St John’s parish read scripture. Fr David and I gave brief homilies. (I mentioned how much I admire Pope Francis, what a good example he is of Christian unity. Fr David spoke about Jesus’s commandment that we love one another…) The Holy Spirit was very present throughout, from first exchanges of warm greetings, all the way through shared farewells.

As the service was ending, Fr David and I bowed again and processed together back to the front doors, doing farewell handshakes, sharing comments with parishioners heading out… One of our members (John White) told Fr David he’d been in St John’s for funerals and weddings, but never in shared worship…It felt very good, he said, to be in worship together… Quite a few people from each church (ours and St John’s) said “we need to do this again…” and “We need to do this more often.” Fr David and I agreed. He said it was good to see more people than usual sticking around after service, to talk and greet each other… Which, as he said, is always a good thing…

We do need to do this kind of worship with other members of the one body of Christ more often… With God’s help, we will. Psalm 133 says “How very good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity…” Worshiping with Christians from other churches in the Spirit is special…like a good family reunion.

All believers in Christ are members of the one body of Christ. The apostle uses this kind of body language more than 40 times in his letters – in Romans (ch 12) – in nearly ever chapter of Ephesians and Colossians – especially here in First Corinthians, where the apostle likens believers with eyes and ears, hands and feet, all serving the common needs of the one body. So it is with members of the body of Christ. No member can ever function on it’s own. All serve the common good.

The body metaphor would be familiar in Corinth. Bible scholar Brian Peterson notes “Other writers in the Roman world… used the same image [of the body] to support the social hierarchy. The point was that every body needs a head – and in society that was provided by the wealthy, the rulers, and the elite. Every body needs hands and feet to do the hard and dirty work – and that was provided in society by just about everyone else…[except the wealthy, the rulers, the elite…]”

St Paul uses body language very differently – telling us (in Ephesians and Colossians) Christ alone is head of the body. In each of his letters reminding us all parts of the body belong to one another – and none are ever to be regarded above the others. The apostolic bottom line is “If one member suffers, all suffer with it; if one member is honored, all together rejoice with it (1 Cor 12:26).” No minister, no ministry, is to be exalted over another. All of us are here to serve Jesus, our one and only Lord, in harmony and unity.

Which was of course a radical message in Roman culture, where as much as half the population were slaves, and the rules of social hierarchy were iron-clad – the emperor over all, the wealthy and powerful beneath the emperor, but over everyone else…

And the body of Christ is still a very counter-cultural message. Along with every message we hear about team work, cooperation, community, and unity – we hear many more messages that overtly and subliminally tell us ‘look out for number one.’ Put self-interest first.

There’s a place for enlightened self-interest… A place for humble and gentle competition in serving the common good. But as Jesus tells us, the love of God and neighbor requires loving others at least as much as we love ourselves. Which is always still a challenge…Yet unity is the way in which Christ leads us all… Unity, not meaning uniformity – but unity of heart, soul, purpose in the Spirit… in harmony with all the diversity of spiritual gifts and personalities… with which we are variously graced and gifted…

I’ve recently also been part of a prayer group of Protestant pastors in Bourne, that meets once a month in one of our churches. As we’ve shared joys and concerns and conversation together in prayer, we’ve felt the Holy Spirit leading and encouraging us. Again, I believe we will find ways to share in worship and fellowship and mission with other churches of Jesus Christ nearby, with whom we share in basic identity and purpose in the one body of Christ. Our different styles of worship and our different theological emphases are a means for Christ to reach more people… as long as we know our unity in the love of Christ.

And…We ourselves are a parish made up of two churches, which keeps the theme of Christian unity ever before us. Even within our Methodist tradition we have much to learn about each other and God’s call on us… And we are learning…

Every year we’re doing more things together – our joint Pumpkin Patch for the Food Pantry – our Thanksgiving community meal – our joint Outreach Committee meetings – our Finance Committees staying in touch with each other –   last summer’s coordinated pair of dinners for Imagine No Malaria — our annual hymn sing – our shared worship for Ash Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunrise services. Now Kari’s been bringing members of both choirs together, adding voices in each church. We worshiped all together the day pumpkins were scheduled to arrive. We’re now planning to worship together on the first Sunday of Lent, and again on Pentecost Sunday…

Worship – prayer – fellowship – service – outreach to the community – sharing more deeply in these basic ministries is always a blessing for our churches – and for our wider parish community. Because, as scripture tells us, we are one body – and the health of the whole body depends on the health of all its members.

So we should pray for each other always…Get to know each other better… Pray also for all the other churches in town… and around the world… Every day…(At least several times a week…)

Remembering no matter what we hear anywhere else – the one body image that always matters –

is for the body of Christ, of which we are all members –

to look like Jesus… Think like Jesus… Be like Jesus.

May this be our prayer always… In Jesus’s holy name.

Thanks be to God. Amen.