a sermon text, based on 1 Corinthians 12.12-31a, being the second of a 3-part Epiphany season preaching series on Christian community, with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, January 24, 2016
An avid reader, I often come across a passage to which I respond, “I wish I had said that!” Sometimes the text strikes me as original or unusual, set forth in a provocative, arresting way. Sometimes the ideas, although familiar, having been expressed many times in different ways, move me so deeply that I, in a flight of grandiosity, imagine that years, even centuries ago I was the first to have said it.
This is how I react to Paul’s comparing the church to the human body: “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.”
This seems a simple, even obvious connection. If I speak of the function of the human body in relation to the universe and solar system, a political structure, or a computer, I am employing an image similar to Paul’s construct. There’s nothing novel about it.
However, when Paul first likened the church to the human body, he pointed out how individual members of the church were linked practically and ideally. The way the parts of the human body relate one to another, Paul says, is both the way the church is and is meant to be. This dual intent and focus is the genius of Paul’s image.
As I did last Sunday, I heed the counsel of the Pentecostal preacher who encouraged the contemplation of a scriptural passage, “line by line and precept by precept.”
Paul continues, “By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” For Paul, the church is not founded or formed by human will or effort. Rather God’s animating Spirit brings it to life and holds it together. I see this in our communal life. None of us called Epiphany Church into existence or can control our vibrant life. Even in my short time with you, many of you have told me of your sense of a sustaining spirit of love and care among you. This spirit, the Spirit, we can receive and nurture, but we cannot create or command.
Again, “by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,” then, using the social terms of his time, Paul adds, “Jews or Greeks, slaves or free.” Diversity – even in fundamental elements of identity, like gender, race, or family of origin – does not inhibit incorporation into one body. Conversely, the unity of the body does not eliminate our differences. We, though parts of the body, remain who we are.
Paul then speaks of body parts, feet and hands, ears and eyes, as an analogy for our communal relationships. Feet, on the ground, bearing the body’s weight, subject to odor and, at times, unsightly, perhaps are regarded less favorably than hands, which are essential in our social interactions of greeting and gesturing. Yet feet are no less parts of the body. Indeed, each part has a distinct, necessary role without which the body, well organized by divine design, functions less well. And no one part can be the whole body. All parts are needed to be the body.
Paul closes his analogical analysis talking about “weaker…less honorable…less respectable” parts. This conjures up images of naked flesh, bodily functions, and genitalia! But Paul’s purpose isn’t to titillate, but rather to point out the mutual care exercised among the body’s parts that share in suffering and joy. To wit, when my allergies flare, it’s not only my sinuses that are inflamed. My whole body doesn’t feel well. And when I taste some delectable epicurean morsel, it’s not only my palate, but also my whole body that relishes the experience.
Paul concludes, “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Each of us has a place guaranteed, neither by right nor by role or responsibility, but by being God’s children. Each of us, with our histories and destinies, our interests and perspectives, however similar or varied, is needed. Each of us, variously and at various times, gifted or average, affable or irritating, privileged or in need, has a significant part to play to make our common life whole and healthy. None of us does the same thing in precisely the same way as another. All of us, joined in this common life, share our sorrows and our joys one with another.
Again, Paul speaks of the church in relation to the human body to illustrate how Christians are related and to illuminate an ideal to follow; verily, who we already are, Epiphany Church, Laurens, South Carolina, and who God in Christ through the Spirit always calls us to become more fully, faithfully. For “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.”
I wish I had said that and I’m delighted the Apostle Paul did!
Illustration: freehand drawing
 On this Sunday, the Epiphany Church community was privileged to host the Right Reverend W. Andrew Waldo, Bishop of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, who presided at the altar and preached. Although I knew I wouldn’t be the preacher today, having announced that I’d do a 3-part sermon series, I promised my people that I’d write a sermon and post the text on my blog page for their (I pray!) reading pleasure.