Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Eye and the Hand duke it out: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

The Eye and the Hand duke it out: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Westminister Presbyterian Church, Santa Fe, January 24, 2010

“The human body has 206 bones, 639 muscles, and about 6 pounds of skin, along with ligaments, cartilage, veins, arteries, blood, fat, [organs, fibers, tissues]....
Every time we hear a sound; every time we take a step; every time we take a breath [or eat a bit of food], hundreds of different parts [and thousands of different cells] work together, so that we experience a single movement, [accomplish a common purpose]….[1] 

We know more about the human body today than Paul did when he was writing 2000 years ago.  But he knew enough to know how powerful and mysterious an image the body would be for the church.[2] Paul describes the our individual bodies as well as our collective bodies forming one gathered community, as the temple in which God’s Spirit may dwell, and inspire and lead and move. The body of Christ—where the mission of Christ continues to be realized. 

The body is a holy mystery…I still can’t get over the miracle of birth, but what about the miracle of food converted into energy, or air converted into mostly oxygen, making a sound to sing singing.  Our collective bodies as community is a holy mystery…prayer for one another, working together for the common good, paying my salary this is a mystery and miracleJ. 
Richard Rohr says, “The spiritual world is hidden and perfectly revealed in the physical world.”[3] Paul makes this point well. 

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is attempting to help the community recognize that each person has been given gifts from one Spirit. No longer are common distinctions such as ethnicity, social position, to longer divide or separate; rather, in Christ the people are to be in relationship with one another—living into the greatest gift they have: community.   Say what you want to say about Paul, but this idea he is presenting, which is not original with him, is simple, yet very profound—it is deeply spiritual; it shows that everyone belongs, a deep truth.

Look at our bodies, he says.  Is it not made up of many parts?  Are some parts of the body more important than other parts in terms of functioning?  Aren’t all parts dependent on other parts? I love the way Paul illustrates this point:[4] 
FOOT: “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong.”
EAR: Because I am not an eye, I do not belong.”
What if all were an EYE?
EYE to Hand: “Hand, I have no need of you.”
HEAD to FEET: “I have no need of you, Feet,.

Simple, yet profound. True, yet so difficult to put into practice.
First, Paul suggests one aspect making unity difficult: a feeling of unworthiness.  I don’t belong, I don’t deserve to be a member. 

Can I reference Saturday Night Live skits to help with Paul’s point?
In Wayne’s World, Wayne and his pals would always run into famous rock stars whom they idolized and they would inevitably say, “We’re not worthy, We’re not worthy.”  Are any in the church community, any who have been redeemed by Christ, Loved by God, not worthy to be in the presence of others?  Or maybe a better questions is, are any of us famous rock stars? (maybe in our own minds)…

The foot should never say because I am not a hand, I do not belong.

Maybe some of us have been told all our lives that we’re good for nothing, and we believed it.  We don’t think we’re good enough or smart enough to belong to the community…I’ll call this Steward Smalley Syndrome.  Remember him from SNL?
Stewart Smalley would “counsel” all of these famous people, gifted people, like Michael Jordan, and ultimately perceive issues of insecurity.  So at the end of the counseling session he would have the person turn to the mirror and say: I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and Daw Gone it, people like me. 

As redeemed and loved people of God, we can be confident that we belong. God has given us good gifts to be valued and used! We are worthy of God’s loves and the love of others.

Next, Paul talks about the importance of diversity.  And he paints some pretty sci-fi images.  What if we were all eye?  OR just a giant ear?  It is the diversity of the body that makes the body function well….

It was really cool at our session meeting on Monday:  We were trying to figure out who would be responsible for what aspects of ministry in the church. 

[And just for the record, it doesn’t take being an elder to be responsible for, or able to contribute to the ministry of the church.  I don’t know how impressed Paul would be with our Presbyterian form of government, where officers and clergy are ordained for service.  All of us are called to service in any way we can…]

But elders are good examples! When figuring out who would serve in what way, I asked each elder to write down two of our care groups, or committees, that they felt called to be part of, that they were passionate for, that they were gifted for (do I live in a fantasy world or what?). And one by one names were written beside each group. It was amazing to see how spreads out the selections were. There was very little overlap and the process went very smoothly.  But then there was Bruce.  Bruce wasn’t at the meeting because he had been visiting family over the MLK weekend.  But, we sensed that Bruce, while very gifted, didn’t really have that much—shall we say, passion—to be responsible for any of the care groups.  So I said, well, a very important function of an elder is to represent this particular congregation to the larger church.  We need a commissioner for the Jicarita cluster, and we need a commissioner for presbytery…someone who’s willing to travel to and sit through all those meetings….Any takers?”  Silence…
Well what if we ask Bruce?”   “Yeah, let’s ask Bruce!”

And so the next day, I asked Bruce: “How do you feel about the care groups…?
Ehhh, I don’t know…
Well, what do you think about being commissioner for the cluster and the presbytery? 
Hey, that sounds fun.
Viola.  Amazing how the body works. A miracle really J.

Paul brings up one more difficulty a community may experience in putting the one body into practice: “The eye cannot say to the hand, HAND, I have no need of you.”  Here, Paul reminds the members that we are in no way in competition with one another or even worse trying to undermine the other.  Doing so makes as much sense as they eye cutting off the hand.

Every single person in the church matters—the housebound elderly, babies, those with disabilities, or “dif”-abilities as Cat Dearden calls iteveryone matters regardless of ability or social position or wealth! And we depend on each other.

Two men in a church, both older both widowers.  Hal and Gus. Hal is blind.  Gus is in a wheel chair.  Hal cannot see and Gus cannot walk but together they can get to where they want to go, each providing an essential element to the other; each being the body of Christ with the other.[5]

Our belonging, our mattering, our dependency, is more an issue of wholeness than it is equality.  With all participating, the body can be whole.[6] When we live into the mystery of being part of the body we can say to each other: “You have gifts that I don't have.”  “He is a servant in ways that I don't know how to serve.”  
“It’s awesome she has this gift.”  It’s awesome to see how this type of relationship with each other means: Liberation, Freedom, and yet belonging and commitment.[7]  We don't get it right by becoming individually and personally pious or perfect. 

I want us to demonstrate how we get it….everyone who is able, let’s get up, keep your programs with you and put them in your pockets cause your hands need to be free …and gather around the sanctuary in a circle.

A good spiritual practice: looking at each other.

Paul says we get what he’s talking about by holding one another’s hands. We get it by suffering together, when one member suffers.  We get it by rejoicing together, when one member is honored. Now I'm not jealous of him, now I defer to her; if I have a certain gift of ability, I don't try to make other people to live up to my standard of service, or my standard of understanding, because I trust that it has been given to me by god, and other giftedness is given to my brother or my sister from God as well to do God's good purpose.“[8]
Work for the common good.
A radical understanding of life together: equalizing, valuing, loving, sharing, redeeming, wholeness. I can’t be who God has created me to be, without you.
I can’t do what God wants me to do without you.

And that being the body of Christ means we do what Christ set out to do.

The affirmation of faith comes from the mission Jesus proclaimed as his own.
He read from the scroll of Isaiah, a passage that spoke of the coming Messiah, and gave the ultimate remix…He made that mission of the Messiah, his own, which is what we do as the body of Christ.

As the body of Christ—in our baptism—Christ’s messianic mission 2000 years ago is still our mission.  Christ’s purpose gives us purpose.  Trusting that the Spirit of the Lord is upon us: We will bring good news to the poor; heal the brokenhearted; announce release to captives; help the blind to recover sight; and aid the oppressed in becoming free; and by doing so live into the ideal of Jubilee, for the sake of land, creatures, humanity, and God. 

Together we are the victory of God.  Together we are the salvation of Christ for the world.[9]

[1] Raewynne Whitely’s commentary on 1 Cor 12:12-31a, “Homiletical Perspective”, Feasting on the Word, ed. D. Bartlett, BB Taylor, p. 281-83.
[2] ibid.
[3] Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs.
[4] Thanks to Oscar Walker, and his mother Julie, for loaning me a Mister Potato Head doll that I used as a prop to create this talking scenario.
[5] Adapted from a talk given by Tod Bosinger, as reported by Erin Dunigan for Presbyterian Outlook, p. 9, Dec 28, 2009.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Rohr, Paul as Liberator, DVD
[8] Richard Rohr, Paul as Liberator, DVD
[9] Rohr

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