1 Corinthians 12:12-31 Common English Bible (CEB)
12 Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. 13 We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink. 14 Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. 15 If the foot says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 16 If the ear says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted. 19 If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? 20 But as it is, there are many parts but one body. 21 So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” 22 Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary. 23 The parts of the body that we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most. The private parts of our body that aren’t presentable are the ones that are given the most dignity. 24 The parts of our body that are presentable don’t need this. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor 25 so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it. 27 You are the body of Christ and parts of each other. 28 In the church, God has appointed first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, the ability to help others, leadership skills, different kinds of tongues. 29 All aren’t apostles, are they? All aren’t prophets, are they? All aren’t teachers, are they? All don’t perform miracles, do they? 30 All don’t have gifts of healing, do they? All don’t speak in different tongues, do they? All don’t interpret, do they? 31 Use your ambition to try to get the greater gifts. And I’m going to show you an even better way.
If you were watching TV commercials in the 1980s you might remember a commercial for Wendy’s chicken sandwiches. It was pretty much making fun of McDonalds’ chicken sandwiches. A man standing in line at some nameless burger place asks the person behind the counter what was in the chicken sandwich. He was told “Processed chicken, where they take a bunch of chickens and process their respective parts.” When the counter man was pressed for an answer about exactly which parts were in the nuggets, he said “Parts is parts,” leaving the viewer to think that maybe their chicken sandwiches had beaks and feet or worse in them. Yuck. Wendy’s sandwiches, of course, were made of pure white meat chicken.
Beaks and feet might not be anything you and I would be happy eating, but according to Paul, parts is parts, and every part is equally valued in God’s eyes. Foot, eye, nose, intestine . . . all the parts that make up the human body are equally valuable. Those parts, in fact, those internal, unattractive parts, are so greatly honored that God covered them up and protected them with muscles and skin and hair - the pretty parts. Now it is true that we can do without this or that part of the body - one can function very well with one kidney, for instance, as April and Alan know very well. Likewise, many military veterans and other persons who have suffered the loss of a limb live full, rich lives and do whatever they want to do, even entering the Olympics if they so choose. All kinds of people have had surgeries to remove various internal organs - gall bladder, appendix, tonsils, reproductive organs, etc. I concede that people function just fine without those parts, but they know there is something missing. They know that they are not whole. Adjustments often have to be made in behavior or diet or attitude when a part is missing or has been replaced. What we do know is that if any one part of our body is not functioning correctly or hurts for some reason, the entire body suffers on account of it.
Likewise, each of the gifts that we receive from the Spirit of God are equally valuable and necessary in the body of the church. I am amazed and blessed by the gifts I see among you here. I am constantly surprised by the large number of excellent pray-ers there are in this congregation. Nearly everyone seems to take some part in worship leadership as deacon or elder or presider or sound and projection tech or children’s time. It seems as if half of the congregation is made up of teachers. Musical talent is abundant. Some of you are good at making sure the business of being church runs smoothly so that worship can happen - keeping our doors open and lights on and roof repaired. Some of you are gifted healers, like Janice, who uses the gifts of her hands to ease pain and stress. And Geneva, who works with an extremely challenging population and is gifted for that work. Some are artists, like Jeff who enhances our worship space with his gift for design. All are gifted in one way or another that blesses us and makes us whole.
I mentioned last week that a Pentecostal evangelist once told me that I cannot be a pastor because I don’t have all the spiritual gifts in full measure. In today’s passage we again see that Paul rejected that as not even possible. 29 All aren’t apostles, are they? All aren’t prophets, are they? All aren’t teachers, are they? All don’t perform miracles, do they? 30 All don’t have gifts of healing, do they? All don’t speak in different tongues, do they? All don’t interpret, do they?
Ministers, however, do tend to think that we need to be able to do all the things that ministers might be asked to do equally well - preaching and praying and planning worship and office administration and visiting and so on . . . . Sometimes our congregations think that too. That is a problem, because it’s not true. Even ministers have a limit to their gifs and talents. There are some things I’m not very good at. I’m not good at selecting worship music, so I am delighted to leave most of that work to our very talented music staff. I’m not great at coming up with clever ideas for special worship services, so I am equally delighted to have a creative Spiritual Growth Team. Another thing I’m really not good at is dropping in on folks. Hospital visits, yes. But home visits are an entirely different story. I’m not good at calling up and saying “Hi, can I come visit you?” It’s my mother’s fault. She taught me never to invite myself over to visit anyone. She wouldn’t even drop in on her own sister! Truly. I will get better at this as I get to know you better, but in the meantime invitations are welcome!
All ministers are, however, expected to preach at least once in a while. When we study preaching in seminary we are told we need to be prophets. To speak unwelcome truth to power. To afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Some of my friends are really good at the afflicting part - and not in a bad way. I read Derek Penwell’s sermons and blog posts and articles in the Huffington Post and I admire the way he uses words. I admire the way he uses his vast knowledge of scripture, history and politics to point fingers at oppressive systems and power hungry groups and individuals. But that’s not me. I’m much better at the comforting the afflicted part. I’m more of a healer than a prophet, I’m afraid. I’m better at helping the folks I was called to serve figure out how Christians ought to act from one day to the next. And until I came here, I thought that was a flaw in my ministry. Now I believe it is, in fact, my gift.
Each of us is equally valuable in God’s eyes. The hairdresser and the opera singer and the teacher and the student and the farmer and the office worker and the picker of grapes, the retired person and the person just entering the job market, the long time Christian and the seeker, the pastor and the nursery attendant and the child. Each of us have gifts to contribute to Christ’s church that make it one, whole body. Each of us is necessary to the functioning of that body.
This congregation took the very important step to become a welcoming congregation. You have publicly made the statement that All Means All. It was difficult. There was some contention and disagreement. There is still some fallout and perhaps even hard feelings over that decision. This statement - All Means All - is an important theological statement. It states very clearly who we believe ourselves to be. Everyone who comes to that door is welcome here. None of those false differences that cause division among us keep people out. We welcome everyone who comes to that door - regardless of gender, orientation, immigration status, race, ethnicity, employment status, age. We welcome addicts and homeless people, people with mental and psychiatric disorders and diseases . . .We welcome service animals, without whom some of our members couldn’t worship with us. We welcome people of any political persuasion and any theological position. We say that all of this is true whenever we say All Means All.
We welcome everyone who comes to that door. . . so there are no wheelchairs here. There is no one here on crutches. There are a couple of walkers and those few people have come in to worship by way of the ramp on the side of the building. But they can’t get to Fellowship Hall or to the bathrooms. For the most part everyone here is physically able to get up the stairs into the sanctuary, and down the stairs to the bathrooms, and up the steps to the library, and up the steps to the lectern.
My sisters and brothers, we are missing some parts. We are missing Jason. We are missing a number of homebound folks who are only homebound because they can’t get around inside the building. Without them, we are not whole. Without them, we will never be whole. Without them, we are not living out the theological statement that we proclaim - All Means All. But we have a plan for the future that will make that statement true. We have plans for a new building to which all will have access, in which All really will mean All. In that new place we can be the body of Christ as we are called to be. In that new place we can be whole. I know that building, that inclusion, that physical evidence of welcome to all persons is your dream - it is also mine. And together, as one body, we will work to make that dream come true. It will take a great deal of effort and dedication to make that dream come true and that’s a good thing. Because that dream is the basis for our Christian faith, a way of living which rejects no one, oppresses no one, omits no one, but welcomes all. A way of living in which each person’s gifts are lifted up and utilized and blessed as equally valued as everyone else’s gifts. A way of sharing our God given gifts, a way of loving our God and our neighbor, as our Lord Jesus, the Christ has taught us to do.