Part of the Whole

Part of the Whole
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Rev. Dexter Kearny
Longview Presbyterian Church
January 23, 2022

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 the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. 

But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. 

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. 

Simon and Garfunkel, the famous singing duo, sang “I am a rock. I am an island… And a rock feels no pain and an island never cries.” (Simon & Garfunkel, “I Am a Rock.” Spotify) And while I do not believe they ever intended for it to be the theme song of a global pandemic, it often seems to fit our situation today. Today we join for worship across cities and states, over internet and phones, in pajamas and suits. We may feel more like an island than ever. 

So what is separating us? What is making us feel so alone? What is keeping us from working together? Is it politics or religion? Is it covid protocols or sports teams? Is it the physical absences we have in our lives? Is it the lack of human closeness? This is a time filled with loneliness as we are stuck behind our screens, as we have masks covering our faces, and as the pandemic stretches on and on. 

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth who is feeling these separations too. Not because of a global pandemic but because of the way they treat one another. The Corinthians are receiving this letter from Paul because there has been a lot of infighting about hierarchies around spiritual gifts and classism. The church in Corinth is arguing about who is best, who deserves to be honored, and who does not. They have created the barriers between themselves and whoever is determined to be the other. They have tried to separate themselves from the full community for an exclusive club. 

And this kind of infighting in the Corinthian church reminds me so much of our world today. We create all sorts of barriers between us and the perceived other. We try to separate ourselves more and more from community with the myth of individualism. This myth says that you are all you have and you are all you need to survive and even thrive in this world. But Covid-19 has forced this myth of individualism to be confronted in our world. I might feel isolated but when I order groceries they are grown by someone, shipped by someone, and  picked up by someone. When I go on my computer to do some work I contact others, I use the internet somehow up and working by others, I turn the heat on which is generated by others. I am not alone. I am not independent. 

Even if I were to stretch my imagination to try and figure out what exactly it would mean to be fully independent I run into complications. If I go completely into the woods and live off the land and build my own cabin, someone probably drove me there. If I walked then someone made the clothes that I am wearing. If I go naked then I still have the people that raised me and taught me how to live. If I was just dropped as a baby into the woods with nothing then I will most likely die. It is impossible to be fully independent. 

And at the same time as I rail against this fierce individualism, Paul reminds us that each of us is unique. Each one of us is wonderfully and fearfully made. We are all called in our uniqueness. Paul says, “And God has appointed in the church many gifts: church starters and leaders, people who tell the hard truths, those who teach others of God’s love; deeds of power that bring all together, gifts of nurses and doctors and prayer warriors, forms of assistance like deacons and FISH, forms of leadership like Session and people standing up for what is right, and various kinds of tongues so that all may be included.” And even more! Who organizes the food pantry? Who runs the worship slides or plays the piano? Who calls that person who has been missing? Who takes you out to a meal just to get to know you better? Can you imagine the chaos if we were all preachers, no one would get a word in edgewise?

You, exactly as you are, with your gifts and skills, your dreams and hobbies, are exactly what this church needs. You are exactly what this world needs. You are beautifully made just as you are.

Here in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he talks about membership. But not like membership that we have now, but rather the word often translated member might better be thought of as a part. We are a part of the body. We are one part. We are a unique part that cannot be replaced but also we are called to be part of the whole. 

The body of Christ needs each and every one of us. Each unique part helps make up the whole. Paul believes in this so much that he proclaims in verse 27 that “You” that’s a plural y’all, “You all are the body of Christ.” You are the body of Christ. The Greek is emphatic. You as a collective have been given many gifts to help life flourish in our world. You have been given a variety of spiritual gifts. Paul believes that this diversity is not just an aspirational pipe dream but essential for the healthy functioning of the body. All the gifts are necessary, and the church of Corinth and us today need to believe that. 

We are not islands. We are not just individuals. We are communal. We are interconnected. We are parts of the whole. “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” Think about the last time you stubbed your toe. Your whole body knew about it and probably couldn’t fully function until the toe felt better.

And here in the church we believe in this interconnectedness. A place where we lift up the weaker members so that all may rejoice. A place where the hierarchy of the world does not define us. A place where each person brings the gifts to lift up the whole. That’s it. You have been wonderfully made and given many gifts to be used for the building up of the body. We are not islands. We are all connected and need one another. So what are you bringing to church today? What gifts do you offer the world? There is nothing too small or insignificant. There is nothing less than or better than. You are what is needed, how can you get plugged into that work? Let someone know this week how you offer your gifts to the body. Because we all need you. We all need each other. Amen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: