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Saturday, January 30, 2016

What a body

My sermon for this week was based on 1 Corinthians 12:1-11.

This passage is, of course, the  classic metaphor for what it means to be a group of people: comparing a group to a body whose various parts and members must work in tandem to achieve much greater things than each of those parts and members could accomplish on their own.

To understand this passage in our own modern context, we first have to understand the culture into which Paul was speaking when he wrote this letter.

This was the first of two letter Paul wrote to the nascent Christian church in Corinth.  Generally speaking, if Paul had to write to you twice, it wasn't because he was proud of you.  This was the case with the Christian community in Corinth.

Corinth was a pretty cosmopolitan city, and so you found there a confluence of cultures, religions, philosophies and schools of thought.  You know how even in your own church and workplace (where you might expect there to be similar goals) you often find people disagreeing?  Well, try to imagine a nascent Christian church composed of converts from Judaism, from Paganism, from any one of literally dozens of different races, cultures, religions and philosophies.

The short story is there was conflict in the Corinthian church.

Although he doesn't get into much detail about the conflicts, one can only imagine they had to do largely with the distinction between sacred and profane (remember Gentiles did not share the same food and purity laws as Judaism), who was in charge, how they should worship, what their mission and vision was and probably just trying to simply articulate the raison d'etre of this new community Paul had started.

And it was to these conflicts that Paul was addressing his letter, urging the people to resolve their differences and find some common ground, but he does it in what I think is a particularly touching manner.  Rather than insist that everybody think the same, he urges the Corinthians to accept and celebrate each others' differences.

For example, I have known some churches and religions who insist on everyone believing the same thing, and no doubt, questioning or conflict is ever broached.  In other words, every member of the community is exactly the same.  I don't think I need to explain why this is not healthy, and why this is not faith.

If we transpose this onto Paul's metaphor, imagine if you will a body composed entirely of feet or hands or eyes.  Not a pretty picture, and not a very successful body.

Rather, Paul points out the obvious: hands are not feet, eyes are not ears, but each body part does something unique, and those unique gifts are necessary for the proper functioning of the body.

Back to church: religion and/or culture in general has a history of excluding people.  At one point, women were considered second class, as were African-Americans and First Nations.  Let's not lie, there are still barriers for them in many places.  Today, there are obviously still some corners of religion and culture where sexuality causes barriers.  To hear church folk speaking about world events today, it would seem that being Syrian and/or Muslim is a barrier.

These are all ways in which we say to others, "You are not part of the body", ways in which we cut others off and exclude, and it seems we are better at that than we are at finding ways to affirm to people, "You are part of this body, and an honoured one at that".

The problem is that we who are left in the body do ourselves as much harm in cutting off other people as we do to the people we cut off.

Can anyone argue that women's ordination hasn't brought new life and gifts to the church?  Can anyone argue that the Civil Rights movement wasn't right and good and in keeping with our faith?  Can anyone argue that dialogue with First Nations hasn't been healing and productive, even after all the sins of the church?  Can anyone argue that despite the difficulties, moving towards an affirmation of human sexuality hasn't been life-giving?  Can anyone argue that helping Syrians and Muslims even though up until recently they have not been part of "our body" isn't entirely in keeping with our Christian mission?

Not convincingly.  Not even close.

The rule is simple: the more "members" you remove, whether we are talking about bodies or groups, the more crippled you are.  The more members you have, the more you are able to act, and the more you benefit from the individual skills, talents and gifts of the body.

Today, I would like to challenge you to rejoice in being part of a body, whether that be a church, family, workplace or group of friends, and to take time to rejoice in the gifts that other members bring to that body.

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