Jan 24 Sermon

Dexter Kearny III

January 24. 2016

A Strange Family

Our New Testament Reading comes from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Chapter 12. Verses 12 through 31. Listen for God’s Word.

12 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. 13 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.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would 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. 16 And if the ear would 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. 17 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? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 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.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 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; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 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. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts.

This is the Word of the Lord.

Congregation responds: Thanks be to God.

 

Sermon

“Do you know the number one cause of eye and nose injuries in France?” (Pause) “Champagne corks.” This is what my uncle says right before he pops the cork on a bottle of champagne, which he brings to every family gathering that I can remember. My family loves to toast things and we do it with much gusto.

I remember one time, it was Thanksgiving 2011. I was living in Tennessee working as a campus ministry intern for the year. I was unable to fly home to Seattle for this holiday and instead spent it with my Dad’s side of the family. This was the first holiday with my Dad’s side of the family since I was very young and those holidays were quite different because I would have been with my parents.

So after popping the cork on this occasion, my family begins to toast. On this occasion the toasting got a little out of hand because there were about twenty of us. We toasted to family, to the birthdays this month, last month, and next month. We toasted graduations both previous and future. We toasted the animals in the room. We toasted the hosts and then we toasted the guests. Finally as things were winding down, my grandfather shouts with his glass raised high, “To the ships at sea.” It was completely random, though he was a navy man, we had never heard him say this before. The family all looks around and then in unison lifts our glasses and says “To the ships at sea.”

And as we sat around the dinner tables, yes tables because there were so many of us, I began to look around. I saw my family in a new light that day. I had previously only seen them with my parents and that was how and why I was connected to them. This being the first time I was with them alone, turned them from my Dad’s family into my family. And I wondered how this odd group of strangers all ended up in one place toasting each other and eating around table together. It was a beautiful moment for me. And as I look back, I realize that that experience is what church is all about. It is about a group of strangers gathered around love that unites them into a family. It is what Paul is talking about as he addresses the Corinthians.

But the Corinthian church does not seem to understand these new family bonds. They do not understand this reorganization of community.

The Corinthian church was in the midst of division. Factions were forming. People were excluding others from worship and communion. In Corinth, some were being told they were lesser because of what gifts they had. People in the Corinthian church were even taking lawsuits out against one another. The individuals in the Corinthian church were focused internally at themselves rather than externally at the people around them. They cared more about power and looks than the radical love of Jesus.

I am not saying that families do not fight. I am certainly not saying that my family is perfect, trust me we have plenty of problems. But, with some exceptions, every family has a choice to come back together after the fight or to leave. As the body of Christ we have to come back together.

The Corinthian church was not living as the body of Christ. They were focusing on their differences rather than the love that united them. They were acting like strangers rather than family.

Paul knows what has been going on in Corinth. He has been in communication with the Corinthian church and is hearing about all the squabbles and divisions happening. In chapter one Paul says that Chloe’s people have let him know about all the quarreling. Paul knows what is going on. I mean, you know what it is like to be between two people who are fighting. Hearing both sides of the story. Paul responds here in a way to bring this church back together rather than split them apart. Paul is working for unity and reconciliation.

So Paul decides to use a common metaphor from the time to help them understand what it means to be in the family of God. What would happen to the body if different parts started rebelling? What would happen if we did not have any hands or feet?

This seems to me to be a very straightforward argument. In order to be a body we must all work together or else we will not function at all. All parts of the body are essential. If we work together we will be okay. Seems simple enough.

However at the time of the Corinthian church this metaphor was often twisted to hold those in power over those who were weaker. In Paul’s day there were many political leaders and those in authority who would argue that the whole body has to work together for the good of society. Same as Paul’s argument for the church. But then these politicians and the ones in power would create a hierarchy of body parts. Some were more essential or important than others. They would argue that they as the head or the eyes might be more essential than the working class members such as the hands or feet. They used this body metaphor to uphold their power over other and keep people in their place. They used this argument to say that people needed to stay in their positions or else all of society would fail while also maintaining that some positions are more important to society than others.

Our culture loves to work in hierarchies too. David talked about this last week how we love to work in hierarchies. Making something better and something worse. And we have done this all through history, rich or poor, male or female, white or black, degrees or vocational training. We all create and live into a hierarchical human system.

And some would look at Paul’s message where he says, “First apostles, second prophets, third teachers…” Et cetera et cetera. Some would see this as Paul creating a hierarchy. I actually think Paul is not making a status claim here. Rather he is showing us the chronological order. First someone needs to come and start a church, apostle. Then someone to speak to the current situation, prophet. Then someone to teach the faith, teachers. And so on and so forth. Paul is not making a status claim because that would negate all the work he did in the metaphor.

Paul’s metaphor does two things contrary to the way the body metaphor had been twisted.

First, Paul’s metaphor forces those in power to recognize that those they have oppressed are just as essential to the body as they are. The hierarchies they have been creating are false. The so-called weaker members are just as important as the so-called stronger ones. Without them the body would not be whole. Their gifts are just as essential as any others.

If you think you have better gifts for the church than someone else. You are wrong. Your gifts are helpful yes, but there is no hierarchy of gifts. “If the whole body was an eye, where would the hearing be?” We need all the parts to function.

The second thing Paul’s metaphor does is to lift up those who had been oppressed saying, “God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member.” Paul is saying that those who think they are not an important part of the church are actually completely essential to the church. The people who have been crushed by the hierarchies are told that those claims of status are false. Your worth does not come from human made distinctions.

If you think you have nothing to offer or that others have something better to offer the church. You are wrong. You are just as vital and important and necessary to the life of the church. Without you we would not be whole.

This is all part of Paul’s vision for the church. It should be built on God’s love for us and our love for one another rather than status or power. Just because there are different roles to be done in the church does not mean that those who do one thing are better than those who do something else.

We know that in team sports you need people to play all the positions not just one. If you had a team full of quarterbacks in football or a team full of goalies in soccer that would be a disaster. Or some people say their vote does not matter amongst the millions of other votes, but sadly nearly half of voting age adults do not vote. Think about the difference they could make if the all voted. Even Nader could win!

This is essential to our understanding of the church. We need diversity. We need everyone to speak up. Each person is essential for the whole. We do not need to all look the same or act the same. God made us unique but has called us together. We can be unified in our diversity.

And this is all because of the love of God that has leveled the playing field for all of us. Paul says in the letter to the Philippians that “Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of humanity.” Jesus lowered himself so that we could all partake in God’s love. And this love is not based on any good works that we do. It is not based on any gifts or skills we have. It is all based on the God who loves us. Therefore we become the church, a place that reflects this God-like love to all who enter.

Paul is calling the Corinthian church to act like the body of Christ. To act like the children of God. This is your family like it or not. You cannot change your family. You cannot change the God who unites all Christian believers together. God’s love calls us together to live as the family of God.

My family was a group of people gathered from all over the country. Different backgrounds. Different careers. Different incomes. Different levels of schooling. But they were united because of love. That is what made them a family. That is what made them my family.

This is the church! A random, weird collection of strangers that is transformed into a community that weeps together and rejoices together. It is so much more than simply kumbaya and holding hands together.

The Presbyterian Church in its foundational documents claims that the church as the body of Christ embodies four things. It says:

We are a community of faith as we trust ourselves to God. We have faith in a God who unites us and hold us together. God is providing that love to keep us unified.

It says, we are a community of hope. We believe that the current state of things will not always exist. We believe that God is making a new creation, in ourselves, in our church, and in our world. Even where we see division and strife, we believe that God provides an opportunity for hope.

It says, we are a community of love; forgiving sins, reconciling peoples, and tearing down the walls of hostility that divide us. As we share the love God has given us with others we develop stronger bonds amongst each other.

And it says, we are a community of witness; pointing past ourselves to the transforming love of Jesus Christ in the world. Our actions of love are our witness to the world. We continue to welcome people into our church family.

This is what it means to be the body of Christ. United by a God who loves us. The hierarchies that used to define us no longer do. Only God’s love defines us and we receive that all equally. Transformed into a people who seek to include all people, never content to enjoy the benefits of our community for itself alone.

Church is this random collection of people surrounding us. United by God’s love. It is this strange family. And I love it!