January 24, 2016 – The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
© 2016 Evan D. Garner
Audio of this sermon can be heard here.
With four children under ten, our family spends more time watching cartoons than nature shows, but, every once in a while, something spectacular or dramatic on PBS grabs all of our attention, and we watch with interest as a special on an esoteric corner of creation unfolds on the screen. For me, my favorite moments feature those peculiar animals and plants that are unlike anything else but that have found their special place in the order of things. You know, those flowers with the exceedingly long stamen that rubs against the back of the one species of bird that comes to drink its nectar or the perfectly camouflaged insect that you would swear was a stick until it moves. Those bizarre attributes fascinate me—how over thousands or even millions of years nature has guided a species to a truly strange shape or function that helps it survive. And, taken out of context, I easily forget that a toucan’s bill is no accident—that the strangeness of creation is beautiful most of all in its purpose.
The same can be said for the human body. We are amazing machines. There is so much to admire in the way that our bodies work—how each piece and part fits into the whole so that it all works together in perfect harmony. But we are so accustomed to our bodies that we forget just how special they are. Think about how you got here today. Consider how much we all take for granted: that your hands and eyes and feet all work together to help you do such ordinary though incredibly complex things as eat a bowl of cereal, take a shower, and get dressed. We ignore all of that until our bodies stop working the way that they should. A hangnail reminds us how delicate each finger really is. A broken toe sends a special signal to our brain with every painful step. And those who are stricken with neurological disorders would give anything just to eat that bowl of cereal without having to concentrate on each bite. Most of us don’t think about it very often, but our bodies are perfectly designed for amazing things.
And the same is true of the Body of Christ, which is the church. Paul writes, “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.” Paul wants us to see that the church is very much Christ’s body. Though many and varied, we are all one because we have all been united together by the Holy Spirit in the same baptism. To the Corinthians, Paul writes that it doesn’t matter whether you are Jew or Greek, slave or free, because you are a part of the same body—Christ’s body. And to us he would say that it doesn’t matter whether you are old or young, rich or poor, Democrat or Republican, Episcopalian or Southern Baptist; we are all one because together we are the Body of Christ. And our sometimes bizarre and often difficult togetherness is no accident. It is how God put us together. But, more often than not, it takes even more than a PBS special to remind me of that.
Sometimes in a difficult moment, when someone has disrupted the camaraderie of a group, a person will say, “Well, it takes all kinds,” implying that the world would not be complete if anyone were missing. In response, I remember my old boss saying, “I don’t know if it really takes all kinds, but we sure do have all kinds.” Wouldn’t it be easier if we were all the same? Wouldn’t it be simpler if we all liked the same hymns? Wouldn’t it be nice if we all preferred Rite One or Rite Two? Wouldn’t it be easier if we all agreed about the bible? Wouldn’t we be more Christ-like if all Christians thought the same thing about creation and evolution, about sex and marriage, and about the role of women in the church? Actually, no, we wouldn’t. And that is Paul’s point. We are the Body of Christ not because we are all the same but because together in our differences we are made one in Christ.
Hear what St. Paul says:
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. 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. 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. (1 Cor. 12:15-18)
God has put the Body of Christ together. We are more than a thrown-together collection of misfits. Our composition is not an accident. We have been assembled by God himself in a beautiful and strange body that works together to accomplish his purposes. And how has God decided to arrange this body? According to God’s perfect, upside-down logic that is itself a reflection of how salvation works. Those members that seem to be weaker are actually indispensable, and those that are less respectable are treated with greater respect. And why has God given greater honor to the inferior members? So “that there may be no dissention within the body” and that “all members may have the same care for one another.” If one suffers, all suffer together. If one rejoices, all rejoice together. Thus, one member cannot say to another, “I have no need of you.” Together, we are the Body of Christ—all of us because, in Christ, we are all made one.
But when was the last time you looked across the whole of Christianity and thought, “It doesn’t matter how different we are; Christ really has made us one?” We have a hard enough time sticking together in the Episcopal Church. How will we ever overcome the prideful forces that continue to rip us apart? By seeing what St. Paul saw when he looked out across the church. We are the Body of Christ not by choice but by our nature. Our connectedness is not a matter of the will but the work of the Spirit that ties us inseparably together. It isn’t up to you. And it isn’t up to me. It is God’s work. It is God’s plan for us all to be together. And it’s your job to see that and mine, too, whether we like it or not. As the Body of Christ, it is our work to be together—not to make our togetherness a reality but to make the reality of our togetherness a witness to the world of God’s unifying power. What will you do? What will you do to ensure that, when the world looks upon us, they will see the unified body of Christ and not a collection of members barely able to tolerate one another? How will you live as a part of the one true Body of Christ and show that hope to the world?