Rev. Caroline Lawson Dean
October 14th 2018
Christ Church, Summit
Reader #1: Our reading today is from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. This fledgling community struggled with conflict & division. They had heated debates over whether or not they were allowed to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Which seems like a manageable problem compared to some of the challenges of our day. But the early church in Corinth was also threatened by something a bit more familiar: a preoccupation with social standing. They divided themselves into camps, ranking and judging each other from afar – perhaps this sounds a bit more familiar…
Reader #2: 1st Corinthians 12:12
“The human body has many parts, but many parts make up the whole body. So it is with the Body of Christ.”
Reader #1: Greco-Roman writers used “the body” as a metaphor illustrating how ‘unity can exist within diverse societies.’ However the elites of the Greco-Roman era used this analogy to draw attention the emperor as the “head of the body.” Unity & diversity can coexist, and yet at the end of the day the emperor is in charge. In his writings, the apostle Paul “challenges the notions of class and privilege assumed to be natural.” Instead Paul lifts up the “smaller parts” of the body as integral to the work of the body of Christ. If the Greco-Roman emphasis was on the emperor as “head” of the body – Paul’s emphasis is on the little one – the one without power – and the important role that she has in the formation of early church communities.
Reader #2: 1 Corinthians 12:14-27
“The body has many different parts, not just one part. If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where God wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part!
There are many parts but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet “I don’t need you.” In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”
Let us pray: God of Love, remind us this day of the sacred connections that bind us to each other – that indeed bind us to you – we pray this by the power of your Spirit and in the name of your Son – Amen.
I had this revelation recently that parenting a little one, mostly entails taking care of a tiny body – food in and food out – clothes on and clothes off – food smashed in hair and food washed out of hair – up the stairs and down the stairs. We practice our words, her little lips mirroring mine. We revel in the joy of fingers picking up peas and we toddle around working on our balance. Oh and then there is there sleep – precious sleep. It turns out that learning to sleep is a critical part of learning how to use your body.
And I often consider the gift of my own body. How many times have I lifted the baby, perched her on my hip, rocked her, nursed her, or reached for her when she bopped into something? There is the lower back pain that morphs into the more recent shoulder pain. But of course it is all worth the miracle that my body has been able to create & sustain a tiny human being for over a year, I should say – with the help of a generous husband, family & community of support.
When we are young and when we grow older – and sometimes in between when we face physical limitation – we have access to this reality: we need each other. We are connected – indeed our bodies together form a sort of collective organism – something living, evolving, something sacred. It’s what Paul writes about when he talks about “the Body of Christ.” In these in between times – between childhood and “elderhood,” we can sometimes believe the lie that “we are independent, we are of our own making.” But the truth is, Charlie, Brantley & I – we need each other – our bodies are connected. And that connection is sacred. When you spend so much time fostering a little body and watching its amazing ability to grow, you cannot help but be reminded of the sacredness of each body.
On our All Church Retreat we talked about how Jesus came as God, from God to become a human and how that means that our own bodies are sacred. Each body is amazing. Like Jesus, we carry a bit of God in each of us.
We also talked about how our bodies are connected. We each bring a set of unique gifts to our family, our church and our wider world. We can magnify our gifts by working together. Paul writes about how boring & indeed useless a body would be if it were composed of only eyes or ears. In isolation we are often limited, indeed paralyzed, cut off from our full potential.
On the retreat we talked about how even the little parts of our bodies are important – the parts which seem to have no visible or prestigious job. Rob Bell, author & pastor, tells a story about how he injured his foot in a soccer match. He discovered the importance of a particular bone in our feet. If this bone is misaligned it throws every other bone out of place. Did you know that one quarter of the bones in our body are in our feet (the foot and ankle contain 26 bones, 33 joints and over 100 muscles, tendons & ligaments)? And so if this one tiny bone is misaligned it is impossible to walk because all of the other bones and joints can no longer do their job. The Apostle Paul writes that we need to lift up the jobs of the little ones in the Body of Christ – the unseen, the ones who have a seemingly “small” impact. Because the truth is that in the body, no part has a small impact – each works together for the good of the whole, and so it is with the Body of Christ – the church.
The early Corinthian church had more problems than any of the other communities that Paul mentored in the way of Jesus. First Corinthians is the longest letter that Paul wrote. And in this letter Paul addresses the factions in the church, the divisions that were keeping them in an unhealthy space.
Perhaps Paul was worried that these factions would become chronic – that the earliest Christians would become cut off from each other. They might start to believe the lie that “only the bodies in our camp matter.” Only the bodies who are proximate to us belong to us. And then the Big lie might creep in: “There is not enough. If we take care of everyone’s body – the ones whom we love will be at risk. Those folks over there need to take care of their own! We have worked hard to take care of our community.” Sadly, I fear these lies of divisiveness & scarcity plague our own time.
Clara Wilkins, a professor at Wesleyan University studies the psychology behind reverse discrimination. She writes:
“There’s this perception of a zero sum relationship, men and women are in competition, so if things are better for women, they must be worse for men.” Other research indicates white folks perceive a similar relationship to minority groups.” Again if minority communities are doing better, white communities must then be suffering because of the success of minority groups…
But what if Paul is right?…what if taking care of each other across political, racial, gender, class, even cultural divides actually makes us more whole not less so? What if transcending these divides where we have been cut off from each other give us sustenance that is indeed abundant? What if the kind of love that Jesus is talking about doesn’t run out? What if there is enough? What if what is good for one part of the body, is good for the whole?
Here’s the hard reality that we can no longer ignore if we are concerned with our sacred connectedness: some bodies are more vulnerable to life’s ills than other bodies. Some folks’ ability to get a nutritious meal, to walk safely down the street, to work to provide shelter or good health care is impaired by unjust systems. Some bodies carry the weight of physical or mental illness, addiction, poverty, racism, sexism, classism, or disability.
Injustice lands in our bodies. And if we are called to face injustice & to undo systems that perpetuate suffering, we must be concerned with the physical body. What can we do to create spaces where all kinds of bodies thrive?
And what happens when we are overwhelmed by the needs that arise in our modern moment? Here is the key mantra – “there is enough!” What if for every need presented – there is in fact a way to work together – a miraculous synergy – not to solve problems – but to show up and to start doing something.
This weekend, Oscar Romero, bishop of El Salvador will be granted Sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church.
“Romero was an intellectual with little experience with the poor, reluctant to consider liberation-minded activism. But he began campaigning against poverty, social injustice, torture and systematic killings in his country after the death of his close friend, Jesuit Rutilio Grande. Ultimately, Romero’s transformation led to his assassination in March of 1980.”
When the hard work before us seems like too much, let us remember this prayer attributed to Saint Oscar Romero:
“It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
We are prophets of a future that is not our own.
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something and to do it well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
A step along the way,
An opportunity for the God’s grace to enter and do the rest. (Pause)
When God took on humanity – God got close to us and more specifically, God cozied up to the ones who were most cut off from power and privilege. In the person of Jesus, God’s love was so big, that there were no bodies too stigmatized or too sinful to love.
And so beloved may it be so – may we work to create a world where every “body” belongs. May we not only repeat the mantra “no matter who you are you are welcome here,” but may we go out into our communities and get proximate to those who desperately need partners & advocates.
And along the way may we know that those who have privilege need wholeness just as much as those on the margins need support. May we know that this effort of reconnecting with the Body of Christ is indeed our salvation.
May we go out now reminded of the beauty & brilliance of our bodies – and may we work for a world where each body is given its own sacred space to grow & transform our world for the better – Amen.
 “Imago Dei”