St. Luke’s Church – Part of Christ’s Body

“St. Luke’s Church – Part of Christ’s Body”

1 Corinthians 12:12-26 (12:26) – February 7, 2021

            So many activities needed to stop with the shut-down and shelter-in-place last March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. One thing I have missed very much is the wonderful time I spent reading to the preschool children here at St. Luke’s Church. Every Tuesday morning for years, I read picture books of all kinds to the children.

            I was reminded of this sad experience as I considered today’s Scripture reading. Paul’s discussion about the Church compared to an actual, human body reminded me of a delightful children’s picture book, one I’d love to read to the preschool children. This book is a retelling of a Liberian creation story about a human head, two arms, a body, and two legs, and how they all decide to come together and work as a team, creating a complete human body.

I believe the apostle Paul would greatly approve this story and message! A human body does need its various parts to work together. Just imagine the commotion, the disruption that would happen if parts of the body went on strike, or refused to work with other parts of the body!

As Paul said, “15 If the foot were to say, “Because I am not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,” that would not keep it from being a part of the body. 16 And if the ear were to say, “Because I am not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,” that would not keep it from being a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were just an eye, how could it hear? And if it were only an ear, how could it smell? 18 God put every different part in the body just as God wanted it to be.”

No matter how many parts of the body we name, each part is important, and each part is needed. We can tell right away if a part of the body is hurt, or broken, or not working normally. And, what if certain parts are missing altogether? The functionality of the body – or, as Paul would remind us, of the Church – would be very much diminished.

I know most people are associated with a local church, and many people are active members. What a wonderful way to honor and please the Lord when God’s children are active and vital parts of God’s body – the Church.

The local church has members who are active in many roles. There are those who are the mouth of the congregation – the pastor and teachers in the church. The arms of a local church are often seen as the deacons, in the food pantries and serving ministries. And, the feet of a congregation can be those who transport people, or participate in Meals on Wheels. The heart of the local church can be those vital members who are well-beloved among the church folk.

As I describe various tasks and ministries, I suspect you can think of individuals who fit these to a “T.” And, all of these parts of the body, of the Church, are needed.

From time to time, churches need to take stock, and see where they are going as a congregation. Group reflection and consideration is useful, even exciting. We here at St. Luke’s Church are going to put together a timeline of the past 20 years this coming weekend! As Fred Rogers of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” said, “Who we are in the present includes who we were in the past.”

I need to present this church timeline as the final project in a clinical internship I am taking right now. Plus, I see this marvelous opportunity for our congregation to find out more about some important history that this church shares together. Both the ups as well as the downs, the celebrations as well as the difficulties are all so important and valuable to reflect upon and consider. The best part is that we will have a marvelous church coach to assist us this weekend.

The Rev. Brandyn Simmons has a great deal of experience in working with congregations on the historical background of a congregation as well as the assessment and understanding piece. I am very grateful to Pastor Brandyn, and I ask each of you for your prayers as we take this exciting journey of memory and discovery.

Some of you may have long experience with your local church, or you may be a more recent member. Regardless of how long you have been at your church, what has kept you coming to worship services? What aspects of fellowship and togetherness at your church are important to you? What is the single most positive thing you would like to tell me about your church? Now, take that thing – whatever it is – and write it down. Send it to your pastor in an email, or in a phone call, text, or note by mail. This is such a blessing for your pastor and your congregation!  

For many churches, the first Sunday of the month is Communion Sunday. In the Lord’s Supper, the local congregation has another reason to come together as the Body of Christ. We are invited to come together around the table and share the bread and the cup together. Even in the socially-distant time of the pandemic, we can still be together in spirit and in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.    

Yes, we are all individuals, and yes, each of us is beloved by God to be whatever part of the Church Body God has meant for us to be! And yes, we can be the best hand or eye or foot or whatever Church Body-part we are able. Can you do that? I know I will try. Let’s all strive to be God’s Body as we pull together, work together, and celebrate together. The apostle Paul would certainly approve!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Interconnected Gifts

“Interconnected Gifts”

1 cor 12-27 part of the body

1 Corinthians 12:11-31 (12:20) – January 27, 2019

Have you ever seen a Mr. Potato Head? A children’s toy, with a plastic potato body, and different holes you could stick different parts in. Eyes, ears, hat, nose, mouth, hands and feet. Can you imagine a Mr. Potato Head with all hands and no eyes, nose or ears? Or, how about a Mr. Potato Head with several mouths and no feet? I suspect some people would laugh at that children’s toy. Can you hear children saying, “Look at that silly Mr. Potato Head!”

Let’s take a closer look at our Scripture reading for today from 1 Corinthians chapter 12. We have been talking about gifts for the past few weeks. Not only in the weekly sermons, but also in other parts of our worship service, too. Here the Apostle Paul is continuing his discussion on gifts that God gives to every believer. Willingly, generously, God blesses each person with at least one spiritual gifts, and sometimes many gifts. And, as Paul tells us, the Holy Spirit decides who gets what, and when.

Let’s go back to our Mr. Potato Head. We can all see how the different parts fit into the toy. Any child could tell us that we need diverse parts. Eyes, nose, ears, mouth, hands and feet. Eyebrows, too. And mustache, and hat. All different parts, with all different functions.

Reading Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 12 from Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message, “You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ.”

So many parts, many pieces, many functions. And, one body, or one church.  Let’s let the Apostle Paul elaborate: “Each of us is now a part of Christ’s resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.”

Sounds like the Apostle Paul has already heard about a church or two that has had arguments or disagreements about their spiritual gifts. You would think these individual Christians would be thankful they have been given one special way to identify themselves!

In the past, and even in the present, Christians might identify themselves differently. They could concentrate on separate differences. For example, some of us here were born in the United States, and some were born overseas. There’s one difference. Some of us identify as male, and some as female. Some of us are right-handed. Some of us have brown eyes.

There are lots of ways to identify the people in this room. We could line up under these different signs, Or—and this is the important part—we could all identify as Christians.

What does the Apostle Paul have to say about this very question? Paul approaches differences from a functional point of view. “I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, lovely and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.”

When Paul often talks about church to his friends in Corinth, he means them—the local church. That’s what Paul means right here. He is talking to the local churches. He is talking to me and you. He means St. Luke’s Church, right here on this corner in Morton Grove. Rev. Jeff Campbell, United Methodist minister, says “In the body of Christ, all of us and the gifts that we bring to the church are indeed interrelated. We cannot succeed in our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, unless we are working together, truly valuing and depending on the gifts that each disciple offers for the good of the whole.” [1]

Some parts of the Bible are confusing or troubling; they don’t make much sense. Strange and mysterious passages! This Scripture reading from Paul is not. It talks common sense. Understandable and clear. But, these instructions are not always simple and easy to follow. Sometimes, something inside does not want us to work together.  Something inside might not want to ask for help, or be willing to be a Good Samaritan, and give help to whoever needs it.

The Rev. Campbell suggests taking a not-so-very official poll, to let us understand a little better what he is talking about here. For the following statements, rate how much you agree or disagree. Be honest! You may keep the answers to yourself. But, try to be truthful, in your heart.

  • It is okay to need another person’s help.
  • All that I need I can provide.
  • Don’t ask me for help. I’ll offer help when I can.
  • I would come close to death before I would consider asking for help.
  • It makes me uncomfortable to ask for help.

This thoroughly unscientific poll reveals a few possibilities:

  • We are uncomfortable being vulnerable.
  • We are uncomfortable asking for help.
  • We don’t have extra time to help. [2]

Asking for help, even in the church, can be a challenge! Accepting help can be difficult, too. All kinds of things can get in the way. As Rev. Campbell says, “When it comes to recognizing the interrelated nature of our gifts, we must come to terms with our own vulnerability and dependency; and we must declare that it is okay to need one another!

“The reality is there are many parts of the body that aren’t always functioning, and those parts often don’t realize how it hurts the whole. This is not about guilt or telling you to do more. No, this is to say — with honesty and love — that we need you and we need one another. God has gifted you in ways that God has not gifted me. I need you to show up and share your gifts, because without your gifts, this body will not function the way it was meant to function.” [3]

Remember that Mr. Potato Head, with all hands, and no eyes, ears or nose? The apostle Paul tells us that everyone—each person in a local congregation has their role, and their gift. It may not be a prominent gift, it may be a humble gift, but every gift has its place. Each Christian has their place in the body of Christ, too.

We all need each other to show up, and to be here as a community, to use our gifts for the glory of God. There is no such thing as a solo, Lone Ranger Christian. We are a community of Christ! Paul reminds us of that blessed fact: mutual care, concern and encouragement of each other, and ministry to those who need to know about the Lord. Let’s get going, and do the work God has intended for us to do!

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-1-worship-planning-series/january-27-third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-2019-year-c-preaching-notes

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

(Many thanks to the Rev. Jeff Campbell and http://www.umcdiscipleship.org for ideas and assistance for this January series on spiritual gifts.)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

One Family of God

“One Family of God”

unity how good it is

1 Corinthians 12:12-14 – January 24, 2016

At this time of the year, many people get all excited about sports. Hockey, basketball, and especially football. The end of the football season is upon us! There are many different types of positions on a football team. I was wondering: how good would a team be if all of the players were big and bulky, like offensive linemen? Or, how about if all the players wiry and nimble, like wide receivers? How successful would a team like that be?

The Apostle Paul told the church in Corinth about another group, or team. Except, he called it a body—God’s body. God put together all the different believers into a team, or body called the church. God’s team. When we consider our passage for today, we can also see that God made different kinds of gifts, as well. God’s plan is for human beings to live together in one body. That is, with one another, in a great big community.

What on earth is Paul talking about? A body? Why is he mentioning a metaphor like that? Well, he was responding to a letter from the church in the city of Corinth. He had spent a number of months in the city, teaching and preaching. Then, he went on his way to other towns, to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. He was an itinerant preacher and missionary, after all.

I suspect Paul had a great number of people sending him letters, asking him questions, wanting his advice about continuing problems in the various churches he had founded. A number of things were the matter with the church in Corinth. In his letter, Paul tried to correct several issues, including this important issue about spiritual gifts, and unity in the church.

Reading from chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians again: “12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” That’s Paul’s main point! Yes, we in the church are one body! Yes, we in the church have different strengths, and roles, and gifts! Just like a body has many, many different parts. Those different parts do countless tasks. Certain parts of the body are versatile! And, other parts of the body do just one thing. But, that doesn’t make any smaller part any less a part of the body. Big parts, important parts, little parts, behind-the-scenes parts. All different kinds of parts of the body.

One of my favorite commentators had a radio program for years. J. Vernon McGee broadcast a show called “Thru the Bible,” in which he would do just that; methodically go through the Bible in five years, teaching and giving comments in his homespun, aw shucks kind of way. This Presbyterian pastor Dr. McGee had incredible insights!

Dr. McGee told several stories about this particular chapter from 1 Corinthians. On one occasion, Dr. McGee went to a school in Georgia to deliver a commencement address. Afterwards, he went to a doctor’s home for dinner. Quoting from his commentary, “[The doctor] asked me whether I knew which was the most important part of my body while I had been speaking. I guessed it was my tongue. ‘No,’ he said, ‘the most important part of your body today was a member that no one was conscious of. It was your big toe. If you didn’t have a couple of big toes, you wouldn’t have been able to stand up there at all.’” [1]

We all are probably familiar with a popular children’s toy. Put out by Hasbro, small children have played with it for decades. Made even more famous by an appearance in all three Toy Story movies from Pixar. Mr. Potato Head, accompanied by his partner, Mrs. Potato Head, of course. You remember how Mr. Potato Head works. A large potato. And, the separate parts of the body: eyes, ears, nose, mouth. Hands, feet. Reminds me quite a bit of the Apostle Paul’s metaphor of the Church, the body of Christ, doesn’t it? But what if our Potato Head had all eyes, and no hands? Or, all ears and no feet? What then? Would it be all lopsided? Wouldn’t work properly?

Just imagine if our local church, St. Luke’s Church, was all lopsided like this? Wouldn’t work properly? Not only is the Church meant to have unity, or work well together, it is also made up of diverse or different parts, on purpose!

Looking back at Genesis, we can see that diversity is definitely in God’s plan for humanity from the very beginning. The sheer creativity of God in creation is so big and so varied. A countless variety of individuals made in every size, shape, color, ethnicity. Having endless variations of gifts that God gave to each of us.

The only way I can figure this, is God is pleased when we use our God-given creativity in any one of a myriad of ways—inventing, designing, doing, helping, making, thinking, crafting, composing, giving. And when we use our God-given gifts, it plain feels good inside.

When we look at this chapter in 1 Corinthians, Paul stresses that the church—the group of believers in Christ he was writing to—in all of its diversity, is a community. A great, big extended family, if that helps you think about it in that way. I know that can remind us of the whole topic of the families each of us were born into–and some people don’t want to go there—with in-laws, out-laws, black sheep, and all the rest. But biblically speaking, this is God’s family. Unity? Yes! Diversity? Again, yes!

There is a wrinkle in this happy, unified picture the Apostle Paul paints for us. I suspect you are already thinking about it.

The missiologist, Donald McGavran of Fuller Seminary, talks about it. “If you expect people to convert and churches to grow, said McGavran, you must appeal to a common denominator around which they can gather — ethnicity, language, level of education, and so on. And homogeneity is what we mainly see when we look at churches — black Pentecostals enjoy their lively worship, Episcopalians prefer their quiet formality, some people like the organ, others like praise bands, and never the twain shall meet.” [2]

I know the Apostle Paul didn’t study different approaches to mission or worship, like people in seminary do today. He was more immediate, and I suspect more of a nuts and bolts kind of guy, for all his education and fancy titles. He talked in our passage today about the unity of the Body of Christ. He knew about diversity, since many of the groups of believers he preached to were just that—diverse, with people from all different strata, coming to faith in Jesus Christ.

It doesn’t matter whether we have obvious differences, or an infinite number of variations. God calls us to unity; the unity of Jesus Christ, and to a diversity without division. To the church in Colossae Paul writes, “There is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, Scythian, slave or free, male or female, but Christ is all, and is in all.”

Yes, there is diversity! Yes, we are all different from each other. And, yes, we are all one in Christ Jesus. We can celebrate that blessed reality today!

Just imagine. Just imagine what a marvelous job each Church could do, if each member used what God had given to each one, to the best of their ability! What an opportunity for ministry! What an opportunity for outreach!

What possibilities lie before us as a church, as the Body of Christ in this place? May each of us prayerfully ask what God would have us to do with the gifts God has given each of us, today. Amen, alleluia!

 

[1] McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. V, 1 Corinthians—Revelation (Nashville, Thomas Nelson Publishers: 1983), 60.

[2] Epiphany 3C, The Journey with Jesus: Notes to Myself, Daniel B. Clendenin, Journey with Jesus Foundation, 2013. http://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20130121JJ.shtml

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!