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Third Sunday after the Epiphany January 27, 2013

For the first 10 days in February there will be a car show here. Lots of car enthusiasts will attend. They will check out new products and talk about their common interests. They will be joined together for a short time because of their love for cars. There are other types of solidarity that human beings participate in. On February 3, football teams and their fans will share the Super Bowl, coming together for this one night to see and play in the game that will, as one newspaper said, determine the football champion of the world. On a more serious note, people shave their heads if a friend has lost his or her hair due to chemotherapy or run or walk in a race to raise money for a cause. My sister is a re-enactor. She goes to groups that wear old-fashioned clothes and share an interest in life in early America. They are identified as a group by their clothing and lifestyle.

People have a need to belong to a group, to be part of something bigger than they are, but they also have a need to express their own identity. One of the most recent things many of us did was make New Year’s resolutions about how we are going to improve ourselves. Mine are more hopes than resolutions, but I want to do my posture exercises more, read more theology books and practice voice more to name a few. Others of you may want to lose weight or exercise more or spend more time on relationships or go on a trip you’ve been wanting to go on for a while. We identify ourselves as a self with tattoos, the way we dress, our hair color and what parts of ourselves we present to the public.

It is important for a happy life for us to have a balance of being an “I” and being a “we”. Paul says it is important for the church’s existence in the world too. He compares the church to a body, which is one thing with many parts. It is like that with Christ, he says.

The foundation of the church is its unity in Christ, and it is the Holy Spirit that is the unifier. The Holy Spirit is the effecter of our baptism, as it was the agent in Jesus’ baptism. No matter who we are ethnically, socially or religiously, that baptism makes us one community of faith. We are joined together in a common bond with God and one another that is not breakable. In addition we are in solidarity when we receive the Eucharist and drink of the one Spirit.

We cannot attain this membership in the body of Christ. It is given to us as a free gift of grace. We all have the same mission – to carry out Christ’s work in the world. Yet our unity does not mean uniformity. To be a body the church cannot merely tolerate diversity, it must celebrate it. You and I are together, but we may be as different as night and day. Those differences must be held in the tension and worked with to make the church function properly. You cannot put yourself out of the body because you think you are not necessary to its functioning. You cannot belittle yourself. A colleague of mine wanted to be on the Standing Committee for the diocese, but never tried because she did not think she had what it took. She did not think she had the necessary experience to be an important part of the diocese at work. But she was wrong. She was already an important part of the diocese at work because she was a faithful pastor. She could not say that because she wasn’t on this committee or that one that she was not part of the diocese. I often compare myself to others when it is the self that I am that God wants to use. We are all equally loved and important to God. If I were not I, something important would be missing from the body.

By the same token, no one can throw us out of the body of Christ and say I don’t need you because you are not important. Families can cut off members, but those members are still a part of the family. And the family is out of balance because it has tried to cut off part of itself.

God created the body with many parts that make a unified whole. God arranged the members just as God chose. There are weaker parts and stronger parts. To keep from having dissension God gave greater honor to the inferior parts, which scholars think are probably the sex organs or the internal organs. The parts of Christ’s body do not just go around and do their work independently. No body functions that way. It takes many parts of a body to do a single task. My nephew John is working on his Ph.D. in biomechanical engineering. His current project is to give a paralyzed woman the use of one prosthetic arm. She had brain surgery to implant electrodes in her head so that she could work the arm to pick up and put down objects. Even in a paralyzed body, the parts that are available must work together to do the tasks that are possible. In addition to Christ’s body functioning together in unity, the members of the body care for one another. They suffer when one of the members suffers and rejoice when one of the members is honored.

Paul’s final topic in his analogy of the church as the body of Christ is his focus on spiritual gifts. The Corinthians were tending to view some spiritual gifts as more important than others, leading to divisiveness in the community. Paul says that as all members of the body are equally important to the functioning of the church, all spiritual gifts, which are given by the Holy Spirit, are equally important. Everyone is not gifted in the same way. It is important to discern one’s spiritual gifts to use them for the upbuilding of the church. AtSt. John’sin the past, we have used a spiritual gifts inventory as one tool to determine who has what gifts. Feedback from the community is another tool we can use, as is personal prayer.

When we pay our dues to join an organization, such as a health club or a computer dating service, we get privileges. We are able to use the facilities or the on-line services to get something we want. When we are members of the body of Christ, our lives are different. We do not pay membership dues; we are made a member by the grace of God in the power of the Spirit. And we do not get privileges as such, we get responsibilities (Rayewynne J. Whiteley). We are to use our gifts in the service of God’s kingdom. We can use our gifts wisely or we can misuse them. We can refuse to use them at all, listing ourselves as members of the community but never attending or serving in any capacity (Raewynne J. Whiteley) or we can continue to do something out of a sense of duty, long after God has given us another gift that we are called to use.

And what are we to use our gifts for? If we are to be the body of Christ, we must follow Jesus. In the gospel, Jesus gives the inaugural address for his ministry. He stands up to read in the synagogue at Nazarethand quotes Isaiah 58:6 and 61:1-2. It is a very simple address. Jesus was anointed to bring good news to the poor; release to those in unjust captivity, give sight to the blind, literally and figuratively, and to let the oppressed go free. He is going to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. It is a radical statement of liberation and inclusiveness. Jesus is going to proclaim good news to the people who had suffered from bad news all of their lives. They were going to be freed from the captivity of low social standing. The “have-nots” were going to be made equal with the “haves”.

That is what we are called to do. As members of the body of Christ, we are to practice radical inclusivity. We are to include those of all races, classes, ethnic groups and gender preferences in the body. We are to treat them all equally and encourage them to feel gifted and cared for. We are not only to be Jesus for them; we are to allow them to be Jesus for us, so that we may all be in unity with one another.

It is difficult, this balance of being an “I” and a “we” in the body of Christ. We are each called to function in our own particular vocation and we are all called to be in community with those who have different functions. When our bodies move, we do not think twice about how many parts it takes to perform a simple act such as eating or walking. As the body of Christ, the church at work in the world, our goal is to be whatever God has made us to be – the hand, the foot or the eye – and to move in unity and diversity without dissension as a community that has gifts to offer the world.

AMEN

  - Rev. Ann Barker

 

Works cited:
Raewynn J. Whitely, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol 1. Homiletical Perspective, p. 281