1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
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. 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. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 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. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 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." On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 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; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 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. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Today is the last Sunday in January and, as every year, the day of Trinity’s Annual Congregational meeting. Today we will focus on Trinity, on the church – our church – this church and congregation that I am so blessed and grateful to serve as a pastor - and on how things have been throughout the last year and what will we do in this still only four-week old new year. It seems only fitting then that, today, our Epistle readings reminds us what the church is and how it functions.
Today we are reminded that,
- while we have this big beautiful, old building and the sign outside states that this is Trinity Reformed Church United Church of Christ, this building – this church building – is where we gather to worship, but it is not the church.
- While it is here that we come together to support each other, to strengthen each other, to be inspired, to be refreshed and renewed while we go through the ups and downs of life, and while it is here that we come together to be fed at God’s table; this building is not the Church.
- While this building plays a role in our becoming more fully what the church is, this building is not the church.
- The Church is the body of Christ. The church is not this building.
Our Epistle reading from today tells us that we, the people gathered here in body or in spirit - we are “the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Not the council. Not the Sunday School teachers. Not the treasurer or the money or the money counters or the sextons or the secretary. Not even me, the pastor. No, not one person or one group or committee or ministry, but all of us together, the communal WE, are this church and this part of the body of Christ.
Sometimes people talk about their church, the one they belong to and that they have joined as a member; much like someone joining a club or other organization. However, when you join a club, you often pay dues to attend and you can leave whenever you want to and cancel your affiliation. It isn’t that way with the Church. See, while you attend one church and live out your discipleship at one church, it is the universal Church- the Church with a big C – that you have joined through profession or baptism – and you are a part of that Church forever. Your membership doesn’t expire for non-payment. It can never be revoked for non-attendance. Nobody will or can kick you out. And although you might leave one specific congregation or even denomination, you are nevertheless part of the Church – part of the body of Christ; as Romans 11:29 reminds us, “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” God has called you by name and claimed you -for all times. So – church is not like a club.
Church also is not something that happens Sunday morning at 8:30 or 10:45. It is not something you attend for an hour between breakfast and lunch before moving on to other things. Instead, you are part of the Church and a member, a disciple, every hour of every day. It is not a coat you put on or a role you inhabit when you want and put away when not. Instead, church is something you participate in – even non-participation is a kind of participation. Church is a taking and receiving, consuming and contributing, a being filled as well as pouring out. One pastor stated, that “We are not like the audience at a concert, but we are like members of the orchestra making the music – God’s music to which we dance in our daily lives, following our Christian values.”. And when people walk away or stop showing up or stop participating, the Church is less because of it. And when we all work together, beautiful things happen. All members are valuable and needed and wanted. This is not about 'guilting anybody into doing more, but to say that “We need you”. God has gifted you in a way that nobody else has been gifted and we need you to share your gifts. Without them, this part of the body of Christ is not whole.
“In a real sense all life is interrelated. All men [and women] are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be . . . This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
These were the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – and parts of them you heard during last week’s sermon. What he was saying is the same as what Paul was saying. While we are the body of Christ and, individually, a member of it, we are not individuals without the body but are part of a whole. We all need each other and are all connected as the human family of God. Without every single one of us and our diverse backgrounds and experiences and thoughts and even politics, we are not whole. And without that each of us is valued equally and supported equally and uplifted equally, we are not whole. Church is how we make wholeness happen.
And this is exactly why God became Emmanuel – God-With-Us – in the form of Jesus the Christ. God became one of us to reconcile us to each other, to unite us in our differences, to bring healing into brokenness, and to show us how to truly love and value one another…to love our neighbors as ourselves. And we learn this here, at Trinity, in this building where we come together, worship together, learn together and from each other. And it is from this place that we take God’s love and God’s peace out into the world so that all of humankind may be reconciled. That they may all be one – that is Jesus’ prayer and the motto of the UCC, “That they may all be one,” that the body may function as one, that each part of the body – this church, every church, every person, everybody - is valued and loved. That all may be family and friends – close family and friends - and non-are strangers and none are hurting.
In our Gospel reading Jesus gives us his mission statement, his reason for being, and therefore also our reason for being, “to proclaim release to captives…. recovery of sight to the blind, to let oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus said to his early listeners that “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” and it is fulfilled each time we hear it, each time we come once again to understand that we are the body of Christ and are here to embody Christ in the world.
As we get ready to head into our Annual Meeting and look at where we have been and where God is leading us, we do well to remember all of this. Our strength lies in our communal being, our work together, and our love for each other. And our ministries here at Trinity allow and enable us to participate in the mission that Christ has bestowed upon his Church and therefore on us. While our individual lives testify to what God is doing in each one of us and our individuals lives, our ministries testify to how we actively live out our calling as Christ’s body, as Christ’s continuing presence in the world.
And so, let me close with the words and prayer of Saint Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body now but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes through which He looks
Compassion on this world
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good
Yours are the hands with which He blesses all the world
Yours are the hands
Yours are the feet
Yours are the eyes
You are His body
Christ has no body now on earth but yours
We are the body of Christ.
What a wondrous and beautiful and marvelous thing.