Sermon for the Third Sunday after Epiphany

Text: 1 Corinthians 12:28
All of you are Christ's body, and each one is a part of it.

You are the body of Christ

The movie Coach Carter is the true story of Ken Carter, a successful sporting goods store owner, who in 1999 became head basketball coach for a high school in a poorer city suburb. The first thing he notices is the attitude of his players he is about to coach and their extremely dismal performance on the court. So Carter sets out to change this by imposing some strict conditions including respectful behaviour, dress code, and good academic results as a prerequisite for participation in the team.

One player, Timo, thinks that all this is just over the top and quits the team, only to return later with a desire to be reinstated. Timo asks Coach Carter what he must do to play. Carter deliberately sets him an impossible task - he must complete 2,500 push-ups and 1,000 suicide drills by Friday.

By Friday, Timo has tried but hasnít completed the tasks the coach set him. Although impressed by the effort, Carter asks him to leave the gym. Timo has failed.

Unexpectedly, another player, Jason, who previously had a personality conflict with Timo, steps forward. "I'll do push-ups for him," he tells the coach. "You said we're a team. One person struggles, we all struggle. One player triumphs, we all triumph. Right?"

Coach Carter watches Jason drop to the floor and begin doing push-ups. One by one the entire team joins to help Timo reach his goal. They had been acting only as individuals but now they were working together as a team.

Nature provides us with a multitude of examples of the teamwork of animals and birds. Geese fly in a V formation and take it in turns flying up front where the going is harder. When the lead bird gets tired he falls to the back where the updraught caused by the birds in front make flying easier. When penguins experience extremely cold weather they huddle together and as the penguins on the outside get cold they are moved further into the centre and keep on rotating so that they all keep warm. It would be a disaster for them to be selfish. When those outside died from the cold there would be none left to keep the ones in the centre warm.

The Bible reading from 1 Corinthians that we heard before makes some strong points.
First of all, it says that we are Christís body.
Note that it doesnít say like Christís body, but we are Christís body. We are a group of people linked to Christ: thatís what we have in common.
We are individuals thatís true and Jesus has saved us as individuals,
but we have been joined together in baptism to Jesus,
we have been called together into God's family as brothers and sisters,
together we are God's own people (1 Peter 2:9, Col 3:12).

Secondly, we all have the same Spirit that links us to each other.
We have all received the same Holy Spirit who calls us to worship the one Saviour, believe in the one true God, and support and comforts all of us in our time of need.

Our oneness in God our heavenly Father who made us and loves each of us with such intensity and adopts us as his own children;
our oneness in Christ our Saviour and the Holy Spirit who calls us into Godís Church;
this oneness breaks down all of our differences.

One of the most revolutionising things about Christianity in its early stages was the way it broke down barriers. It turned the world of its time on its head.
For the first time master and slave met in the same building for the same purpose, shared the same meals, stood or knelt side by side in worship.
For the first time male and female were able to worship without the marked divisions that Jewish worship demanded.
For the first time Jew and Gentile were able to meet together as equals before the one God whom they worshipped.

The reality is that the church broke down barriers which society still practised. The church was at the forefront of change. It refused to follow the ways of the world but set a different standard that eventually the world adopted for itself. And it did that because it was faithful to what they understood it meant to be joined, linked to Christ as one body.

The third thing this passage emphasises is that while each of us has separate, individual gifts, we all belong to each other, need each other, we all, together, make up what we call church. Paul uses the picture of the body. I donít have to repeat it, you know how it goes.

The point of Paulís picture of the church as a body is two-fold.
One: we are all of value and all have a part to play.
And two: we canít do without each other. Just as a hand canít decide to live in isolation from the rest Ė if it does itís either a disconnected hand or itís not a hand at all Ė so we canít live in isolation from each other.
Thereís no such thing as a Christian who lives in isolation from everybody else. To be a Christian means that you exist in relation to others - you need others just as they need you.

Paul summarised this new oneness that people shared when he said, "All of you are Christ's body". Now remember to whom Paul was writing these words. Here was a congregation of very gifted people but
they couldnít get on,
they argued,
they showed little care for certain sections of the congregation,
they big noted themselves and thought of themselves as more important and more spiritual than the rest,
they took one another to court,
they had all kinds of problems when it came to worship and agreeing on how things were to be done,
and yet in spite of all of this Paul opens his letter by calling them "the saints at Corinth" and then says "Each one of you is part of the body of Christ. Without a doubt, you are the body of Christ". He doesnít say to them, "Now listen here, you guys, this is what it should be like and I know that you will never achieve this". Instead he deliberately and firmly says, "You are the church, the fellowship of believers, in fact, the body of Christ, and this is how it is".

Itís not like life out there in the world. You canít use worldly ways when it comes to the body of Christ.
Out there people use one another,
unfairly and rudely criticise one other,
run others down to promote themselves.
Out there people get all huffy and abusive if they donít get their own way,
are jealous of those who get more attention or given greater status,
use their skills and time selfishly for personal gain only.

In the church things are different. Here our function and purpose is for the good of each other.
If one is sad, then we all share that sadness.
If one is disadvantaged, we all feel that disadvantage.
If one is sick then we long for them to be well.
If one is separated, we want for them to have a sense of belonging.
If one is struggling to cope, we sense that struggle.
And conversely, if one gets a promotion weíre glad for their success.
If a person deserves praise, weíre liberal in giving them some praise.

We encourage others to use their gifts to the fullest.
We look around and recognise that some donít seem to have a particular outstanding talent but we honour them too so that there is no discord, no bitterness, no ill-feeling in the body of Christ.

In the church, in the Christian fellowship, thereís a different set of values which affects the way we operate absolutely. This doesnít happen naturally. That only happens and can only happen, when individuals, when people are linked to Christ. And then it follows that the stronger the link to Christ the more that kind of interaction and togetherness becomes a reality.

I believe that is a key issue Ė how can we expect to be the body of Christ when we donít know Christ and his will is for us? It is through reading the scriptures, studying them, learning from them, receiving Holy Communion, asking Jesus in prayer for his guidance and help, and allowing the love of God in Jesus really affect our daily lives that we know Christ and see our place within his body, the church. The church will be just another group of people or club unless we know the Saviour and realise again that he has called us together to be his people in this community.

I think you would agree that there is plenty of room for repentance and change. There is plenty of room to do a stocktake of what Jesus and his church means to each of us; plenty of room to acknowledge that we have often adopted the attitude of "what can I get out of the church" rather than "what can I give to Christ through the church".
There is plenty of space to admit that we have preferred to sit back and let everyone else do things rather than offering to work with our fellow team mates in the body of Christ. It is pretty easy to not be involved in the church; after all, we do have our lives to live!
There is little doubt that there are many things that we donít like about the human side of the church.

The church is church only because of Jesus. We are called into the church to be with Christ and with those whom Christ has saved. We are here because of the love that Christ has for us and the forgiveness he has won for us. This is what makes the church different to every other organisation in the world. We are motivated by the love of Christ to be like Christ to others Ė welcoming the outcast, accepting the sinner, comforting a little child, welcoming the cheat, encouraging the depressed,

In many ways we do reflect the concept of the body of Christ in this church. There is a sense of caring for each other, of showing concern, of building up and encouraging and helping when itís most needed.

But we could improve. We could work harder
at building up rather than tearing down,
at strengthening rather than weakening,
at thinking corporately (which means "as a body"), rather than individually.
We can commit ourselves to be an organism, a living thing, something that works, and so benefit each other. In our own small way, we as "church" and as individual members of church can shape the community I which we live.

How do you see the church and your place in it?

I want to challenge you this morning as this year gets under way. Think about what St Paulís church means to you. Try to develop a sense of belonging here. Donít just talk about it as "St Paulís Church" but as my church or our church.

What we try to do here on Sunday mornings is to help us all get focused in the one direction, and
as we focus on the God we believe in,
as we show each other that heís important to us just by our presence here,
as we get strength for the days in-between worship,
we get a sense of being part of a big family which is important to us, which we can count on, to which we can give what we are able to give and we can be a body that functions the way God intends it to function.

Why bother with this? Because it is here amongst the people of God that we find Jesus and his love for us. We tell each other through words and practical ways that God loves us and is ready to do whatever is necessary to help us be the Christians he wants us to be in this city. It is this love of God that has called us together Ė as different as we might all be Ė to be his church.

Paul says to us, "Together you are the body of Christ".

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
21st January 2007
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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