Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Text: 1 Corinthians 12:12,13
Christ is like a single body, which has many parts; it is still one body, even though it is made up of different parts. In the same way, all of us, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether slaves or free, have been baptized into the one body by the same Spirit, and we have all been given the one Spirit to drink. For the body itself is not made up of only one part, but of many parts.


I have never ceased to be amazed at many of the messages that Charles Schulz, creator and author of the Peanuts cartoon characters, conveyed through his comic strip. Here’s one of them.

Lucy who tends to be too bossy and unsympathetic, didn’t like what Linus was watching on TV so demanded that he change the channel.

"What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?" asks Linus.

"These five fingers," says Lucy as she holds them up. "Individually they’re nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold."

"So-o-o which channel did you say you wanted?" asks Linus.

Turning away, Linus looks at his fingers and says, "Why can’t you guys get organized like that?"

While Lucy’s method of persuasion leaves much to be desired, no matter how effective it might be, she does present a very good example of the Church, the Body of Christ. When each individual finger works together and it curls together with the other fingers to form a fist, they become a very powerful force.

Or look at it this way. When it comes to playing a piano, each individual finger can play a note on the keyboard and do that very well (for example, playing scales), but there are limitations to what each finger can do individually. However, when all ten play together what beautiful music they produce.

That’s what Paul was trying to say to the Corinthians when he likened the church to our bodies. Our bodies are made up of many different parts – fingers, toes, arms, legs, etc – each part has a special job that no other part can do. Each part helps the other, and when one part is injured or diseased, this affects the rest of the body. Even though the human body is made up of many diverse parts, when they work together the body can do amazing things.

Imagine a fast bowler at a cricket game as he runs up to the wicket – putting one leg in front of the other, then rolls his shoulder and arm over, releases the ball keeping his eye on the wicket at the other end. All the while his head is deciding where he will place the ball on the pitch and at what speed he will release it.

Speaking to the Corinthians, encouraging them in their individual gifts and noting their diversity, Paul said, "All of you are Christ’s body, and each one is a part of it" (1 Cor 12:27). To the Romans Paul said, "We are all joined to each other as different parts of the one body" (12:5).
We are individuals that’s true, but
we have been joined together in baptism to Jesus,
we have been made one with him – in baptism all of us together share in his death and resurrection (Rom 6:3,4),
we have been brought together into God's family as brothers and sisters,
together we are God's own people (1 Peter 2:9, Col 3:12),
we have been given the same Spirit, united together by the Spirit, given different gifts by the Spirit (1 Cor 12:4,13),
and when it comes to leaving this life we will be together around God's throne (1 Peter 1:3,4)

Taking the picture of the body further, we are not just "members" of the church but "membranes" – we are membranes who are connected together. We have been joined together in such a way that even though God has given each of us different gifts, some seemingly more important than others, others that are hidden, nevertheless we are all "membranes" in his church – connected to Christ and connected to each other through Christ.

Paul summed this up like this. "We have many parts in the one body, and all these parts have different functions. In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ, and we are all joined to each other as different parts of one body. So we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us" (Rom 12:4-8).

Garfield, the lazy cat from the comic pages, gets up one morning and still half asleep, looks in the mirror. Seeing his face he says, "Boy, do I need a shave." In the next frame you hear the electric razor buzzing and Garfield's frantic thought, "Wait a minute!"

In the final scene, John (Garfield’s owner) has this startled look on his face as he sees Garfield with the fur shaved off the bottom half of his face. And with a very troubled look on his face, Garfield says, "I forgot I was a cat, okay?"

Just like Garfield, sometimes we forget who we are. What’s new!
We know just how often we let our sinful nature take control and we behave like individuals – selfish individuals at that – and forget that we are the people of God brought together in the church.
We forget that "together we are part of the body of Christ" and that in our own way all of us have something valuable to contribute to the life of the church – some people are the upfront type, others go about things quietly and unobtrusively.
We forget that as part of the body of Christ we care for each other, and work together using our differing abilities, financial resources, and personalities to do the work that God has given his church – namely to be "God's own people" speaking, doing, and witnessing to the grace of God in our lives.
We forget that it is the Spirit who has given everyone different gifts – so why do we feel critical and resentful of those who are more upfront than others, some who are good leaders and administrators, some who have been given gift to generously serve others with their time and money.
We forget whose we are and to whom we are joined in the body of Christ when we are unnecessarily critical, or don’t speak to those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We only need to look at the history of any congregation, in fact, the history of the Christian Church on the broad scale and you will see how often church members are like Garfield and forget who they are. Unfortunately it happens in this congregation as well.

Thank goodness that God doesn’t forget the promise he made at our baptism that he will always be our loving God, ready to forgive us. He is always ready to renew the bond that we have in the body of Christ. He gives us his Spirit who reminds us that we have been joined together as brothers and sisters and is urging us today to take a good look at how well we have worked together as the body of Christ in this community

So we repent. We change. We move forward in grace. I’m sure there are hurts, words and actions that people have found very difficult, perhaps even impossible, to forgive. Maybe there are some who have been too hurt and too crippled by what has been said and done that they no longer feel the togetherness that is at the very core of the Body of Christ, the Church. I’m sure all of us can recall the names of people whom we have treated badly.

Yet the One who hugged the leper, accepted the sinner, cuddled a little child, welcomed the cheat, wrapped his crucified arms around the thief on the cross, takes away all of the filth of our sin makes us clean and new. Jesus has loved us even though we don’t deserve it – he calls us his brothers and sisters. We are challenged to "live a life that measures up to the standard God set when he called you. Be always humble, gentle, and patient. Show your love by being tolerant with one another. Do your best to preserve the unity which the Spirit gives by means of the peace that binds you together" (Eph 4:3).

Yes, there is always plenty of room for making the togetherness that we share a reality in the way we work together, care for one another, and share the Gospel of Christ. All of us are challenged to recognise that the differences between each of us are God-given to be used to minister to the needs of others in our own unique way.

St Paul’s is a great church. It is not a great club. It is not a great social organization. It is not a great place of entertainment.
It is a church -- and it is a great one, because together, in the power of the Spirit, we are the body of Christ. St Paul’s has been created by God to be a beacon of God's grace in our community and to bring God's light dispelling the darkness in people’s lives.

May God give each of us a fresh understanding of the togetherness in the Body of Christ.

The text chosen for today is not from the Revised Common Lectionary for this Sunday.  It was chosen as a lead into the Annual Meeting of the congregation.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
15th February, 2004

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