Members of the Body of Christ – For Blyth’s Vestry Sunday
Based on 1Corinthians 12:12-31a

Today’s reading is from Paul’s first letter to the church in the city of Corinth and a continuation of last Sunday’s reading. So it makes sense to put it into context, to give you some background. This first letter Paul writes to the members of the Corinthian Church is, in the words of my Oxford Annotated Bible, “a fascinating window into the struggles of community of the movement that developed into Christianity”1. Corinth was the first major urban centre to which Paul brought the good news of Christ. With several co-workers such as Priscilla and her husband Aquila, Timothy, Pheobe and Silvanus, they spent a year and a half establishing house churches in Corinth, and they would come together every so often to celebrate the Lord’s supper. After Paul left to go to spread the Word in Ephesus, Apollos, another missionary came to Corinth.2 This letter of Paul’s is his response to issues and concerns brought forward by the folks from the Corinthian Church. He deals with several specific issues that needed resolving as well as general problems in terms of how well the Christian life of the community was coming together—or maybe wasn’t quite coming together! It was, to be sure, an interesting mix of people who had joined to form this community in Christ—Greeks, Jews, slaves, freed people, men, women, rich and poor. It was an incredible undertaking– bringing so many diverse cultures together to work and live in a new way of believing and living out that belief, and into a faith that was so new it was still developing ways about how to practice it and worship too. It’s clear if you read the letter in its entirety that each one of the various factions had their own ways and traditions that they felt was the right way, some of which were anything but Christian. What Paul and his fellow missionaries were trying to do was bring the unity of Christ to the diversity of peoples, joined by their belief that Jesus was the Son of God, their Lord and Saviour. For some people, this would have meant incredible changes! This is the very definition of faith development—a true work in progress! And we think we have differences of opinion about how things are to go in our churches! Paul’s instructions in this letter were incredibly influential. This time of development of the early Christian church became the very foundation of how Churches function. It made a wide reaching impact in terms of use of language for worship and interpretation of Christian belief into a way of life that “provided key bases for subsequent Christian belief and practices”.3 Unfortunately, this also included the writings that biblical scholars today readily agree were later additions to Paul’s original text, particularly the instructions around the roles of women, which subordinated them again into the patriarchal structure of the society of the time.

So, last week we heard how Paul addressed concerns brought to him about spiritual gifts that had been given to various people in the community. It seems some of these gifts were being viewed as having higher value than others, like speaking in tongues for example was very highly prized. And as a result, a hierarchy developed around who was the most important person in the Church, that some were more worthy than others because they had received the “better” gift. Paul reminds them that all spiritual gifts, whether it is the gift of healing, prophesying, wisdom, discernment, doing miracles, speaking in tongues or interpretation of tongues—all these are given as a gift from God, a loving grace from God given to each for the good of everyone, to benefit the whole community. One gift is not more worthy than another, nor is the person who has that gift more worthy than the person who doesn’t have it, because they will have another gift, and all are needed for the common good.

We still do that, don’t we, we assign value to people based on their abilities, their gifts—and in our culture, the resultant valuation based on the earning power that gift then brings. Here’s an example: who’s more highly valued in our society today-an athlete gifted with excellent coordination who turns that into a career in hockey or the janitor in the arena who has a gift for tidiness and organization, keeping the space clean for all? I know that’s a very simplistic example, but you get the idea.

So today we read how Paul takes this analogy of everyone’s gift being a part of the larger common good one step further. He uses an analogy: that the church is like a body which belongs to the risen Christ. So then we are able to identify with the risen Christ, but of course we are not identical to him.4

And then he gets even more specific describing the various parts of the body and how each is necessary to the functioning of all, one part is not better or of more value to the whole body than the other—even those seemingly disrespectable parts that are hidden by clothing. Those parts that seem more minor, or seemingly of less value are to be equally valued. What I didn’t realize until I did some research on these verses is that “The body was commonly used in antiquity as a metaphor for human society…(and) was an image…exploited by (the) elite classes to justify inequality…”5 The ruling classes represented themselves as the head and the belly, as these were considered at the time to be the most indispensable and honourable parts of the body.6 So this viewpoint of Paul’s that all parts of the body were of equal value, and then by inference, all members of the church are indispensable and honourable, including those who were less visible was an astounding statement. He goes so far to say that “…God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity.” (vs 26 NLT) That was almost subversive, certainly in direct contradiction to the elite classes’ use of the body metaphor to justify their own importance, and devaluing others. Paul was re-affirming to this Christian community the counter culture message that Jesus too preached, no one is of more value than the other, in the faith community or in society for that matter! We are all one in Christ, interdependent on each other for full and healthy functioning of the body of Christ. If we are honest, it’s still a challenge for us today, and still counter cultural in our western society.

Maybe it’s my nursing background, but Paul’s ‘all members of the body have equal value’ thinking makes sense to me; including the idea that even the “less important” ones have an impact on the functioning of the whole body. Think for a moment about the Islets of Langerhans. (I’ll bet that’s something most of you probably haven’t done before!) These islets are the tiny little parts in our pancreases that produce insulin. And if they’re not functioning properly—well, you are diabetic. And we all know the impact that diabetes has on the whole body. Here’s another very concrete example. Have you ever broken a toe? With a broken toe, you just don’t walk right, it hurts too much, and not just the toe but often the entire foot pains, and sometimes it goes right up into your leg. A broken toe causes you to limp when you walk, and then your hips start hurting because you’re walking off kilter, that causes your back to go out of alignment, which often leads a headache, and you wind up feeling really awful, literally from head to toe! And all this from a tiny broken bone!

A vestry Sunday is a good day to think of ourselves as necessary members of one body, together. As Paul put it “… we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.” (vs 13 NLT)

Together we are the body of Trinity Church, baptized into the world wide Christian Church, which is part of the larger body of Christ. The small impact we make, as a Christian community can and does make a difference in the whole. At our Vestry meeting today, we will consider our Mission and Ministry Plan, consider Trinity’s place to pursue how Christ is calling us to ministry in this village of Blyth, and indeed even the broader community. We will consider how God is calling us to use our gifts and abilities, both individually and collectively to further the Kingdom of God, in our little corner of the world. Amen

Rev. JoAnn Todd, Rector: The Regional Ministry of Hope.

1 Oxford Annotated Bible: Commentary on The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, p 267 NT
2 Ibid
3 Ibid, p. 268
4 The Oxford Bible Commentary-2017: Commentary on 1 Corinthians, p. 1127
5 ibid
6 The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Fifth Edition. Commentary on 1Corinthians 12: 22-26 p. 2053