Members of the Body of Christ – For Blyth’s Vestry Sunday
Based on 1Corinthians 12:12-31a
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
3 Ibid, p. 268
4 The Oxford Bible Commentary-2017: Commentary on 1 Corinthians, p. 1127
6 The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Fifth Edition. Commentary on 1Corinthians 12: 22-26 p. 2053