Preached January 23, 2010 at Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church
Which part of your body don’t you like? This was a real conversation I heard the other night between twenty year olds. “My legs are too big,” one said, “I don’t like my stomach, it’s not flat enough.” said the other. And while we probably have outgrown having these conversations outloud with others, we could each immediately answer the question in our heads: I’ve never liked my ears, they stick out too much, my nose is too big, that flabby part under the arms, or the neck area…I’ll give you a moment to answer the question inside for yourself.
I once had a massage from a nun at a retreat center run by nuns. It was the chattiest massage I had ever had – the woman did not stop talking the entire hour. But as she rubbed each limb she talked about how strong and healthy it was, my fingers, how nimble, how they move and lift and grip and point. She rubbed my back and spoke blessings into me, raving about how every part fit together and the systems were all working as they were created to – the blood flowing and the muscles contracting and relaxing, and how my neck held my head on so well, and my face muscles helped me communicate emotion, and my knees carried me where I wanted to go, and I left there feeling unprecedented gratitude for my body.
I left there feeling so thankful for the life I had been given and I felt ashamed for ever not liking parts or wishing I could trade up for a cuter model that looked better in a swimsuit, or had enough coordination to master ice skating and rollerblading. I had awe for my creator, how intricate and sturdy, how vulnerable but strong, moldable and enduring our bodies are. And I thought of my friend whose cancer means her body is fighting inside, all of it against this invader, and her fatigue and her pain, and how this cancer, in this one place in her body, had changed how she lived in her body, all the parts affected.
Paul says the we are part of the body of Christ –we are, no getting around that. We are not out there on our own, an amputated limb with no life in it, we are connected, we only make sense alongside each other, part of the same whole, unified by belonging to each other.
But how easy is it to begin criticizing parts of our own Body, because certainly there are parts of this body that we like better than others, and parts we sort of think we could do without. Pastor Debbie Blue says, “I like parts of the body of Christ. I like the brain and the ears and the eyes and the breasts. But do we really need the testosterone? The loudmouths? The aggressive superegos?”
I preached this text once at a presbytery meeting – where we gather together, the church, in different expressions, all around the region each little congregation living out its unique calling, purpose and mission, but all connected because Jesus Christ is the Lord of us all, because we are all baptized into one Body and the same Spirit works in all of us.
But, often, instead of being able to look at some of these congregations, radically different than us and say, “Wow. I could never be a foot, look what a great job they are doing, all walking and jumping and kicking. I am SO mouth. I would be TERRIBLE at walking. I could never hold up an ankle. Where would we be without that foot? Thank God for the foot!”
Instead we would make ourselves a big pile of disembodied,useless mouths, because it is often more important to us to be right – by our own definition of right- than to be faithful, or unified.
Or we think unity means agreeing and if not being the same than looking the same, and sacrificing what we believe in or who we are for the good of the whole. And our little presbytery is nothing, if I can’t make room for my Midwestern, Presbyterian, white, middle class fellow body parts, but what about those a little farther, a little more foreign, a little more misunderstood? Or conversely what about the ones right up close, where you have to live next to them, chafing, day in and day out?
Paul’s wonderful imagery of the Body of Christ is saying two basic things:
First - We are different. And we are meant to be. It would make no sense for us all to be the same, not people, not churches, not denominations, not cultures, not expressions of faith or practices of worship – The image of a Trinune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God in three persons, is reflected in unity in diversity, and there is simply not enough diversity in this room to do it justice.
We need those radically different than we are. We are our differences, and we only make sense if we are not the same. The body would be a useless pile of parts if we were not all different. Being the Church is not about everyone looking, acting, or believing the same way. In fact, that would make this NOT the Body of Christ, but something else altogether.
That means that we each need to be who we are. How much time and energy is wasted in the Body of Christ by looking at someone else and wishing we were more like them, or better, wishing they were more like us, while all the time not fully living out who we were called to be?
The way we play our role is to fully embody our own calling and identity, to live with joy and fullness who each one of us is distinctly called to be. Individuals and congregations. Parker Palmer has said, “The deepest vocational question is not ‘What ought I to do with my life?’ It is the more elemental and demanding, ‘Who am I? What is my nature?’ True vocation joins self and service in the deep joy of knowing that we are here on earth to be the gifts that God created.”
So who are you? What is your nature?
Who is this congregation? What is our distinct purpose?
We are different, and we are supposed to be.
The second thing Paul is saying is that we are part of the whole. We are One Body. This is not your body, or my body, it’s God’s body, and you and I are a part of it whether we like it or not. You don’t gain entrance into the body by what you choose or don’t choose, or say or embrace or reject or who you agree with or who you disown. You are part of the body of Christ because God has chosen you, because God had put this body together as God sees fit and God sees fit to include you and me, as we are, who we are, and has a way we are meant to participate, we were born to participate, we were made for this, and God should know.
So God has chosen to connect us to each other and we are connected, period. Even when we don’t act like it, even if we pretend we aren’t, even if we disown one another, we cannot truly detach parts of the body and decide they don’t belong or contribute, or that they don’t impact us and that we are not in some way dependent upon each other. We are.
Whether we like it or not we are inseparably attached. Even when we feel desperately isolated, or treat others that way, we are not alone. We are part of the same body, connected as tissue and blood, suffering when others suffer, carrying the shame of dehumanizing words or actions done to or by another, bearing each other’s sadness and grief, celebrating when there is joy in each other’s lives. We are connected to one another. Because we are part of the One Body.
It’s no big secret that this body is pretty broken. The whole Church, not just congregations or presbyteries – but Southern Baptists and East Coast Presbyterians, Conservative Evangelicals and Mainline Liberals and African Episcopalians and Haitian Catholics and Korean Protestants Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Christians. We seem fractured, dismembered, separated from one another, at odds with each other, or simply not in touch at all.
And sometimes we have trouble lifting our gaze and our attention from our own narcissistic infighting, where the truly ridiculous happens – the eye tells the nose the face would be better off without it, and the hand suggests removing the speen.
And we indulge in plenty of self-absorbed naval gazing, wishing parts of the Body were just a little different than they are (or a lot), ignoring some and overworking others, idolizing some and despising others.
We are broken, like the rest of the world, we are selfish and self-righteous and broken.
But Christ enters our brokenness: the places where we are torn apart, paralyzed by fear or failure, divided from each other and our own selves. Christ enters our brokenness, and becomes the body broken for us, so that we may be whole.
Jesus makes us One with God and each other, forgiven, reconciled, connected, so that we may be the Body of Christ for the world. And we are – there is no getting out of it, we already are.
Even when we forget.
There is great joy in realizing, or remembering, how the body works, and what it is capable of. A child figuring out how to walk, how each leg moves in sync and the shoulders keep the body steady, or learning to talk, to form wither her mouth the words she is just beginning to understand and put them out into the world. An athlete discovering new levels of coordination, speed, possibility when all the systems are working together in unison, radically diverse, but directed towards the same purpose.
And Paul is saying that the potential exists – and one day will be fully realized – for our differences to strengthen the body, for the image of God to be lived in fullness, fully embodied, and for the body to function at its peak: alive, healthy, vital, each part singing its own contribution, in the harmony of the Spirit of God.
We were meant to live as the Body of Christ in a way that brings joy and fulfillment to each part, in a way that fully participates in the purposes of the whole – which are always directed outward, to creation and the cosmos and the world that God loves. We are to live out our differences in Body made one in Christ.
May we grow ever more open to this.
I think the way we begin to remember this, the way become more open to one another in the body of Christ, is by sharing each other’s suffering and joy, connecting at a human level. Letting the pain and the joy of others touch us. So as we come to our prayer time we will take the puzzle pieces we picked up on the way in. We’ve each put our own name on one, and had them to jot things throughout the service, and now we’ll take one more moment to write on them with the Sharpies in the pews, names, situations, prayers for others. We can write the names of those we feel disconnected from, people with whom we disagree strongly who are nevertheless fellow members of the same Body (I have one piece that says, “Pat Robertson”), those we wish we could do more for that are so far away and suffering (I have another piece that says, “Haiti”), and we can also use these pieces to pray for those we love and feel connected to as well, whose lives impact our own in visible ways. Whatever you would like to put on the pieces, we’ll do that now. Then in a few minutes we will bring our pieces forward and place them in this shape of a body. Then we will lift all of them up in prayer.
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