Sermon: “Finding the More Excellent Way” [I Cor. 12:12-31a] (1/23/2022)

I know.  Potato Heads to illustrate Paul’s letter to the Corinthians?  That’s a child’s toy!  It kind of makes sense, though, when you think about what Paul was trying to communicate to the divided church at Corinth.

The church had hit a rough patch.  A few years into their new life together, dissensions had sprung up.  Factions had formed.  Some people’s gifts were valued more highly than others’.  Somewhere along the line, the community had gotten off track…a track that was leading to a trainwreck if something didn’t happen quickly.

And so, Paul goes “back to the very beginning…a very good place to start.  When you read, you begin with A-B-C.  When you sing, you begin with Do-Re-Mi.”  When you live in Christian community, you begin with the image of the body.  

So, Paul starts at the very beginning and reminds the Corinthians that just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  Then he gets carried away.  If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body.

Then he just gets silly.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?  This is where I’m pretty sure that if Paul had had a 1st century version of Potato Head, he would have used it to good effect.  Didn’t you love that “all ears” Potato Head?

Somehow, at Corinth, one Potato Head with all its diverse parts in their places and working together had turned into a collection of Potato Heads, each populated only with “parts like us.”  All Ears Potato Head.  All Eyes Potato Head.  All Mouths Potato Head.  Paul’s letter urges the Corinthians to remember the gift of their diversity, to reunite as one community, celebrating every member, and living in the unity of God’s spirit.

Paul takes the Corinthians back to the very beginning and spells it out for them again, almost, as if they were children.

Or did he?

In the 1st century, Romans ruled Palestine.  Roman society was highly structured, hierarchical.  The image of the body was often used to illustrate that hierarchy.  The most important part of the body–the head–represented Caesar, the Roman ruler.  Other parts of the body were assigned other values until the least part–maybe the little toe–was on the very edge of society.

When Paul invites the Corinthians to think again about how they’re doing community, he uses this familiar image of the body…and upends it.  He takes an image commonly used to illustrate social hierarchy, and uses it instead to demonstrate radical equality.  Listen.

The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. 

Paul spends a lot of time here talking about the little toe…or whatever member seems most insignificant.  Little toes are important to the body.  Give the little toe some credit now and then, right?  Acknowledge the little toe and the important role it plays in the community.

But Paul isn’t only asking the Corinthians to celebrate the diversity of the community’s gifts and to remember the little toes.  He goes further and suggests that divisions in the community have arisen because they haven’t seen or celebrated the seemingly less important members of the community.  God has so arranged the body, he wrote, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body.  

Wow.  Let that sink in a minute.  According to Paul, the cause of dissension within the body is failing to give greater honor to the inferior member.  The cause of dissension within the body is failing to acknowledge the importance of even the weakest member.  The cause of dissension within the body is failing to see every single member as vital to the healthy functioning of the body.

When Christian communities re-create the structures that exist in society–as the Corinthian church had done–dissension is created.  Paul reminds the Corinthians that Beloved Community is different from society.  In the Beloved Community, every single person, every single gift is valued equally.  If all the gifts, all the people aren’t valued equally, the body of Christ doesn’t work.

What happens when all the members of the body are valued equally?  More from Paul.  God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

When the body functions well, it’s because all the members are working together.  And when that happens, “the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.  If one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”

Doesn’t that sound great?  To be part of a community where all the members have the same care for one another?  Where people suffer with us when we are suffering?  Where people rejoice with us when we rejoice?  

The good news today is that we can create–and deepen–exactly that kind of community.  In fact, that’s the kind of community to which God calls us.  All it takes is looking at each other, seeing each other.

This afternoon will give us a great opportunity to see each other.  Because of Covid numbers, our Annual meeting is being held on Zoom.  One the one hand, that’s a bummer.  On the other hand, it’s a gift…because we will be able to see each other’s faces, moreso, even than if we were to meet in person.

Here’s an invitation.  At today’s Annual Meeting, look at every face on Zoom and see it.  Look at the diversity of people, the diversity of gifts, and see them.  Imagine us working together as a single body, living as Beloved Community, drinking of the one Spirit, suffering with each other, rejoicing with each other, and doing everything within our power as a community to heal the world.

If we do that, I expect we’ll find the path to a still more excellent way.

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan ©2022

About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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