January 27, 2019

2019 Jan27

 

Third Sunday after Epiphany - Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. 1 Corinthians 1:12,26

 

As the Church, we are the Body of Christ: Many members who together comprise one body. In last week’s Rector’s Report, I mentioned that we had fallen short of caring for one another on occasion. So, I was moved by this week’s Epistle:

 

“If one member suffers, all suffer
together with it.”


This reading is very apropos to the subject of care for our community. Paul is addressing several community cohesion issues in Ch12:

 

  • The Christians in Corinth with the gift of speaking in tongues believed themselves to be spiritually superior to the rest. So, Paul emphasized that all persons bring gifts make the One Body work.
  • Of course, those who believed themselves to be superior also believed themselves to be endowed by God. Paul pointed out that Just because you say it, doesn’t mean it’s true. The fruits of your gifts will show us whether it is God-given or humanly contrived.’
  • And finally, some were turning the concept of Spiritual Gifts into a competition, a game of one-upmanship. So, Paul’s reminds that each one our gifts contributes to the Body, and when one suffers, we all suffer; when one is honored, we all rejoice!


These dynamics can occur in modern communities – like ours – just as easily as they did in 1C Greece. So, Paul’s letter remains relevant 2,000 years on.

 

In last week’s reading, verses 1-11, Paul reminded us that the Spirit distributes gifts to every believer. We do not choose our Spiritual Gifts, but the Spirit does. Many of us spend our entire lives envious of the Gifts of another: if only I could play the piano like Liberace, or be an innovator like Bill Gates, or play football like Tom Brady.

 

In this passage, Paul is not warning against envy; he is warning against arrogance. Just think about those people whose gifts you admire. I bet you that most of them are not arrogant – they just use their gifts as they are given. Instead of being envious, we are to do our part with what gifts we have to ensure that the Body functions. Because our gifts are from the Spirit, no one – if part of the one body – can brag about their gift, because your gift is given through grace, not as an object to be placed on the mantle or an achievement that comes with a certificate of completion. Our Gifts of the Spirit are imparted through grace for the good of the one body – the Body of Christ.

 

So, back to caring for the Body. In my first sermon, I stated:

 

Gossip destroys friendships and relationships, and breaks down the trust between a priest and his congregation. I want to be as open and honest as I can be without breaching confidentiality or inappropriately exposing my own private life, and would expect the same from members of this congregation. I remember in seminary, there were those who wanted to share salacious gossip about fellow students. They would come and say, “I have a prayer concern about So-and-So.” Effective, but not really in the spirit of praying for our friends in need.

 

The Christians in Corinth were essentially engaging in quite serious and destructive gossip and pettiness, which was destroying the community, the One Body. If the Corinthians had read “Cleaning Up Bad Communication Habits” by Kibbie Simmons Ruth and Karen A. McClintock. They tell us to avoid 3 activities:

 

  • Triangulation – talking about feelings, opinions, or personal issues regarding some person or group with a third party instead of with the person or group actually concerned.
  • Pass-Through Communication – Attempting to get a message to someone by telling someone else.
  • Anonymous Feedback – enabling people to avoid accountability for the content.


In the absence of Ruth and McClintock, the Corinthians got a letter from Paul. The difference is timing. Paul was addressing the outcomes of the problems. Ruth and McClintock offer ways to prevent the problems from happening in the first place. By avoiding these destructive forms of communication, we leave space for constructive dialog, and we curtail the diminishing of the Gifts of other parts of the Body. By honoring one another’s gifts as equally important, and by respecting the dignity of every human being, we remain a healthy body. This requires quite a bit of self-awareness and confidence, themselves Gifts of the Spirit, Gifts that we are all endowed with and can work to improve.

 

Paul is attuned to the lack of self-awareness and the disregard for the dignity of others in his reference to ‘inferior members’. He was referring to vulnerable organs and genitalia. Like the vulnerable orangs and genitalia, those in the Church who are perceived to be weaker are often treated poorly by those who consider themselves more important. Yet, we know that both our vulnerable organs and genitalia and all members of the Church are equally important to the whole Body, or the Body suffers. For Paul, this suffering is tied to the message of the Cross of Jesus’ Crucifixion. Through the Cross, Jesus Christ is superior over all human power structures. That is made evident in the Gospel reading when Jesus reads from the scroll:

 

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

 

When Jesus read that, that scripture was fulfilled. It is Jesus who holds all authority in this One Body. So, what’s the point of expressing arrogance or posturing?


Being and living as One Body:

  • a body with diverse skills and personalities and interests and views
  • a body that is dispersed most of the time, and comes together for an hour a week at most
  • a body with different backgrounds

requires each of us to make an effort to be one whole and healthy body. Just like your own body, we can’t be a healthy body without some determination – a deliberate effort to be the Body of Christ with and to one another. Let we as members of this Body have the same care for one another. When we feel ourselves pinching a part of the Body, let us make the plea at the end of Psalm 19:

 

Let the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my strength
and my redeemer.

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