I Corinthians 12:12-27
I want to be brief because, as Rachel announced earlier, we will hold our annual meeting after worship this morning.
If you are just visiting today—and maybe trying to think of a discrete way of ducking out before the meeting starts—if you’re just visiting today and want to know about this congregation, or if you’re a newer member of this congregation and still trying to figure out what we’re all about, or even if you have been around here for a long time, I invite you to stay. The meeting is usually brief, but it says much about who we are and what matters to us.
And the truth of the matter is—we need you, we need each other.
When Paul gives us the image of the church as the body of Christ, we are reminded that Christianity is not an individualistic faith. It is not “me and my God.” In that astonishing image, Paul tells us that we—all of us together—are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.
Now, this image of a human community as a body had been around long before Paul wrote to that disordered mess of a body that was the church in Corinth. But Paul turns this image on its head. It was generally used to reinforce the hierarchy of the times, suggesting that those at the bottom of the heap should be obedient to those who are their “natural” superiors. After all, the reasoning went, in the body, the brain makes crucial decisions and is more critical than the lowly organs that sustain routine daily functioning. Even today, many would tend to agree.
Paul throws aside this notion of privilege and instead uses the image of the body to lift up the importance of diversity and interdependence. The importance of everyone is recognized, because the well-being of a congregation—or any organization—depends on the healthy contributions of all involved. [i]
We all have gifts. Each of us brings something important and necessary to the life and health of this congregation. We are not all eyes—we need ears as well. The hand cannot say to the foot, “I don’t need you.” Together we are the body of Christ.
Each person here has something to offer and without your gift we are incomplete.
A congregation is a peculiar kind of body, isn’t it? We are a group that is a gathering of individuals.
There are some who would make unity, oneness, what matters. But in this congregation we have a marvelous diversity and I want to celebrate that. In this congregation we do not find unity in uniformity. Here we find unity in our diversity. As Bono once put it: “To be one, to be united is a great thing. But to respect the right to be different is maybe even greater.”
Our unity comes from God—not from agreement. We are as different as snowflakes—and sometimes we think each other to be a little flaky at that. But in that diversity we find what we need for our common mission and ministry.
So this morning, in our diversity we look at where we have been. In our diversity we look ahead and get a sense of where we are going. The meeting of this congregation this morning is one of the most important events in our life together this year.
This meeting is one of the hallmarks of our tradition—one of those activities that was brought into the United Church of Christ through the Congregational stream. Indeed, the meeting of the congregation is central to Congregational identity. In UCC congregations throughout New England to this day, the sense of the importance of coming together is so strong that for many congregations their main building is called not a sanctuary but a meetinghouse.
Even here we use our sanctuary for dual purposes.
We meet here to worship. We meet here to consider our life together.
And both are sacred activities.
At a meeting of our congregation we might talk about money—but this is much more than a mere “business meeting.” It is, in a very real sense, the acting out of the demands put upon us by God: the demands of the Word read and proclaimed and the meal shared at the table. The “business” of the meeting of the congregation is done prayerfully, in love for one another and for God.
This is corporate work—the work of the body of Christ—and it can’t be done by isolated individuals. For this reason, members aren’t able to vote by proxy or absentee ballot at meetings of the congregation. Occasionally a member will say something like: “I can’t be here for the meeting. Is there some way that I can vote anyway?” And I answer as gently as I can: “Of course not! How can you vote without praying with the congregation, without hearing what is said, without the opportunity to speak, without be present to the leading of the Spirit?”
We come to meetings of the congregation, not with minds made up, but with spirits open to the action of the Spirit of God in us and among us as we meet and talk together. The important thing is our attitude as we gather:
the attitude of expectancy;
the attitude of openness—of having eyes to see and ears to hear;
the attitude of accepting one another—of loving each one of the people here as another child of God.
It is also the attitude of coming to the meeting in order to, as we affirm in our church covenant, follow in the ways of Jesus Christ, made known and to be made known to us. We do this together.
From the start of Christianity, individual congregations have been our great strength. Yes, they have also been places of strife, contention, and, well, sin. But by God’s grace congregations are also the places in which we fulfill the law of Christ by loving one another as we have been loved. They are communities of mutual support in which we are known by one another in a way that is different from what we experience at work, school, in our neighborhoods or civic organizations.
And we see ripples: there is more involved than just this congregation in this place.
It seems a paradox, but even as we meet today to consider the life of our congregation, our real concern is not this congregation, but the larger world. We seek the strength of this body not for our own sake, but for the well-being of the larger world—this community, our nation—and, really, the good of all humanity.
While we seek to love and respect one another in this congregation, we know that our real calling is not so sectarian and limited. As far as we are able, we work for the good of all: the homeless on the Ped Mall, the hungry begging on our streets, victims of natural disasters, victims of human hatred and discrimination.
So we both come to this day and live our lives with a certain humility. We are called to be, not so much a solution to the hurts of the world as a sign to a hurting world—individuals and a community that point toward what God is still doing. And we meet today to make sure once more that the sign that is this congregation is in good repair and pointing in the right direction.
It is good that you are here to be a part of this.
[i] Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary - Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration.