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Belonging to a Diverse Community
“Can We Learn to Live as One Body?”
Isaiah 56:1-8, I Corinthians 12:12-27
January 20, 2019
Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.
Happy is the mortal who does this, the one who holds it fast,
who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it, and refrains from doing any evil.
Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’;
and do not let the eunuch say, ‘I am just a dry tree.’
For thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.
And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.
Our New Testament reading comes from chapter 12 of I Corinthians.
In the previous chapter 11, Paul has given an excursus on overcoming divisions within the church
by being more intentional in their sharing of the Lord’s supper.
What was happening in the house church in Corinth was that some members –
likely those of higher social status, those who had flexibility in their schedules –
would arrive early to the house church on a Sunday afternoon.
They would indulge themselves on the bread and wine made that had been made available.
Some would over-eat and others would even get drunk on the wine.
Then later, other members of the congregation would arrive, likely those of a lower social status –
servants who were not able to come to worship until after they had finished their work.
These would arrive later than the others and find no bread left to share and no wine left to pour.
These poorer members of the body would then go away hungry, not only in body, but also in spirit.
Paul literally writes to the Corinthian Church: “What?…What should I say to you?
Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!” (11:22)
For the sake of the whole, “when you come together to eat, wait for one another”,
wait to share in sacrament of God’s love. (11:33)
The next chapter, Chapter 12, I have read countless times.
I have preached on this chapter and taught this chapter many, many times,
but when I read it in preparation for today, I saw something new; I noticed a different emphasis.
I have always read I Corinthians 12 with a focus upon the spiritual gifts.
Paul couches his emphasis of the one body in his discussion of appreciating the diversity of spiritual gifts.
Paul claims that no one belongs more or less depending on what gift they may have,
like gifts of administration or speaking in tongues, or the utterance of wisdom or the gifts of healing.
Paul claims: “To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
And he asserts that no one can claim superiority or greater belonging based on their gifts.
Thus, we always honor the diverse gifts of the body of Christ.
This is the traditional and most common emphasis of this passage.
But when I read I Corinthians 12 in preparation for today, I noticed something different.
Right there, in verse 13, in black and white, was something that had been there all along.
“We were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free…”
I was reminded that the congregation in Corinth was not only diverse in their spiritual gifts,
but they were also diverse in their ethnicity and religious backgrounds and social stations.
The Corinthian congregation, like many of the earliest churches,
was composed of rich and poor, of Jewish persons and Greek persons, of slaves and free.
Slavery, of course, in first century Corinth was different than pre-civil war slavery in the United States.
Slaves in Corinth were often those bound to another because of a financial obligation.
Nevertheless, the diversity of membership was one of the challenges that the early church faced.
Hear the Word of God: I Corinthians 12:12-27
For 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. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—
Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 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. 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?
But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body.
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. But 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.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
I heard a report on NPR (National Public Radio) the other day that a young Russian
from the millennial generation feels more kinship with other 20-somethings across the globe from him
than he does with the older couple who live right next door.
The young Russian made this claim because of his participation with social media.
He says he is listening to the same music, playing the same games,
and watching the same online videos as his peers across the world,
while his neighbors right next door have an entirely different daily experience.
They even get their news from different sources.
His story reminded of the feeling of kinship you receive when you attend worship in a foreign country.
Those of you who have worshiped with a congregation in another country understand this sentiment.
It does not matter if you attend a Church of Scotland in Inverness,
or a Roman Catholic Church in a Nicaraguan village,
or an Episcopal congregation in a South African town,
when Christians gather for worship, there is a kinship that is felt
than transcends any potential barriers of language, of culture, or of race.
On Wednesday evening after the church supper, Keenan Rodgers led us in that wonderful old spiritual:
“We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord,
and they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
Instead of divisions based upon religious background or social station or race,
Paul encourages mutual respect and other-oriented love.
Instead of pride over one’s particular place or position,
Paul encourages humility and other-oriented concern.
Pride and selfish concern over status will separate people from one other;
humility and mutual concern hold the promise of binding the body together.
Today, we commission our confirmation class and their mentors.
It is important to note we were all baptized into one body.
When you are baptized or confirmed in the Presbyterian Church,
we claim that we do so on behalf of the Church universal.
When you complete this Confirmation process and stand before the Church to confirm your faith,
you will join not simply this congregation, but you will join the Church everywhere.
In Christ, we are brother and sister to every Christian on every part of the globe.
The Spirit of God is not split into denominations or into nations.
We all drink of the same Spirit; we are all indispensable members of the same body.
The body of Christ, the Church, does not have borders.
The body of Christ does not consist of one particular type of member, but many.
There are many diverse members of the body, but there is only one body.
Paul writes “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.”
Friends, you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
You do not lose your individuality. You do not conform when your confirm your faith.
You retain your own unique individuality.
The members that seem to be weaker are indispensable.
The members we think less honorable are clothed with greater honor.
The members we think less respectable we treat with greater respect.
Instead of applying this simply to the diversity of spiritual gifts,
apply this to differences of race or ethnicity or income or social status….
If there is a race or ethnicity that someone might think is weaker or less honorable or less respectable,
the Christian truth is that those persons are indispensable to the body,
they are to be clothed with greater honor and treated with greater respect.
If there is a social status or economic level that someone thinks may be weaker or less honorable
or less respectable, the Christian truth is that those persons are indispensable.
They are to be clothed with greater honor and treated with greater respect.
If there are persons, who because of a physical or mental disability, are thought by some to be weaker,
thought by some to be less honorable or less respectable,
the Christian truth is that they are indispensable to the body,
they are to be treated with greater honor and treated with greater respect.
Is this counter cultural? Certainly.
Is this sometimes difficult? Of course.
Is this the way of Jesus Christ and his body, the Church? Yes, most definitely.
I want to introduce you to my friend, Tom Grant.
Many of you may know Tom. He became involved in the Church as a youth parent.
Tom’s son, Connor Van Buren, went through confirmation class seven years ago,
and continued to be active in the youth group during his high school years.
Tom came to this church through supporting Connor’s involvement in the youth group
and eventually Tom joined the church as well.
Tom participates in the early Wednesday morning Bible study here,
and for two years has been involved in a meaningful mission project in Atlanta.
As we talk about belonging to a diverse community, I wanted you to hear about what Tom is doing.
TOM GRANT to share story of Adopt a Block ministry project.
It would be easier, I suppose, for our churches to act as if the poor neighborhoods of Atlanta do not exist.
It would be more comfortable to steer clear of such mission work.
But it just may be that such mission efforts are indispensable to the Church and its members.
It just may be that such work in these neighborhoods, and at Memorial Drive Church in Clarkston,
is the purpose of the Church, why the Church exists.
On behalf of all of us, Tom, thank you. Thank you for being the Church,
for representing the Church, in the work you do on Saturdays.
Thank you to our Threshold volunteers who every Monday and Thursday
greet a diverse population and seek to share the resources of our community.
Thank you to our confirmation class who will travel tomorrow to one of the most diverse neighborhoods
in the world to have a workday at Memorial Drive Ministries.
Fifty two years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. preached a sermon in Atlanta titled
“Where Do We Go From Here?”
King was facing great challenges during the height of the civil rights movement,
from within the movement itself and from without.
In his sermon, he appealed once again to Christian love,
knowing that only love would begin to heal the deep divisions of his day:
“I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer
to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go.
I know it isn’t popular to talk about (love) in some circles today.
And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love;
I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate.
I’ve seen (far) too much hate….to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it,
I know that (hate) does something to their faces and their personalities,
and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love…
John was right, God is love. He who hates does not know God,
but he who loves has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.”
King continued his sermon by referring to the very next chapter of I Corinthians, I Corinthians 13.
This chapter on love is often read at weddings, but it was written to the diverse congregation in Corinth
to encourage them to move beyond their differences in spiritual gifts
and move beyond their differences in religious backgrounds
and move beyond their differences in race and social station
to a new understanding of Church as the unified body of Christ.
“And so I say to you today, my friends, that you may be able to speak with the tongues of men and angels,
you may have the eloquence of articulate speech; but if you have not love, it means nothing.
Yes, you may have the gift of prophecy, you may have the gift of scientiﬁc prediction
and understand the behavior of molecules, you may break into the storehouse of nature
and bring forth many new insights; yes, you may ascend to the heights of academic achievement
so that you have all knowledge, and you may boast of your great institutions of learning
and the boundless extent of your degrees; but if you have not love, all of these mean absolutely nothing.
You may even give your goods to feed the poor, you may bestow great gifts to charity,
and you may tower high in philanthropy; but if you have not love, your charity means nothing.
You may even give your body to be burned and die the death of a martyr,
and your spilt blood may be a symbol of honor for generations yet unborn,
and thousands may praise you as one of history’s greatest heroes;
but if you have not love, your blood was spilt in vain.”
“Love is patient; love is kind. Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way; love is not irritable or resentful….
Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face.
Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” I Corinthians 13
You are the body of Christ, and individually you are each important, indispensable members of it.
Though you each have a different background, each of you belongs in this place;
you have a role to fulfill. You have gifts to offer for the common good.
The most important gift any of us can give is to love,
to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, to love across potential barriers that may separate us.
They will know we are Christians, they will know we are followers of Jesus Christ,
by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church