Now when the Bible goes to great lengths and spends time on a particular image or thought - you know this is important. The author wishes us to sit up and pay attention to what is being said. Paul is no different in his first letter to the Corinthians this morning. We read the well known passage of Paul describing us, the baptized children of God, all forming part of the Body of Christ. There is a lot of detail and explanation with this, it must be important. The message that we are the Body of Christ is an important one. So much so, that it is not sufficient simply state this understanding, no, Paul wants to make crystal clear that we fully understand this concept.
Like any good teacher Paul uses imagery that everyone understands. As we know, it is easy to talk about hands and feet. We all have them. We know what our hands and feet do, or at least are supposed to do. We quickly pick up, because we are fast learners, that all the different parts of the body all work together within the greater whole. All parts of the body, while different, all perform a specific function in ensuring that the Body moves and works the way it should in harmony with the rest of the body
While we can all appreciate a good biology lesson, there is also a much deeper message being woven into our conscience. The deeper meaning in Pauls message today goes beyond how a well functioning body works in harmony and points toward how we are, as the Body of Christ, to live in community with one another. Now that is a completely different concept all together. But like any good satire, what we see on the surface is not all that meets the eye - if you can excuse the pun.
Paul’s metaphor for us today is pulled together more completely with these words, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it, if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it” (1 Cor. 12: 26). Paul is talking about how we, as the Body of Christ, are supposed to live in harmony with one another. That no one member is greater or lesser than another, but rather all members are valued and loved by God. It should be easy for us to recognize this understanding. Of course this should make sense, that together as the beloved People of God we are united in our grief and joy. But how easy it is for us to quickly forget.
Oh Church, how easy it is for us to talk about how a body is supposed to function. We can see and recognize that all the parts of the Body, while different, hold value and play an integral role in the whole. So why is it so difficult to apply this same concept in our daily lives, our neighbourhood, country and world?
We live in a world, and indeed every time we turn on the television, Facebook or email we are met with yet more news and ways in which people are treated as less than who they are. Do we, as a Church, have an opportunity to demonstrate to the world a much more excellent way (to use Paul’s words)? I believe we do. I believe that we as the Church are primed and ready to live by word and example what it means to be a part of the Body of Christ.
In the days after Apartheid was officially over in South Africa there was much speculation and wondering about how people would be able to live together in harmony. Civil unrest and violence was feared by all. Understandably so. There was an elementary school just up the road from where we lived. During the generations of the Apartheid era this school was an all white Afrikaans school. One of the changes in the New South Africa was that all schools, government or private, would now be open to all people, regardless of ethnicity, culture, religion or the colour of their skin. I remember clearly walking down the road passing this school on my way home from the store. As I passed by the main gates to the school I had to stop. There on the main play ground in this very all white, Afrikaans school, were children playing together. Children of differing races and ethnicities and cultures were playing together. And not just the token one or two people of colour. There was an even mix.
In that one moment, on that one sunny afternoon, I realized that maybe, just maybe there could be hope for South Africa. In those early days after Apartheid the country realized, and was able to learn, that whatever prejudices parents and adults may have had, there was a new generation emerging that was learning and embracing a new way of being in the world.
The world we live in is complicated and diverse. But it doesn’t have to be so all the time. Perhaps one of our roles and responsibilities as a church is to hold before the world examples and moments of a much more excellent way of being in the world. In this way we continue to bring to the world hope. And that isn’t so bad.