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. 13For 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.
14 Indeed, the body does not consist
of one member but of many. 15If 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. 16And 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. 17If the
whole body were an eye, where would
the hearing be? If the whole body
were hearing, where would the sense
of smell be? 18But as it is, God
arranged the members in the body,
each one of them, as he chose. 19If
all were a single member, where
would the body be? 20As it is, there
are many members, yet one body.
21The 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.’ 22On the contrary, the members
of the body that seem to be weaker
are indispensable, 23and 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; 24whereas our more
respectable members do not need
this. But God has so arranged the
body, giving the greater honor to
the inferior member, 25that there
may be no dissension within the
body, but the members may have the
same care for one another. 26If one
member suffers, all suffer together
with it; if one member is honored,
all rejoice together with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ
and individually members of it.
that we have such a great gang of youth here today. The
first sermon I gave in this church was on 'Youth Sunday', from
this text, when I was a senior in high school. And that
was, what, about 15 years ago as I recall :).
illustration was that youth are one of those members of the
body, and essential to it. Even though it was only 15
years ago, I think the message still holds.
I want to
focus on a different aspect of the text this morning.
Two weeks ago,
we looked at the notion of spiritual gifts discussed in the
first part of this chapter. And
last Sunday I
focused on the importance of using our mind as one of those
gifts, drawing out of chapter 14. So for this combined
service this morning, bringing together both of our worship
services, I thought it would be a good time to remind ourselves
of the unity of the body of Christ.
Now, one of
the ways to achieve unity in the church is through conformity.
And typically, that is done through an authoritative structure
that lays down the truth for all to follow. It's my way or
the highway, right? Just like we do here :).
And there are
times and places when conformity is essential to the
organization. The military is a classic example -- when
you give a command as a military officer, you have to know with
reasonable certainty that that command will be carried out.
There's just not a lot of room for free-thinkers in the military
structure. Fast-food franchises are another good example,
where conformity is pretty essential. You go to a Dairy
Queen or a McDonalds, or a Taco Bell when you're traveling
because you know what to expect when you arrive. You
already know the menu. What would happen if you go into a
KFC and there was no chicken?! Or you go into an Arby's
and there's no roast beef? I mean, the world could not
handle such freedom!
So we come to
depend on that kind of conformity. But, is conformity the
way to achieve unity in the church?
I know we've
all probably experienced that kind of church, but I'm suggesting
a different kind of unity. I'm not sure that's the kind of
unity that Paul has in mind here either, when he refers to the
church as the body of Christ.
Paul does say
that God has so arranged the body that there should be no
dissention. And we see how that works out for Paul.
If you know the story, particularly in the Corinthian church,
but indeed in Paul's entire ministry, he's constantly struggling
with those who have different points of view.
The church in
Corinth was about as free of dissention as the United States
Congress. I'm not sure which one gets along better with
each other :). But the simple reality is that the only
churches that have been free of dissention throughout the
history of Christendom are those churches that do not allow
freedom of thought or differences of opinion.
There's an ad
I picked up years ago from an organization called 'The Church Ad
Project', which I've always wanted to run -- it says:
"There's only 1 problem with religions that have all the
answers: they don't allow questions".
that to various committees as we've thought about advertising,
and they've all kind of laughed and chuckled, and said "yeah,
that's a great message". And I say "Well, should we use
it?". And they say "Are you nuts?!". We can't put
that out there, we would offend people.
when we started our
New Celebration Service, we did a series of ads. We
tried a few to lighten things up a bit, get attention. On
a more serious note, and back on topic, we ran this one
sometimes on Easter:
underneath the caption reads: "You don't have to stop
thinking when you walk into our church. Come experience an
atmosphere where faith and thought exist together in a spirit of
fellowship". I still like that one.
naturally, if we are not just going to allow, but are
going to encourage people to think and decide for
themselves, then we have to allow for the freedom of the spirit.
Differences of belief, and even dissention.
recognizing that all metaphors have their limitations, the idea
of this metaphor for the church as a body calls us to recognize
and affirm our many differences. Paul uses the metaphor to
describe our different gifts. I'm suggesting that it's
useful to describe our unity in light of our many differences.
Methodist congregation in Dallas, Texas, with about 600 members.
Nancy Comer called my attention to their web site, and right on
the home page (http://www.northaven.org),
love in Jesus Christ has broken down walls that divide us,
we embody that love in our congregation and welcome persons
of all races, sexual orientations, and economic
You see, the
difference between conformity and true unity is that churches
that follow the conformity model achieve unity by pretending
they have no differences. The deeper unity I am suggesting
as a body of Christ with many differences is to affirm those
differences, name them and claim them as evidence of our unity
in Christ, as this church does.
We do have
different political and economic philosophies, but we are one
different worldviews, and Biblical views, but we are one body.
We are of
different genders and sexual orientations, but we are one body.
different nationalities, speak different languages, but we are
We are not
united by our music preferences, by our modes of dress, by our
class, by our marital status, not even by our choice of Super
Bowl teams (go Saints!), we are united by our faith in Jesus
Christ. It's not conformity we seek, but unity.
getting everyone to sing in unison. Unity is singing in
harmony. Maybe it's just singing the same song.
Maybe it's just, you know, clapping along, or in some other way
participating. As Paul puts it, a body that is all 'eye'
doesn't hear very well. A body that is just an ear doesn't
have a sense to smell.
I like the
way Richard Rohr put it in one of his daily meditations, he
writes: "Church, for Paul, is not something you attend.
Church is something you organically are. Or not. It
is more of a living organism than a formal organization".
something you are. As Christians, we don't have a choice
to be or not to be, a part of the body. We simply are that
body, like it or not. With all of its different parts, all
intricately linked. That's why Paul says when one part
suffers, all suffer. When one part rejoices, all rejoice.
And we don't
just tolerate diversity, we need it. Not just diversity of
gifts and abilities, but also those differences of opinions,
those preferences of music, those styles of spirituality, those
various worldviews, even different understandings of God.
diversity we have, while maintaining our unity as a body, the
stronger we will be as a witness to the vision of God for a more
heavenly world where all are welcome as part of the one body of
that unity while expanding our diversity is not an easy task.
The Christian Church Disciples of Christ is a perfect
illustration. We are a branch of one movement that sought
to unify all Christians around the principles of New Testament
Christianity. And our early founders actually believed
they could do that. We could do away with Methodists, and
Presbyterians, and Lutherans, and all of that, and simply be
Christians. That's why our name is "Christian Church".
We created 3
more branches of the church :). Didn't work so well.
Did we just fall from the way, or is there something to learn
One of the
things we discovered is that when you seek that kind of unity
within diversity that I'm describing, those who desire unity
through conformity are often the first to leave. They're
just not comfortable. Sometimes it's hard to worship with
folk who hold views diametrically opposed to your own.
We had a
great illustration of this last Sunday. Our Inquirers
Class had a wonderful discussion about who we are, what we do,
what we believe, great exchange. At one point I made some
reference to evolution (a
topic I'm going to preach on next Sunday), and one person
said "Wait a second, you mean that you accept evolution as a
possibility?". And I said "Yeah, but you don't have to to
be a member here". But that was all she needed to hear.
She was very cordial, very polite, she was thankful for the
dinner and the conversation, but just said this isn't the church
for her. She left, and we continued on our way.
No doubt that
we've lost a few who felt the same. Even when we try to be
as inclusive as possible, we exclude those who don't want to be
To be more
inclusive in our preference for music, we started our early
worship service, and we maintain separate services precisely
because we still have those exclusive preferences toward music.
I love this illustration, I have to pull it out every few years
and share it with you because not everyone has heard it, and it
illustrates well our different styles of worship:
An old farmer
went to the city one weekend and attended the big city
church. He came home and his wide asked him how it was.
"Well", said the
farmer, "It was good. They did something different, however.
They sung praise choruses instead of hymns".
"Praise choruses?", asked the wife. "What are those?"
"Oh they're okay. They're sort of like hymns, only
different", said the farmer.
"Well, what's the difference?", asked the wife.
The farmer said "Well it’s like this if I were to say to you
"Martha, the cows are in the corn" well that would be a
hymn. If, on the other hand, I were to say to you,
Martha, Martha, Martha,
Oh Martha, MARTHA, MARTHA!!!!
The cows, the big cows, the brown cows,
The black cows, the white cows, the black and white cows
The Cows, the COWS, the COWS are in the corn
Are in the corn
Are in the corn
In the corn, CORN, COOOOOOORRRRRNNNNNNN!
Then if I was to repeat the whole thing two or three times,
well that would be a praise chorus".
[Look around and see who's laughing,
because the other half of the joke is coming :)]
As luck would
have it, the exact same Sunday a young, new Christian from
the city church attended the small town church. He came home
and his wife asked him how it was.
"Well", said the young man, "It was good. They did something
different, however. They sung hymns instead of regular
"Hymns?", asked the wife. "What are those?"
"Oh they're okay. They're sort of like regular songs, only
different", said the farmer.
"Well, what's the difference?", asked the wife.
The Young man said "Well, it’s like this if I were to say to
you "Martha, the cows are in the corn", well that would be a
regular song. If, on the other hand, I were to say to you,
Oh Martha, dear Martha, hear thou my cry
Inclinest thine ear to the words of my mouth.
Turn thou thy whole wondrous ear by and by
To the righteous, glorious truth.
For the way of the animals who can explain
There in their head is no shadow of sense
Hearkenest they in Gods sun or His rain
Unless from the mild tempting corn they are fenced.
Yea those cows in glad bovine, rebellious delight,
Have broken free their shackles, their warm pens eschewed.
Then goaded by minions of darkness and night
They all my mild Chilliwack sweet corn chewed.
So look to that bright shining day by and by,
Where all foul corruptions of earth and reborn
Where no vicious animal makes my soul cry
And I no longer see those foul cows in the corn.
Then if I were to do only verses one, three and four and
change keys on the last verse, well that would be a hymn.
all equally offended, right? :)
It's a bit
oversimplified, but you get the point.
have two worship services. We could easily have three
or four or five, each for our different preference, but the
point is we are still one body.
thing to have different worship styles, and it's quite another
to have different understandings of some of our core beliefs.
Last week I cited the slogan, fallen a bit out of favor, in the
history of our church: "Where scriptures speak, we speak.
Where scriptures are silent, we are silent". And I
suggested I have some problems with that.
slogan of our founders that I still hold as good for us:
"In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things
And we need
to remind ourselves from time to time, for the sake of that
unity, that not everything we hold dear and important is
essential to that unity.
matters before our country -- healthcare, economic recovery,
climate change -- are vastly important to us, but we have
different views. Are those kinds of essentials necessary
for our unity?
Love for our
country may be important to us as citizens, but is it essential
for us as Christians, especially given the different
nationalities of the church?
church doctrines about things like sin and salvation, the origin
of scripture, virgin birth, resurrection, may be important in
church history and church institutions, but are they essential
to our faith in Jesus Christ and our witness to the love of God?
Yes, I know I
have made some pretty strong claims on probably all of these for
how I think as a Christian. But I've always sought to do
so, at the same time saying, we are free in this church to
dissent. We are free to think for ourselves and hold our
So what is
recall, Jesus was asked that very question. And remember
"You shall love
the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And
you shall love your neighbor as yourself".
In short, to
be the body of Christ is to love as Jesus loved. Following
the way he lived and taught.
Now, we can
be that body badly, pretending to be something else that we're
Or we can be
that body boldly, claiming who we are, claiming the unity we
have in Christ's love with all our differences.
different ways of seeing, and yet still be in one body.
different ways of looking, yet we are one body.
different ways of believing, yet we are one body.
different ways of voting, yet we are one body.
different ways of loving, yet we are one body.
different ways of being, yet we are one body.
powerful witness in this divided world, to the love of God, for
all people. You are that one body of Christ.