1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 12-27
This week I attended a conference where Daniel Vestal was the main speaker. Daniel is a Cooperative Baptist pastor, writer and former professor from Texas. While I was at the conference, Daniel told this story:
One day he is on a small plane that had just taken off from the tarmac and is leveling out in the sky. Daniel closes his eyes to calm his nerves and begins to quietly meditate for a few minutes. As he begins to do so, he suddenly hears “oooooooooo”. Daniel opens his eyes and looks next to him and sees that next to him is pretending to fly the plane. “oooooooo”
“Hey!” the guy says to him, “We are in an exit row. Did you know that? Are you prepared for you duties?” The guy starts handing Daniel various materials to read and review for their exit row responsibilities.
“What’s your name?” The guy asks Daniel loudly.
“I don’t want to tell you my name,” Daniel thinks to himself.
“What do you do?” The guy continues.
“I don’t want to tell you what I do,” Daniel thinks.
They begin a conversation and the guy starts telling him about how he was a chemistry professor and he recently lost his job. He tells Daniel his whole story.
And when the plane finally began its descent, the man turns to Daniel and asks, “Will you pray for me?”
By now the man knows that Daniel is a pastor.
“Now?” Daniel asks surprised.
The man nods.
Daniel reaches a hand across to him. As he takes it, Daniel looks in this eyes and sees tears running down his face.
Daniel reports later that, at that moment, he thought of the Thomas Merton quote that says: “The world would be a different place if we saw everybody as the body of Christ.”
“Do we see that when we look around?” I wonder.
Do we see the ways that we are connected, the ways that we are in kinship with one another?
“The world would be a different place if we saw everybody as the body of Christ.”
In the Scripture this morning, Paul reminds us no matter who we are, whether we were raised as a Jew or Gentile, Patriots fan or Giant fan, whether we are well off or struggling to get to by, we are all one in the body of Christ.
We are in this together.
Paul’s words echo clearly Jesus’ final prayer before he dies. In his final prayer, Jesus says, “I have given them the glory that you gave me that they may be one, as we are one – I in them and you in me – that they may be made perfect in unity.”
We are called to unity.
We are called to be one with our human siblings.
This is not an easy task, which is why Paul finds himself writing this letter to the church at Corinth. The church has experienced a lot of in-fighting and disagreements – people think certain spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues are better than others and it has been making them puffed up. “I am better than you,” some of them brag loudly.
Paul reminds them no spiritual gift is better than another.
Each is needed, each is holy.
Paul writes that:
“They are, indeed, many different members but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” any more than the head can say to the feet, “I do not need you.” And even those members of the body which seem less important are in fact indispensable. .. God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to the lowly members, that there may be no dissension in the body, but that all members may be concerned for one another.”
You are equals, you are kin, you are called to unity, Paul tells them.
This is a challenging task not just for Corinthians, but for us as well.
I wonder: How do we who are many live as one?
That is a question pondered not just by the Corinthians, not just by us, but also by the world around us.
Last week, I told you about Father Greg Boyle, who works with gang members in one of the poorest neighborhoods of LA. In LA, Greg coordinates a non-profit called Homeboy Industries, which employs former gang members in businesses from screen printing to bakeries.
In an interview, an audience member essentially asks Greg,
“What does unity look like when you work with gang members?”
To answer their question, Greg tells this story.
At one of the businesses, Homegirl Café, Diane Keaton shows up for lunch; Diane Keaton the Oscar-winning actress, Annie Hall and Godfather movies.
She’s there with a regular guy who’s there once a week. And her waitress is Glenda. And Glenda is a homegirl, been there, done that tattooed, felon, parolee. She doesn’t know who Diane Keaton is. And so she’s taking her order, and Diane Keaton says, “Well, what do you recommend?” And Glenda rattles off the three plates that she likes, and Diane Keaton says, “Oh, I’ll have that second one. That one sounds good.”
And then it was suddenly at that moment that something dawns on Glenda and she looked at Diane Keaton. She goes, “Wait a minute. I feel like I know you, like maybe we’ve met somewhere.” And Diane Keaton decides to sort of deflect it humbly and say, “Oh, gosh, I don’t know. I suppose I have one of those faces, you know, that people think they’ve seen before.” And then Glenda goes, “No. Now I know. We were locked up together.”
Greg continues, saying, “Aside from the fact that that story absolutely took my breath away when I heard it — and I don’t believe we’ve had any further Diane Keaton sightings, now that I think of it — that in the end, it’s about something. It’s about kinship. It’s about Oscar-winning actress, attitude in a waitress, that you may be one. That’s the whole thing, that God has created this otherness so that you might bump into each other and find that you’re homies, that you were locked up together.”
For Greg, the word homey is about kinship; it is about belonging to each other.
Paul writes to us in the Scripture today saying:
“You, then, are the body of Christ, and each of you a member of it.”
Paul is reminding the Corinthians of exactly what Greg is saying in his story – in the midst of all your differences, you are one.
In the next chapter that follows today’s Scripture, 1 Corinthians 13, Paul reminds us that is Love that we makes us one.
It is Love that binds us together in perfect unity.
It is Love that binds us together – we who are many, we who have been locked up, we who are famous actresses, we who have been fired, we who still have our jobs, we who can speak in tongues and we who cannot. Love binds us together as equals and as kin.
“They are, indeed, many different members but one body.”
One of the thing that strikes me about Paul’s words is that, even though he calls us to oneness, he still recognizes our differences. We are one in Love and, yet, we each bring radically different gifts to the table whether those be the gifts of the arm or leg, ear or nose. Each plays an important part in the role of the body. Although Love binds us together, Paul reminds us that Love does not erase or take away our differences. Within the context of community, Paul calls us to self-differentiate, which might mean sharing our unique story, or expressing our perspective or wisdom even if it differs from those around us.
Unity, Paul teaches us, is not the same as sameness.
There’s a tension – Paul calls us to love and Paul calls us to honor the truth that we each bring a different gift to the table. Part of our task as the body of Christ is to carve out a space for each person, each voice, each gift.
Love and diversity.
This is the body of Christ.
This is our calling.
Yes: “The world would be a different place if we saw everybody as the body of Christ.”
But this too is true:
The world would be a different place if we saw ourselves – and our voices – as the body of Christ.
The Good News is this: Each of us is needed and each of us is holy.
Thanks be to God.