Sermon by Rev. Deborah Sunoo
“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (I Cor. 12:27) “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.’” (I Cor. 12:21) Paul, the author of this letter to the Corinthians, has hit upon such a great analogy here that the very idea of one part of the body of Christ thinking itself superior to another is preposterous. We should chuckle at the thought of your eyelashes refusing to speak to your toenails, or my earlobes telling my liver to take a hike!
But heaven knows Christians have been doing equally ridiculous things to one another since the church began. The eye may not say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ but the Protestants have said it to the Catholics, and the Catholics to the Protestants. The First Presbyterian Church of Anytown, USA, has said it to the First Baptist Church, and the First Baptist Church has said it to the First Methodist Church. The story of the body of Christ has been tainted with everything from worldwide schisms to local congregations falling to pieces over the color of the new carpet in the sanctuary. And Paul was right – every time one part of the body thinks it has no need of the others, the health of the whole body is in jeopardy.
So it’s something to be proud of that this particular congregation cherishes a sense of family among its members. Now keep in mind, it’s also something we’ll need to keep working on as we grow–we’ve got a number of new faces around the church now, growing kids who don’t necessarily know our adult members well, adult members who may not know the names of all our kids, and not every member of this body feels as connected as some do. So we’ll want to keep working at building those relationships. But because you do see yourselves as a body, you know well that when one member suffers we all suffer and when one member rejoices we’re all invited to rejoice, and it doesn’t matter if we all agree on every issue; we’re still part of a single body. Plus, one of the fun things about being in a church of our size is that you don’t have to be here for very long to be able to look around the room and identify which body part is which.
Who are the hands? Perhaps our building and grounds team, doing so much to care for our property, or our Operation Nightwatch volunteers reaching out beyond our walls to provide a delicious meal each month to 100 or so men and women downtown. Who are the ears? Maybe it’s your Session (your church governing board), charged with listening for God’s call to our congregation. Or perhaps it’s our Deacons, and others who visit our most senior members, ensuring that they continue to feel heard and appreciated. And the stomach? While I don’t always bring him along to eat with us, I wonder if it’s my husband Ken, who – thin as he is - has a real gift for enjoying every potluck meal to its fullest! The lungs could be our singers. The fingertips could be our talented players of piano and flute and guitar. Some of you might be the heart of the congregation, noticing when someone in a nearby pew is hurting and offering a kind word, a comforting note or prayer. Or you might be the eyes, noticing areas of church life that need attention. Certainly, we have a right brain –those whose gift is to think creatively about the big picture, dreaming exciting dreams about the future of our congregation. And a left brain – the detail people who keep us on time and on task and keep our files and finances in order. Each person in our congregation is not only important but essential. The body wouldn’t be the body without you. And whatever body part you are, you also depend on the members sitting next to you.
What’s sometimes a little easier to forget is that this congregation on its own is no more the body of Christ than you or I could be on our own. We should no more expect to be able to fulfill all the functions of the body of Christ here at the corner of 28thAvenue and Dravus Street than we should expect the Deacons on their own, or the Sunday School teachers on their own, to fulfill all the functions of our congregation. Our church can’t do it all because even as a whole congregation, we’re just one part of the body.
And keep in mind that our notbeing equipped to do everything is nota function of our size. Our good friends across town at University Presbyterian Church, for instance, with their couple thousand-member congregation? They’re no more the body of Christ on their own than we are. Sure—there are things larger churches can do more easily than we can, but there are also things they cannot do. Like offer a sense of family the minute you walk in the door. Or welcome everyone who has gifts and an interest in music to be a part of the music team. Those may be the kinds of things that have drawn some of you to become a part of this part of the body of Christ. After all, some will find their niche in the elbow, others will be more comfortable in the kneecap.
And because we each have a different role, a different function in the body of Christ, it would be ludicrous to see ourselves in competition with another church of any size. I am so pleased that our Magnolia churches seek to serve God together– from ecumenical energy going toward supporting Tent City 5 to sponsorship of our “Faith Over Fear” event in June, to opportunities to worship together as we’ll do here in a few weeks, to a monthly gathering of Magnolia pastors to keep each other up to date on what’s happening in each church. We wanteach other’s ministries to thrive, because we’re all playing for the same team. We’re serving the same Lord. We’re in this thing together.
And of course we’re connected not just to churches down the hill whose pastors we happen to know and whose members live in our neighborhood, but to churches throughout our presbytery, around the state, across the country, and around the world. When one part suffers, we all suffer, when one part rejoices, we can all rejoice. For instance, our brother in Christ from India, David, joins us each summer when he’s here in Seattle visiting his daughter, and he and I were talking recently about the challenges faced by Christian missionaries in the northern part of his country, and he asked for our prayers. He also promised when he left last week to bring our greetings back to his home church in India – what a lovely thing that we are being remembered in worship on another continent today!
I love reading through our national Presbyterian publications each month, finding in every issue stories about local congregations in towns I’ve never heard of. Congregations getting their hands dirty on church mission trips. Congregations on the cutting edge of outreach efforts with inner city youth. Immigrant congregations growing and thriving and doing incredible mission work in their respective locations around our country. Their success is our success. For every church celebrating a ministry that has borne fruit, we can give thanks to God. I also appreciate reminders in those same publications to keep in my prayers congregations facing hardship, be they in India or Indiana or here around the Puget Sound. Because we are all members of one body, their concerns are also our concerns.
This is why I invited Steve Bass to report back to you on what he observed at General Assembly several weeks ago – the national gathering of representatives of our denomination that occurs every 2 years. Important conversations happen there, important votes are taken about who we want to be and what we want to stand for as the Presbyterian Church (USA), and sure, those come with vigorous debate at times – but that’s only because the issues under consideration are things that followers of Jesus care passionately about. Because all those who worked and spoke and debated and voted at General Assembly back in June are part of ourpart of the body of Christ – the Presbyterian part - it’s important that we know what they were up to!
As much as we may love our Magnolia Presbyterian church family, this congregation is not an isolated organ, a lonely lung or belly button sitting all by itself trying to be the church! We are part of a much, MUCH larger body of faith, of which even the entire Presbyterian Church (USA) is obviously only the tip of the iceberg… or should I say, the tip of a finger? We can and should be looking to other members of the body of Christ, both to support them in their ministries and to find support for our own. For when each individual congregation is strengthened, it enhances the health of the whole body of Christ.
“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 has arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as [God] chose . . . so that the members may . . . care for one another.” (I Corinthians 12:17-18, 25)
Which body part might you be in this church? Which body part might we be as a congregation in this neighborhood? Which body part might the Presbyterian Church (USA) be in our world?
Let’s keep asking ourselves the questions, and then listen for God’s call to be just who we are, uniquely gifted and equipped for ministry in God’s name. Amen.