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The Third Sunday After the Epiphany
Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
The Magi Visit the Messiah
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[a] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues[b]? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.
Love Is Indispensable
And yet I will show you the most excellent way.
- 1 Corinthians 12:13 Or with; or in
- 1 Corinthians 12:30 Or other languages
I know I talk about this a lot, but I talk about this a lot because I think it’s important. What things in life should we appreciate more, but don’t?
Naturally, I have a list of my own. Here they are, in no particular order: finishing a book, waking up early without an alarm, a breath of fresh air after being in a stuffy room, smiles from strangers, hugs from little kids, and going to bed early. Let me add one more thing to the list—squirrels.
That’s right, squirrels, the furry little roof rats that are at once endlessly aggravating as well as amusing. Tex Avery showed both sides in his 1944 cartoon, “Screwball Squirrel.”
Squirrels are actually pretty amazing little critters. There are 278 species alive today, scattered all around the world. Here are a few more interesting numbers:
- Squirrels are ranked second on a list of threats against the US power grid.
- A squirrel shut down power to The New York Stock Exchange for 82 minutes in 1987, preventing the trade of roughly 20 million shares.
- Squirrels can rotate 180 degrees their ankles, which is why they’re so good at climbing trees.
- Squirrels can also jump ten times the length of their own body.
What better way to introduce a sermon about the church? Squirrels are everywhere—so are Christians. Squirrels have many different abilities and talents—so do Christians. And squirrels are, well, squirrels—prone to use these abilities and talents in endlessly creative as well as aggravating ways—and, goodness knows, so do Christians.
Paul borrowed a word picture from Greek and Roman culture to describe the church to the Corinthians. He compared it, not to squirrels, but to the human body. “The body is one, even though it has many parts; all the parts―many though they are―comprise a single body. And so it is with Christ.”
As the Romans and the Greeks used it, the point was that every body needs a head. In society, that head is, naturally, the wealthy, rulers, and the elite. Every body needs hands and feet to do the hard and dirty work.
Guess what? As the Greeks and Romans saw it, everyone who wasn’t wealthy, a ruler, or part of the elite did the hard, dirty, work.
Paul turned the Greek and Roman way of looking at the world upside down.
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 the members may be concerned for one another. If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members share its joy.
Paul had spoken to the overinflated, ego driven members of the church before. He had chided them for boasting, for being puffed up, for not being as wise as they thought they were, and for believing that they stood when in fact they were falling.
The well-to-do members didn’t hesitate to take poorer members to court, a battle those same poorer members were certain to lose.
The abuse carried over even into the way the Corinthian celebrated the Lord’s supper, as Paul pointed out in chapter 11.
When you come together, it isn’t really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?
(1 Corinthians 11:20-22a)
The abuse and belittling left many in Corinth not taking their own gifts seriously, and thinking too little of their importance to the body of Christ.
Those supposedly weaker members, Paul said, had it all wrong. It was, after all, in weakness that God chose to save the world.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Paul then added:
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what’s foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what’s weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what’s low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.
God’s will for the church is that its members are united but not uniform, equal, but not identical. Unity means that people focus on God as their common spiritual denominator, while finding their own special place in the body of Christ.
Conformity, on the other hand, decrees that everyone look alike, wear the same hairstyles, follow certain dress codes, quote the same creeds, prefer the same musical tastes, and believe the same thing about everything.
It may look like unity on the outside, but it’s held together by force, not love. The Pharisees were big on that. Jesus was not.
A united, diverse church has room for everyone, and a place for everyone’s gifts. I ran across this article in Inc.magazine from back in September 2012. You couldn’t apply all of it to the church, but this paragraph fits.
Whenever you hear the word “talent,” substitute the words “spiritual gifts.”
You need to make room for all kinds of people, because talent comes in lots of different sizes, shapes, and packages. We want the talent, but we aren’t always willing to understand that people tend to be package deals. Some people like to work all night; some don’t especially care to bathe; some are insufferable and brilliant at the same time. If you want to build a great company [or church], you need to make room for these people and run interference for them. Too often, entrepreneurs hire staff that look, act, and talk like them. This never works beyond the first few employees.
God’s whole idea in creating the body of Christ was to show the world what humanity could and should be through Jesus Christ.
That’s exactly why God created a body in the world composed of sinners who are different, but not divided, who care equally for each other, and who suffer and rejoice with each other. God wanted the world to see what’s possible by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
You see, friends, we don’t goto church; we arethe church. Each of us has our place where, as Frederick Buechner put it, our “deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”
May we find that place and use our gifts, squirrelly though they may sometimes seem, to build up the Body of Christ in our own time and place.