The body was broken. Everything seemed to be falling apart. Former friends were fighting with one another. Factionalism was rampant as varies parties fought with each other over control and refused to compromise. What some considered to be immoral, others praised as righteous and just. Much of the dissention was fueled by religious disagreements about which group was being true to the tradition. Arguments abounded over sources of authority, what was factual and or merely personal opinion. Some wealthy folk apparently tried to use their money to influence others and sway the outcome, while some utilized their eloquence to do the same.
To what am I referring? What broken body do I have in mind?
- The Middle East?
- The European Union?
- The U.S. Congress?
- The United States?
- The Democratic Party?
- The Republican Party?
- The Anglican Communion?
- NFL Playoffs?
A case could be made for each of these. Illustrations are many. But those aren’t the bodies that I have in mind. The body I’m thinking about is the Church in Corinth in the middle of the first century. Saint Paul had lived and worked in Corinth for nearly a year and a half to found and build up the church. Then he went back across the Aegean Sea (to what is modern-day Turkey) to do the same in the city of Ephesus.
At the time, Corinth was a thriving Greek Mediterranean port city—one of the great crossroads of commerce, ideas, and cultures where Greeks, Romans, and Eastern peoples came together.
Sometime after Paul left Corinth, he got word that things weren’t going so well back in Corinth—and that became the occasion for writing several letters that have come down to us in the form of two Epistles: First and Second Corinthians.
The most famous and well-known chapter in these letters is First Corinthians 13, which concludes with the memorable words: “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” This chapter is most often read at weddings—I’d venture to guess about 90% of the weddings in which I’ve participated. But what many people don’t know or have forgotten is that this “love poem,” along with the rest of the Corinthian correspondence, was penned in the middle of a big ole, nasty, church fight.
Paul was trying to deal with the divisions and disorders in the Corinthian community church. He even named some of the factions: there were those who claimed that they belonged to Paul, or Cephas, or Apollos, or even Jesus.
Just prior to chapter 13 (which, by the way, will be our epistle reading for next week), just before the love poem is this portion of chapter 12 that’s our lectionary text for today. Paul teaching about the nature of the church uses the metaphor of the body.
We’ve already had it read to us, so I’m just going to repeat a few highlights:
12 For 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. 13. . . . we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
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.’
God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour 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 honoured, all rejoice together with it.
As beautiful as it sounds and as ideal as it is, this is difficult. A trying teaching. In practical application, being one body is hard. It’s tough to stay connected, to be in relationship with difficult and disagreeable people.
This is an especially hard saying for Americans. There’s that pioneer spirit; everyone for him or herself; rugged individualism and all that it entails. All this talk of being one body flies in the face of what many hold as primary values.
If get my feelings hurt, then I want to get back at somebody, to make them suffer because I’ve suffered. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
It’s hard to be loving and kind and gracious while trying to uphold policies and principles to which you are deeply committed.
It’s easier to break off and go our own way, to distance ourselves, to say, in effect, “We’re not the same body anymore. I’m done with you.”
I think of Dave Brat, the Tea Party lawmaker from Virginia, who recently said, “Democrats shouldn’t cite the Bible, because conservatives own the entire (Christian) tradition.”
How do I love a guy like that?
How do I love an African Anglican Bishop who advocates criminalizing homosexuals and putting them to death?
How do I love my relatives who live in an armed compound?
In a sermon this week, our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry reminded the congregation of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Ten Commandments for participants in the 1963 Birmingham protests. Remember, this was the year of the killing of four Sunday School girls in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, It was the year of Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor who directed the use of fire hoses and police attack dogs against protestors that included children.
Each participant in the Birmingham protests was required to abide by Dr. King’s “Ten Commandments.”
- Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
- Remember always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation—not victory.
- Walk and talk in the manner of love, forGod is love.
- Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
- Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
- Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
- Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
- Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
- Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
- Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain on a demonstration.
The movement, of course, is the Jesus Movement. And that’s why the first commandment, before you march, is “Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.”
Sometimes our faith demands things of us that are just hard. Sell what you have and give to the poor. Forgive, how many times ? . . . 70 times 7. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Take up your cross and follow me.
Paul’s solution: We must remember that this isn’t about us—it’s about God. “ . . . no dissension within the body—may the members have the same care for one another . . . because it’s about Christ’s body, not mine, not your’s, but Christ’s.
But it’s still hard. That’s why we need to meditate on Jesus and why we need each other.