Over the past couple weeks we have been considering our commitment to Christ, and how committed we are to the life of discipleship. We started out by making a renewed commitment to Christ, to be disciples of the Lord. Last week we renewed our commitment to reading and knowing the Holy Scriptures.
If you have missed either of the past two weeks, or miss an upcoming Sunday, you can always catch up on the message for the week on the church website.
Today’s focus is a call for a recommitment, or a first time commitment to the joy of serving.
Today’s text comes from 1 Corinthians. This letter from Paul to the church at Corinth was written some three to five years after Paul had first visited the city of Corinth and established a church. Like most of the epistle letters, this letter was written for a certain body – namely the community of faith in Corinth in the mid-first century. In it is a targeted exposition on what the members of the church in Corinth are doing right and wrong in their relationship with Christ. The first half of the letter is focused almost exclusively on what they are doing wrong. It calls out the main problems in the community, identifies how they have fallen into the traps of societal temptations, and identifies the personal and social barriers that hinder the community from really living the life they need to live as persons committed to Christ.
In the second half of the letter, Paul lays out a solution for the community to move past the barriers, to fix the problems, and to recommit their lives in such a way that it is apparent to all whom they encounter that they live first and foremost because of and for Christ.
Our focus today is on the second half of the letter, taking a look to at this text as Paul’s solution to fixing the problems in the world – the problems of the faith community – and the problems in society: not just our political problems, which we are all too well aware of, but our interpersonal, social, and cultural problems as well.
We pick up in 1 Corinthians in chapter 12, verse 12 with the phrase “For just as …” This phrase is a connective phrase, tying what we’re about to read to that which we have just finished reading. Dr. James Boyce, Professor of New Testament and Greek at Luther Seminary, says this phrase indicates that what you’re about read to is, and I quote, an “expansion, elucidation, or proof of the preceding assertions.” So if what we’re going to read builds off what it follows, let’s glance quickly back at verses 1-11.
These eleven verses describe in Paul’s terms the presence of Spiritual Gifts. Verses four through seven read, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
To expand, elucidate, or perhaps to proof these verses, Paul uses the metaphor of a body to explain how these gifts, services, and activities work together for one purpose.
Richard Hays, a New Testament Scholar and Dean of Duke Divinity School, says that the imagery of the body was one widely used by texts in the first century to “subordinate classes to stay in the [given] social order.” The image was used to define the hierarchy of society. Yet, Paul is using the image to define the necessitated diversity of the body of the Christian community. He’s going against the norm, and speaking to the importance of each body part, not claiming any one to be more important than the other.
Verses 15 and 16 state the need for each body part to acknowledge itself as essential for the whole of the body; there is no one part that should feel less needed than another. The foot cannot say, “I don’t belong to the body because I am not a hand.” Nor can the ear say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body.” These two verses address the need of every part in the working of the body – even those who feel they may have nothing to add, Paul is saying to you, you are important.
Verses 17 and 18 state the need to recognize all other body parts as essential necessities for the whole. It calls caution for us to think any one person, or perhaps ourselves, as more important than others. Paul says, “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?” Paul’s imagery is somewhat comical. When I think of this text, I’m reminded of the Addams Family … remember Thing? It was the hand that was nothing more than a hand? How comical it was in the television series, and how more comical is it today as possible image of the church – or, perhaps that’s just a sad image.
It’s a sad image of the body of Christ because it ignores the basic principles of Paul’s text and fulfillment of the bodily metaphor.
Troy Miller, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, says, “the necessity of diversity within the body is a presupposition for Paul and therefore is not something he ‘will argue for, but [is instead a model he will] argue from.” Paul has at the basis of his understanding of the church – that is, the community of Christ – that it is a diversified and unified body. If we rely on Ephesians 4, we understand that the unity of the body in the Spirit is not a goal to be attained, but is instead an expectation for which we are to maintain.
Each person in the church is gifted by the Holy Spirit with individual gifts, services, and activities. We know as much from the writings of Paul in the earlier section of chapter 12. As verse 13 says, we are baptized into the body of Christ – even as infants, as many of us may have been – we are no longer individuals seeking to serve God as isolated parts of a body. We are now part of one body – joined with one another through a covenantal God. Diversity is to be expected – unity is to be assumed – cohesiveness is to be the norm.
James Boyce again says, this body is not an ‘accident.’ The body has been arranged with ‘divine origin and purpose.’
So what does that mean for us today?
Raewynne Whiteley, an Episcopal Priest on Long Island, says that “as far as 1 Corinthians is concerned, there is no such thing as belonging without participating.”
What the body of Christ needs is not for everyone in this room to try and be like each other – that is to say, we do not need uniformity – what we do need is participatory unity. Each has been given gifts, services, and desires for certain activities as a part of the body of Christ. But unless everyone is engaged, involved, and serving, we are failing to be the body we have been created to be.
The commitment to service begins with identifying you place in the church. What are your gifts – what are your services – what are your passions? We are all part of one body, and being part of the one body requires participation. And we participate through serving.
Now – let’s clarify the word ‘serving.’ Too many times I have heard people say they are turned off by the word ‘service’ because they assume that ‘service’ in the church is exclusive to opportunities that are focused outside the walls, which require participation on Monday mornings for Open Table, Saturdays for food programs and others.. This could not be further from the church.
There are many parts – but we are of one body. We hold worship each Sunday morning – every Sunday requires people willing to serve: serving as a greeter, reading scripture, serving communion, preparing the worship space before and after worship, and others. We will hold special worship services in Advent and Lent; we may worship in different spaces and at different times, but we as one body, we will still need people to serve to make those services possible.
The children’s ministry and small groups need teachers and leaders. Not every small group meets within the walls of this building; we have groups meeting in people’s homes and elsewhere in the community. We need hosts, teachers, creative thinkers – all coming from the one body.
The youth ministry seeks to reach the teenagers of this community; to help them discern who they are in Christ. For a youth ministry we confirmation mentors, life counselors, retreat leaders, and others to serve throughout the year by providing companionship and guidance for the youth. Many individuals, all serving in different capacities, but all part of the one unified church body.
There are administrative needs throughout year: help is needed to facilitate weddings and funerals, there are community events like the Open Table yesterday, which need table decorators, cooks, chair stackers, table wipers, floor sweepers. There are many different and diverse people serving together as one body with a unified and divine purpose.
In the music ministry, people are needed to help lead worship. People have gifts to offer in leading children’s choirs or perhaps bell choirs. From time to time people may be needed to help with special events. We have individuals who are gifted with musical talents – but they serve as part of the body just as each other person – because we are one body.
The focus of our outreach and mission opportunities are to build relationships and connect with others in the community. Servants are needed to provide, cook, and serve food, fold and sort clothing, engage with local organizations, build homes, restore homes, restore faith in the church, and to offer help and love when love and help seem to be lost.
You have been called to be a part of this body – of this church – of this service – of this community. You cannot be a part without participation. So today, as we make our commitment to Christ, I ask you to seek God’s call – identify your gifts – see where you can be of service – name your part of the body.
The commitment to service is not about glorification, honor, or promotions. The commitment is not about showing God how good you are, or earning brownie points with your pastor. This commitment is about taking part – not simply being part, you are already a part of the body – it’s about taking part.
After worship today, we will gather in the Fellowship Hall as a community to see the different ways you can use your passions and gifts as a part of this body in Service. There will be sign up forms for our outreach ministries, our small group ministries, and for other opportunities to serve in the church. If you want to serve in a way that is not listed, please write it in on one of the sign-up forms, or follow up with me during the week, and let me know how I can help you fulfill your calling to serve.
As we continue to worship and as we gather in fellowship this morning, I invite you to pray about your service in the church and in the community. Are you being faithful to the body? Are you living your part?