“Many Members, One Body” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31a)

Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 27, 2019

“Many Members, One Body” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31a)

I’m sure most of you have heard the children’s nursery song that goes like this:

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes!
Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes!
And eyes and ears and mouth and nose,
Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes!

This is a cute little song that teaches the child the various parts of his or her body. But that’s the understood assumption, namely, that all these body parts go together and are meant to work together in that child’s body. It’s not like these various body parts have a life of their own and can function independently or even at odds with one another. It’s not like the head and shoulders should be working against the knees and toes. If they did, why, you’d be falling down a lot and not functioning up to your full potential. No, all these body parts are meant to work together, in harmony with one another, in that one body.

Well, in today’s Epistle lesson from 1 Corinthians, St. Paul is doing kind of a “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” song with the church at Corinth. As we will now see. And so our theme this morning: “Many Members, One Body.”

The church at Corinth was a pretty messed-up congregation. They had all kinds of problems, and Paul addresses many of them in this epistle. For example, there was a high degree of factionalism in this church. You had different cliques and groups within the congregation, vying for control. Some of the church preferred this preacher, some preferred that preacher. This caused divisions within the church. There were different social classes within the church at Corinth. The wealthier folks looked down on the poorer members. This distracted them from focusing on the Lord’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, and it even caused problems at their potlucks. Then there was the problem of pride. Some of the members prided themselves on their superior spirituality. They thought that because the Lord had given them certain spiritual gifts, they were the first-class Christians and better than their fellow members. Well, all this was not good, as you can imagine. These various factions and competing interests took the people’s eyes off the Lord. The church at Corinth was not working well together. They had many members, but they were not functioning as one body.

So the apostle Paul has to address this situation. He wants them to repent of their factionalism and to start functioning as a healthy congregation. He wants them to see their identity as one body, and that, as the body of Christ, the church. To realize how God had brought them together in Christ, by his grace, so that now they have a new identity, new meaning and purpose in life, and a God-given unity and harmony. All the members of the church sharing their life together, caring for one another, and carrying out the mission God had given them in the world.

Many members, one body. That was the message the Lord had for the church at Corinth. And that is the message the Lord has for us here today–we, the members of St. Matthew Lutheran Church at Bonne Terre, Missouri.

First, though, how did we become members of this one body, the church? St. Paul tells us. He writes: “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. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”

“We were all baptized into one body.” That’s how each one of us came into the church: through baptism. At one time you were not part of the body of Christ. Because of original sin, handed down to us from our father Adam, all of us were born dead, by nature children of wrath. Flesh gives birth to flesh, and that’s as far as we can go. We need to be born again, born from above, born of water and the Spirit. That’s baptism. That’s what happened to you to bring you into the church. God placed his name on you, the saving name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Father became your Father, taking you as his own dear child. The Son, Jesus Christ, became your Savior, by virtue of his holy blood shed for you on the cross. Your robes were washed white in the blood of the Lamb, your sins forgiven for Christ’s sake. The Holy Spirit became your sanctifier, setting you apart to belong to God alone. The Spirit gave you new life, eternal life, and gave you the gift of faith to trust in Christ.

And the Spirit brought you into the church. You have been incorporated into the body of Christ. Do you see your identity that way? Do you see your life bound up in the life of the church? It is, you know. You and I may have many identities we can think of ourselves by. Husband, wife, father, mother. You may see yourself as an American. Or your ethnic identity: I’m a Swede, you’re a German. Your profession: I’m a preacher, you’re a pipefitter or a homemaker or retired military. All noble callings. Nothing wrong with any of these identities.

But do you think of yourself primarily as a member of Christ’s church? Is that a high priority for you? Do you think about how your life has an effect on the life of the church? It does, you know, whether for good or for ill. How you live does impact the congregation into which the Lord has placed you. You belong to this church for a reason. Your life is not your own. You are part of this particular congregation. Your life is tied to these brothers and sisters sitting here around you today, as well as to the ones who may not be here on this particular morning.

You see, there is no such thing as a “Lone Ranger” Christian. You cannot say “I believe in God, but I don’t need the church.” Nonsense! That has never been God’s plan. God’s plan is to bring you into the body of Christ, the church. Into a local congregation, where God will strengthen you and grow you by Word and Sacrament. Where you can love and serve your brothers and sisters. Where you can be loved and served by them. Where you can be involved in the church’s mission. This is God’s plan for every Christian. And there is no Plan B.

Do you realize what a high and beautiful thing it is to be a member of Christ’s body? This is where life is! This is where Jesus himself is present, speaking to us, forgiving our sins, blessing us, week after week, year after year! Christ is here, in our midst, God with us, in Word and Sacrament. There is no greater place to be on earth. This is where our life finds meaning and purpose and identity. We are Christians! We are God’s own people, the church, dearly loved, blessed beyond measure, totally undeserved, purely out of God’s mercy in Christ!

The church takes shape in local congregations. This is yours, St. Matthew’s is, and we have a commitment to one another. We are called to care for one another. St. Paul says: “that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

Now as your pastor, I thank God that I see this care and concern being demonstrated by you, the members of our church family. This is wonderful! We have members who are sick or hospitalized, or who are incapacitated in some fashion. But then I see and hear reports of how you, my brothers and sisters, are helping out the member in need, whether with a supportive hug or a listening ear or something as practical as a ride to the doctor. You just take the initiative and help, when you find out there’s someone in need. That’s great. May it continue and grow. That’s part of what it means to be members of one body. We care for one another.

Many members, one body. It also has to do with how we serve together, how we work together, as the church, the body of Christ. We have different abilities, different talents, different ways of how God has gifted us in the things we can do. Some are better at this skill; others are better at that. That’s OK. We need, and we can use, all sorts of abilities and gifts in the church. We need people who can help out ushering or Altar Guild or mowing the lawn or shoveling the snow or working with the finances, or you name it. How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? Well, hopefully somebody at least will take the initiative and just do it!

So how can you help out? Today we are having the election of officers in our voters’ meeting. But don’t think that only the Council members can do anything around here. Your pastor, and all of our officers, would be glad to have more people to help. Just ask. Or maybe you’ve got some ideas of your own. I’m sure there are things you can do.

But we need one another, in order for this congregation to carry out its mission. That means a mutual commitment, to one another and to the life and mission of this congregation. That commitment will show up in your time, your talents, and your treasures. For example, we need regular, generous giving. If you miss a Sunday, make it up next time in your offering. And we can expand our ministry in new and creative ways. We have only scratched the surface of what this church can do, when everyone is pulling together.

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” In the church, the body of Christ, we need all hands on deck, or else our mission suffers. All hands, but also “head, shoulders, knees and toes–and eyes and ears and mouth and nose!” Whatever body part you are, you have a part to play in the body of Christ. God’s desire is for all of our members to be doing their job, seeing ourselves as one body in Christ. For that is what God has made us. And he has gifted us accordingly. Many members, one body, the body of Christ.

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Published in: on January 26, 2019 at 9:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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