Rev. Jeff Bacon
January 27, 2019
Let’s open our hearts together in prayer. Let us pray: Gracious and loving God, may your promises of love revealed by Jesus be fulfilled in our hearing. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Anne’s reading to us this morning from the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians contains one of the most famous metaphors in the history of Christianity. The metaphor likens the diversity of individual church members to a living human body that has many different parts, all of which are important to the proper functioning of the body.
I was told some time ago about a metaphorical argument among various body parts regarding the importance of their individual roles in the functioning of the body. The brain said that it was the most important part of the body because the brain was the centre of reasoning and thought, and coordinated many internal and external functions of the body. The heart disagreed with the brain and said that the heart was the most important part of the body because it pumped life-giving blood throughout the body and was at the heart of love and goodness. The rest of the body parts were pretty quiet until the anus quietly suggested that the anus was the most important part of the body. The brain and the heart, and the eyes and the ears, the stomach and the legs, and many other body parts all laughed. There was no way that the anus was more important than the brain and the heart. The anus’ feelings were hurt. So, quietly, the anus decided to demonstrate its importance. After three days of remaining closed tight, the brain and heart began to be concerned. After ten days, the whole body wasn’t working very well: the brain could no longer think straight; the heart was beating way too fast; the eyes couldn’t see and the ears couldn’t hear; the stomach ached and the legs wobbled. None of the body parts were functioning properly. The anus had demonstrated its critical role in the proper functioning of the whole body and the body parts never again argued over who was the most important part of the body!
It’s too bad that Paul didn’t think of this one to tell the Corinthians! Maybe it’s what Paul is referring to when he says, “But God has arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissention within the body.”
Last week, Paul told the Corinthians about the diversity of gifts given to Christians by God and today Paul follows with the metaphor about each person being an important part of the body of Christ, recognizing and honouring diversity. It’s a double barrelled metaphor. First, Paul tells those with a low sense of self-importance about their necessity for the proper functioning of the body. Second, Paul addresses those with a low sense of the importance of others; those who think they have greater importance, and reminds them that every member of the body of Christ is important to the well-being of the one body.
The church is the Body of Christ and all believers are members of Christ’s body; equally loved and equally important. Paul tells the Corinthians this in a metaphor that they will remember.
Luke also tells us about the body of Christ through a sermon that Jesus delivers in a synagogue. It might be the shortest sermon ever! Jesus starts with a two sentence reading from the beginning of Chapter 61 of the Old Testament book of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” And then Jesus delivers his interpretation of the passage, in effect his sermon, in one short sentence: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus uses the same worship structure as we do today: he reads a passage from the Bible and then interprets the passage for the people. Jesus’ short sermon proclaims that the passage from Isaiah should be interpreted to refer to himself: that Jesus has been sent by God on an important mission for humanity. It’s a mission that Jesus’ disciples, including us, embark on as different members of the body of Christ in the world.
Luke describes the beginning of Jesus’ ministry very succinctly: Jesus is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit; news of his teaching spreads quickly and widely; he preaches in the synagogues; and he’s praised by everyone. When Jesus arrives at his small home town of Nazareth, everything starts out OK. On the Sabbath, Jesus enters the familiar synagogue where he has attended with his family since childhood. He knows the people by name. He’s asked to read from the Hebrew Scriptures and to interpret the reading, so Jesus stands on a special platform to read from the prophet Isaiah and then he sits down to preach, as was their custom. Jesus’ message is for the Jews and for the gentiles; for the poor, for the sick, for the unclean and for the outcast. It’s an inclusive message for all believers that’s difficult for the people of his hometown to accept. In the very next passage we’ll discover that “They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”
The incident foreshadows Jesus’ entire ministry where he is initially praised by everyone, but just as his hometown friends turn against him, so too will the people who crucify him. Despite the good news of Jesus bringing freedom to the poor and oppressed, humanity is always wrestling with the power of sin and temptation on the one hand, and the difficulty of living in loving community on the other. Jesus helps us interpret the reality of God’s love in the midst of our human brokenness: how the scripture is fulfilled in our hearing. And it’s fulfilled in our hearing as a community of faith; as a diverse group of members of the one body of Christ.
Don McCullough wrote that during World War II, England needed to increase its production of coal. Winston Churchill called together labour leaders to enlist their support. At the end of his presentation he asked them to picture in their minds a parade which he knew would be held in Piccadilly Circus after the war was won. First, he said, would come the sailors who had kept the vital sea lanes open. Then would come the soldiers who had come home from Dunkirk and then gone on to defeat Rommel in Africa. Then would come the pilots who had driven the Luftwaffe from the sky. Last of all, he said, would come a long line of sweat-stained, soot-streaked men in miner’s caps. Someone would cry from the crowd, “And where were you during the critical days of our struggle?” And from ten thousand throats would come the answer, “We were deep in the earth with our faces to the coal.”
Not all jobs in the church are prominent and glamorous. But the many people with their “faces to the coal” play a vital role in helping to accomplish the mission set out for us by Jesus.
In Jesus’ quote from Isaiah, Isaiah refers to the anointing of the Holy Spirit, who came upon Jesus at his baptism and guides his teaching in the synagogues. Later, Luke will tell us of the Holy Spirit coming upon all believers at Pentecost.
God is working in us, in here, right now. We are servants in God’s world; conduits of God’s love; a diverse group of members of one body. Scripture is being fulfilled in our hearing. Hallelujah! Thanks be to God. Amen.