Posts Tagged ‘Epiphany 3-C’

One Baptism—One Body

Sunday, January 27th, 2019

Epiphany 3-C
January 27, 2019
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

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“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” [1 Corinthians 12:13b]

First Corinthians is a letter, or an epistle from St. Paul to a church that God created out of nothing in a pagan city called Corinth.  In this letter, Paul continually reminds the Corinthians that they need to strive for unity within the body of Christ (12:12), because in God’s design there is only one body or Church, and one Spirit, one Lord, and one Baptism [12:4 ff., 13]. And yet, Paul has discovered the very opposite thing is being displayed in their church!  Instead of unity, there are divisions and factions.  Paul’s intention then, is to unite those factions and remove the confusion that’s been caused by bad doctrine or teaching.  If they will listen and follow God’s Word then it will be God Himself who will unite them! God would unite the Corinthians the same way he unites us, by reminding each of us of our own baptism.  Our baptism then reminds us that while we may be many members, we are all part of one body—while we may be many congregations, we are but one Church!

(vs. 12-13) Friends, Christ’s church, our church, is like the human body.  

Let’s consider the human body for a moment.  Within our bodies we see the very picture of unity and completeness through a lot of individual parts. Now, this is also true with Christ’s body, the Church. To illustrate this truth, Paul begins with the oneness of the body and then proceeds to its many parts through these words: “the body is one and has many members”; he then goes backward from the many parts to the oneness of the whole by saying: “and all the members of the body, being many, are one body.” And throughout His body, Jesus is always present and active in each one of us!  How?  Through God’s mysterious work done in each of our own baptisms.

In Holy Baptism friends, each one of us was baptized “in” one Spirit, the Holy Spirit in union with God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ.  Our baptism is a vital connection with Jesus. In our baptism, God’s Spirit is always present and always making a spiritual change within us—a change, which creates a new spiritual life within us and maintains a right spiritual relationship first with God, and then with the other members of Christ’s Church.  This mystical union of Christ with the church friends, is our true union with God. It’s a union that is identical within each of us, and it is also identically sustained within each of us through Christ’s own Word and sacraments.

Now, think about what this truth must have meant to the Corinthian church, and then think about what it means for us.  “Jews are equal to pagan Greeks?”  Friends, do you see how in Christ’s body… the Church, all members of the human race have been drawn together into Christ and then melted and fused together into one indistinguishable whole? What was lower than a slave, human property with almost no rights? Yet Paul is telling those rich folks and property owners, many of whom owned slaves, that their slaves are their equals! Christ is in their slaves just as he is in them… they are one!  It’s quite the wakeup call isn’t it?  The same is true with us friends; through our baptism, we are one with the butcher, the baker, the president, the junkie, the homeless, the parent and the child.  People of all races and back grounds, through their baptisms are “one body” just like the physical human body.

Now with this central truth stated about our physical bodies and the church, think of how ridiculous it would be if a toe no longer wanted to be part of the foot, or an eye thought that it was better than the ear.  We need all of our body parts to function the way God designed them so that we can have a complete and healthy body, and this is also the truth with Christ’s body the church! 

(Vs. 14-20) So why do some members of Christ’s Church feel inferior and jealous of others if all of us are baptized into the same body?  

To answer this question, let’s first go back to Paul’s illustration of the human body.  Why does the ear say, “Because I am not an eye, I’m not important so that must mean that I’m not really part of the body?”  Do the ears feelings change the fact that it truly is part of the body?  All of its griping won’t change a thing. It’s not only useless; it’s foolish, because the body can’t be just one member!  We need each member because each member has its own function. Wouldn’t it be foolish if the foot tried to grasp something or shake hands with somebody when it’s real purpose is to help the body walk and move from one place to another?  The same is true about an ear that wants to be an eye when the body really needs it for hearing.  This unity in diversity friends is what makes the body whole and functioning.  Instead of complaining about what it isn’t, each part should celebrate what it is, because without each part, the body wouldn’t be whole.  This is also true about each member of Christ’s church and our congregation. Suppose a member were actually what these complainers say: not a part of Christ’s body—well what would it be? Jesus answered this question clearly; He said it would be a dead branch, fit only to be burned. Dear friends, instead of wishing we were someone else or something “better,” we should thank God for the place he has assigned to us and then work with the Holy Spirit to do our part not only expertly but also joyfully!

Doesn’t all of this jealousy and envy sound like foolishness?  After all, wasn’t it “God (who) arranged (all of) the members in the body, each one of them, (just) as He chose(?) (If each of us were the same member), where would the body be?  (So, you see friends), there are many parts, yet one body.” [vs. 18-20]   All of this is part of God’s divine work of creation!  He did it all according to His will when He formed the human body and when He created His church!   He desired that both bodies would consist of many members. Each one He set into its perfect place within the body. Do we really want to find fault with what God did? Do we really have the audacity to think that we can improve on His work? 

Well, the fact stands: God made the true Church what it is and He made you as you are for a purpose… now we must live out that purpose as He leads us!

(Vs. 21-26) Ok, but then why do some people act like they’re superior or better than others?  Or as Paul says, 

“Why does the eye say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or the head to the feet, “Go away, you’re not needed”?  Why indeed and here we go again!  Once again there’s grumbling within the body; but this time it’s a different kind of grumbling.  Now it’s the eye and the head’s turn to voice their sinful feelings, each looking down on a different body part and thinking that they’re better than the other parts.  One looks down on the hand, and the other is looking down on the feet.  What’s going on here?  There seems to be trouble throughout the body!  And this is what Paul is saying about the church at Corinth.  And so we see him expertly using God’s law to attack their habit of looking down on others.  

 Let me ask you a question: When are we more likely to look down on others?   I think the answer is when we think that they’re not in our class!  Social status, education, health, and many other conditions fuel our disdain for others!  We’re inclined to look down on others when we feel that their talents or position seems lower than our own. To illustrate this, Paul lets the eye and the head speak. Now, because the eye is able to reach out to great distances it looks down on the hand which can only grasp what is in arms reach. And because the head is placed so high above all of the other members, it is prone to look down with disdain on the feet, which are dutifully plodding away on the hard and dirty streets below! So you see, those who have been given what seems to be greater gifts and talents might be tempted to foolishly think that they don’t need those who have what appears to be inferior gifts and talents, but in reality, once again each of us must remember that we are not individuals but part of a whole.  What each part has is only part of the whole body… a body designed by our Creator!

But what about our more humble parishioners; the very old, the sick, and the disabled?  Paul compares them with our private body parts; the ones we keep hidden—the parts that we might be ashamed of?  Listen to what he says: “And on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 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.” [vs. 23-26] 

I pray that God will help each of us both desire and work together to ensure this very thing, and He will if we simply remember that it was the Creator who put all of us in our proper place within His Church and within this congregation!  But…

(Vs. 25-30) What if we find ourselves having trouble living out this truth, this Divine balance? 

How are we to be saved from this terrible sin that seeks to divide us?  Well friends, God does this very thing by taking each of us back to our own baptism—back to the truth of our equal standing as sinners before Him, and then through that same Word, He reminds each of us that He equally forgives us all of our many sins.  In this way, as members of God’s church, God assures each of us that we are equally loved by Him.  And friends, God wants us to demonstrate that same forgiving love and care to others who are also members of His church.  With His Holy Spirit living within us, He reminds us that if one of us suffers, then all of us suffer together; if one member is honored, then all of us will celebrate together. 

Let’s look to our own bodies one more time to illustrate this truth: If our foot is in pain, even if it’s the little toe, won’t our eye immediately look to see what’s wrong?  And won’t we use our fingers to hold it and caress it, as our face twists in pain and our whole body bends over to assist in its care?  And as the entire body is caring for this one ailing part, the entire body is benefited when the pain is soothed!   

Dear friends, isn’t it a blessing to be part of a body where “if one member suffers, all members suffer together, and if one member is honored, all members rejoice together?” 

Rejoice dear friends in the truth that Christ’s suffering and death upon the cross was equally given to each of us within the waters of our own baptism—for you see it is the same sin that was covered, but more than covered, it was the same sin that was drowned and destroyed.  It is that same sin that equally drives each of us to the font with the same need and the same identity… beggars in need of God’s grace.  And as we remember this truth let’s also rejoice together in yet another truth…He is still giving us that same grace through His Word and His Holy Supper!  Praise God dear friends!  Praise Him all creatures here below.  Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost…AMEN!