Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Sermon for the fifth mid-week Lent service

                                                                                                Mid-Lent 5
                                                                                                1 Cor 12:12-26

            If you are going to have a championship basketball team, you must have stars.  You have to have players who can be counted on to put up points night in and night out.  In particular, you need those same players to be the ones who score in the clutch – when the game is on the line.
            However, it’s not possible to have every player be a star of this kind. It simply won’t work.  While a team has five players on the court at one time, there is only one ball.  I suppose that theoretically you could have everyone share equally in the scoring, but the reality is that there are always going to be one or two guys who shoot and score more.  It just doesn’t happen that a team has five players of equal skill as stars.  A team is lucky if they have two or maybe three players that fit this category.
            In fact, in order for those several players to succeed as stars, you need some players who focus on other things besides scoring.  You need players who pass well, who are willing to set screens to free up scorers; players who rebound and focus on defense.  Perhaps they chip in and score some, but that’s not really what they are counted on to do.
            Players like this won’t get lots of press. They won’t be the focus of attention.  But they are crucial.  Sometimes we call them “glue guys.”  They do all the little things that keep the offense running, make the defense tough and help the team to succeed.  They are easy to take for granted.  But if they are not there the team is simply not as good.
            In our text tonight, Paul is making the same point about the church.  Not everyone has the same gifts.  Not everyone has the same role.  Yet all of those gifts and roles are needed.  However, in his discussion Paul goes a step beyond the mere unity of an organization like a team, because those who have been baptized, have been baptized into one body – the Body of Christ.
            The church at Corinth was a divided and messy place.  The people there had chosen to align themselves with leaders. They said things like, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”  They were divided because of the way that the rich were treating the poor at the meal that accompanied the Sacrament of the Altar.  And they were prideful about which gifts God had given to them.
            Paul has begun this chapter by saying, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.  You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except in the Holy Spirit. 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 empowers them all in everyone.”
            There is a diversity in the church. But in our text Paul drives home the point that more importantly, there is foundational unity. He says, “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.”
            Paul describes the church as a body.  Just after our text he will say, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”  Paul says that the Church is the Body of Christ. And while this is a metaphor, it becomes clear in Paul’s writings that the apostle is using this metaphor to refer to a spiritual reality that must shape the way we think about ourselves and about other Christians.
            Paul grounds this truth in baptism.  He writes, “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.”  The apostle says that through baptism we have become part of the Body of Christ. It doesn’t matter what differences exist – here he mentions the great divide between Jews and Greeks; between slaves and free persons.  None of that matters because of the unity they now share in Christ.
            It is the Spirit who has created this unity in baptism.  Two weeks ago we heard about how the Spirit gives us regeneration in baptism – about how we are born again of water and the Spirit.  Here Paul emphasizes that through baptism we have received the Spirit – we have been made to take him in as if drinking.
            It is the Spirit of Christ who has done this.  It is the Spirit who in baptism has joined us together as the Body of Christ.  Elsewhere Paul describes this as being “in Christ.”  By this he means that we have been taken into the saving work of Jesus – his death and the cross and resurrection for us. Earlier in chapter six Paul spoke about the Spirit and baptism when he referred to the sinful past of the Corinthians, but then went on to say, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
            To be in Christ – to be part of the Body of Christ – is to be a forgiven sinner.  It is to be a saint because of Jesus Christ. This unity has been established in Holy Baptism.  It is something that is expressed and made present every Sunday in the Sacrament of the Altar.  For Paul has said in chapter ten: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”  The Sacrament of the Altar is the sacrament of unity.
            Paul speaks about the unity that we have as the Body of Christ through baptism because he is talking about how Christians treat one another.  Though different in gifts and abilities we are all one body in Christ. We are all valuable.  As Paul says in our text, “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.”
            Paul’s words tonight lead us to consider how treat other Christians.  And I’m not talking about other Christians that we meet out in the world, or even those here at Good Shepherd. Let’s get closer to home.  Let’s consider those who are right in your home.  How do you treat your husband or wife; father or mother; son or daughter; brother or sister?  Do you see them as a fellow member of the Body of Christ? Do you consider them to be someone to whom God has given various gifts and abilities?  Do you treat them accordingly?
            The apostle says at the end of our text, “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.”  Because we have been united through Christ with one another in Holy Baptism, we now suffer with and support those who are suffering.  We rejoice with those who experience success and honor.
            We seek the welfare and good of those who through baptism share in being in Christ; who are part of the Body of Christ.  What is true at home is also true here at church – in our congregation.  You know many people. You have many kinds of relationships with them.  You are tied to some by past experiences.  You are tied to some by shared interests and hobbies. You are tied to some by the sports teams you support.  If you see a Cardinals hat you sense an immediate bond or if you see a Cubs shirt you recognize a fellow exile in a foreign land.
            But here’s the thing – the thing we overlook and forget.  Your bond with the people at this church goes beyond anything you share in any of those other relationships.  Here you have have been joined together through baptism into the Body of Christ.  You have been united in the crucified and risen Lord as the forgiven children of God.  And here that unity of the Body of Christ continues to be made present and renewed each time you come to this communion rail to receive the true body and blood of Jesus.
            The world knows nothing of this.  But God’s Word has revealed it to you.  In this revelation we find the peace of forgiveness and salvation because of Jesus Christ.  And because of this revelation we come to see our fellow baptized Christians in a way that is different from everyone else.  We see them as being part of ourselves and so we have the same care for one another. Through Holy Baptism we are the Body of Christ and so if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.




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