Message Delivered on January 24, 2016
I Corinthians 12:12-31a “Different but Same”
Organ transplants have been saving lives for years and now we can check a box when applying for our driver’s license, so that our organs will be harvested upon death. Saving another’s life comes at great cost, someone has to die in order for another to have life and hope. Doctors and scientists have been working to eliminate the high costs of rejection medicines by regenerating body parts from a patient’s own tissues, thus eliminating the need for a donor and dramatically increasing the body’s ability to assimilate the new part as its own. We used to think that this was Science-Fiction!!
Scientists have been able to generate noses, ears and blood vessels in laboratories by creating a “scaffold,” a mold of sorts, in the proper shape. They place some of the patient’s own cells on the scaffold and put everything in an environment that will give the cells proper nutrition and optimum growth conditions. The cells multiply and form a new nose, for example. The results are promising with a low rejection rate and the parts function like the original part–a true replacement. Doctors are working on techniques for more complicated body parts like kidneys, lungs and livers.
Paul uses the body as an illustration for the church and seeks to find ways each part of the body will function best. In the 1960s, Avery and Marsh wrote a song: “I am the church, you are the church. We are the church together . All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes we’re the church together.” I would combine the refrain with the old finger play: “Here are the doors and here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.”
A church is composed of many people with varying parts having various gifts. Some gifts are preaching, teaching, business sense, caring for family, homes and each member of the church.
Rather than ranking the gifts of the Spirit, Paul gives an example by comparing each member of the church to members of a body. A group of believers, according to Paul, is greater than the sum of its parts: a new mathematical equation defying the norm. We are a group of different parts assembled by God to represent Christ to the greater community. On the surface, we might appear to be a loose collection of people united by geography. It reminds me of a movie I saw this weekend, “The Replacements,” which took place during the football strike in the 1980s. A coach put together a “rag tag” team of players who were “has beens” and they went on to win a championship.
We all come to the same church every Sunday because it is close to our homes, or because we like the choir, or the minister does not usually give long sermons, or the food is delicious at Coffee Hour. We selectively get involved in Presbyterian Women, or Youth Group, or teach Sunday school, or work with the children in some way. Maybe you rake leaves, or trim trees, or decorate the church, or help with the annual cleaning of the facilities. You get involved as much or as little as you like.
When the church no longer seems to meet our needs, we disagree with the statements the elders, deacons or pastor has made and stop attending, withdraw financial support, or transfer to another church. Simply put, detach from the body and join another that is perceived to be a good or better fit. Sometimes folks feel that they do not quite fit in and are unwanted or rejected, like a body rejecting a transplant, they feel cut off from the rest of the group.
Church membership is different from a book club or gym membership. We do not just “show up” to have our needs met. Church membership is not like a loyalty card at Fry’s or Safeway. We do not join to receive frequent worship blessings. We are not stockholders whose time of service and financial investment necessarily give us a say in setting the direction of the church’s future.
Paul is demanding a deeper commitment from each of us. Our connection to one another in Christ is much more than to a grocery store or social club. We are eyes, ears, feet and hands, parts of the body of Christ, dependent upon each other. We function best when we realize that despite our differences, we all need to work together toward the same goal.
Paul had no idea what modern scientists would do to regenerate body parts but his idea still works today. Each of our individual gifts is necessary to fulfill the work of the whole body. Some of us are talkers, others thinkers. Some are planners and others are doers. Some of us find energy by reaching out to the poor and needy or ministering to the youth by teaching Sunday school or helping with Youth Group. Some are excited about the music that draws people here on Sunday morning or are inspired by the preached Word of God and how it can apply to their own lives. Some get excited by calling and visiting shut-ins or those outside of our walls to extend Christ’s love. God has assembled us into the body just the way God wants, to enable us to work together to serve Christ in all that we do.
Our Christian DNA makes us one (Different but Same). We have different gifts that come from the same Holy Spirit uniting us into one body. Our cells come together as the church and we are more than our individual selves. We are collectively part of a glorious organism that serves as Christ’s representative to the world. We may be shaped differently, but we are made up of the same stuff, created in the image of God, redeemed by the blood of Christ, and strengthened and renewed by the Holy Spirit.
Each of us needs to accept our role, celebrate others whose roles are different from ours, and work for the common good of our calling in the Holy Spirit of God. Rejoice in our differences and remember the gift of the Holy Spirit living in us. Let us vow to work together to share the love of Jesus with our community and beyond.