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Created for Community: The Wisdom of Eyes and Feet

Lessons: Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

When we read Paul’s letters, we’re reading someone else’s mail. That means there’s a certain amount of guesswork about what’s going on. What we can figure out from the preceding eleven chapters of this very long letter is that the Christian Church in Corinth has experienced a conflict, a divisive controversy. There were issues of social class and privilege, creating insiders and outsiders. Here, Paul is addressing the fact that some of the Corinthian Christians were claiming to be super-Christians, more important and more spiritual because they could speak in tongues. It sounds odd to us, now. Presbyterians aren’t known for speaking in tongues; what’s the big deal? But it was a big deal; it was pulling the Corinthian Church apart.

Paul doesn’t demean speaking in tongues. He uses the analogy of the human body to explain that the church needs the diversity of many different gifts, and the members with these different gifts are interdependent, just like a body. The metaphor pretty much speaks for itself. You get it right away: obviously, a body’s eyeball isn’t going to tell the foot to get lost. The human body has many different parts with different functions but they all need each other. So, by analogy, in the Body of Christ, we all need each other. We need what is different about us.

In fact, says Paul, our differences are God’s gift to us. Today, the Closely Knit Group meets after worship. Among other things, they knit the prayer shawls that our deacons distribute to people who are ill or in crisis. It’s a beautiful ministry of caring and compassion. But think of a church with nothing but knitters. No Dave Jones or Mary Ilyin to shepherd our remodeling projects; no Martha Spears to work with our older adults; no Martha Olsen Joyce to guide us in communications. Our eyes might be useful, beautiful even; but we need hands and feet and elbows and lungs and livers, too.

Of course, as Paul knew well, it’s much easier to imagine a well-functioning body when you’re thinking about livers and elbows than when you’re thinking about other human beings. We don’t handle the variety outside our body nearly as well as we handle the variety inside. It is good to be reminded, now and again, that our differences really are a God-given gift; that oneness does not mean sameness; and that unity does not mean uniformity. As John Pavlovitz writes, “Real diversity often comes disguised as a problem. When disparate groups of people intersect, there is going to be turbulence. …. The church is not a static thing that we ask people to discard their individuality to join; it is a living organism that we invite them to connect with and change with their presence. It is always becoming.”[1]

The church is always becoming. It is always, if it is healthy and growing, becoming something new and different. New people bring change, and that is as it should be. It’s an axiom that if you, as a person, as a body, aren’t changing and growing, you’re dying. That goes for the church, the Body of Christ, too.

That is important, worth remembering, but another verse caught my attention today: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”[2] Here, Paul’s metaphor keeps on working. A toe might be a small body part, but stub it, and see how it impacts everything. We all actually know that an earache or an upset stomach or a twisted ankle can define your whole day: the suffering of one part of the body really does make the entire body suffer.[3]