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The Threshold of the Body -- 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 (Third Sunday After Epiphany)

In this morning’s Scripture, the Apostle Paul is working a metaphor. The metaphor of the body. “Just as the body has many members, so it is with Christ... You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.” It’s an important metaphor for Paul. He’s writing to a community he loves – a community that is divided against itself – the members contending with each other over just about everything.[1] In his letter to them – in what we call First Corinthians – the Apostle Paul goes through their issues one by one, dispute after dispute, and it all builds to this metaphor: You are one body. You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it. And then Paul works that metaphor, works it for all the meaning he can find, urgently, for this community he loves. You are one body.

But, before we can enter into the Apostle Paul’s metaphor – the metaphor of the body – and try to find meaning there for us today – we may have some cultural clutter of our own we need to clear away first – cultural clutter that weighs down our bodies and how we think of them.

We might start with naming some baggage we may be carrying. I know I’ve spent a good part of my life thinking of the things my body CAN’T do – much more than I’ve celebrated the things my body CAN do. I’ve shared this before. I can’t dribble a basketball; I’m not particularly good at catching objects flying fast toward me – or batting them away. I don’t list “excellent hand-eye coordination” on my resume. But in the past few years, I’ve discovered I’m sturdy, and I have a good bit of steady stamina – I can hike big hills and long distances. Who knew.

Our culture assaults us with all sorts of unhealthy messages about our bodies. Media and advertisers fill our screens with images trying to sell us a very narrow range of body image and body type, along with a distorted understanding of beauty and health. They tend to lift up one unattainable body type – at the expense of celebrating the broad and beautiful diversity of bodies – of every size, and shape, and ability. Those dominant images too often lift up European-descended bodies – at the expense of bodies of color – feeding cultural bias and systems that denigrate black and brown bodies. Those dominant images also tend to favor youth – without also celebrating what I might call “wisdom bodies” – bodies that hold the knowledge of a life lived – maybe with a few scars – but also with the muscle memory of what it is to live and to love – wisdom bodies that can help other bodies find our way to life.

And it’s not just the secular culture around us. Unfortunately, there are far too many strands of religion that for far too long have used shame to control our bodies and our lives. Far too many religious traditions (including some forms of Christianity) suggest that our bodies are a problem to be corrected –that our bodies are less than worthy and should be hidden away. Too many strands of religion have harmed and tried to control women’s bodies. And those of us in the LGBTQIA+ community know what it is like to have religion and the culture around us say that our bodies and our lives should be kept out of sight – we call that the experience of “the closet.”

Culture is not often friendly to our bodies – and these religious traditions that denigrate the body unfortunately draw on the ancient patriarchal cultures reflected in Scripture and perpetuate them into our day.

But if we go to the heart of Scripture, and look to how God relates to our bodies, what we find there is a very different understanding. From the very beginning – God creates us – all of us – bodies and all – in God’s own image. There at the beginning, God shapes us from the earth, with her own hands, and breathes life into us, and calls us – and all creation – good.

Psalm 139 affirms that we are fearfully and wonderfully made – God has knit us together in our mother’s womb, our bodies “intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are God’s own work. This, the Psalmist says, we know full well.

Throughout the Scriptures, God is at work in and for our bodies – God liberates our bodies from slavery and from captivity and from our own misadventure. Jesus shows up in a body – God’s word made flesh in our flesh, full of grace and truth. And Jesus then moves through the world healing bodies, restoring vision, and movement, and life. Jesus with his body enters into the fullness of life, even death – and brings us through death, into a new creation, in what the Apostle Paul calls “the resurrection of the body.”

We are embodied beings created and loved by God.

Our body – the threshold of our body – is where we encounter life. Our body is the threshold where we encounter God.

Think about it. Everything you have accomplished in your life, you have accomplished in your body. Every experience, every adventure, every chapter of life – you’ve lived all that in your body. Every meal we’ve prepared – every taste and scent, every child we’ve raised, everything we’ve learned along the way. Every emotion – every joy, every sorrow, every anxiety, every sense of peace – we’ve experienced all that in our bodies.

The full range – the exhilarating – and the exhausting. Our bodies are where we experience illness. I’m aware right now of my own body’s recent experience of COVID, of isolation, and of healing. I think of my Dad’s leukemia in his body – the suffering there – and the love we experienced in the care for each other in our bodies.

Every love you have lived, every friendship you have nurtured, every hand you have held – you’ve done that in your body.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Our body – the threshold of our body – is where we encounter life. Our body is the threshold where we encounter God.

Celtic Christian spirituality has a deep sense of this – God present in all things – including our embodied lives. And so, Celtic spirituality includes daily prayer for the body – for the eyes, and ears, and hands. “Bless these eyes and all that they will see; these ears and all that they will hear. Bless these hands and all they will touch this day.”[2] Celtic prayer expects God to show up every day in and all around our bodies – our bodies imbued with the presence of God – the place where we experience God – the place where God touches and blesses the world.

Settling into our bodies like that – our bodies as the threshold where we are always poised to encounter God – we can move together into the Apostle Paul’s metaphor: “Just as the body has many members, so it is with Christ... You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.”

Paul is writing to this community he loves – writing into all their challenges and strife – and he says, remember, you are the body of Christ. He is reminding them of what, together, they have come to believe about Christ. For Paul, God has poured the Spirit of Christ into the Body of Christ, and the Body of Christ is where God is at work in the world. And our bodies are members of that one body.

Our body is the threshold where we encounter God. The body of Christ – our bodies together in One Body – is where the world encounters God. Notice what Paul says next:

First, the Body of Christ honors all bodies – each body honored uniquely for the gifts and grace we each bring into the world. The hand brings to the body what only the hand can bring – the grace of a gentle touch. The eye brings what only the eye can bring – a vision of the world as it is, and maybe even of how it might be. The ear brings what only the ear can bring – attentive listening. Each body within the one body brings what only we can bring. [3]

Each body is honored, and not even our own unhealthy self-image can interfere with that. The Apostle Paul takes on our baggage. The eye doesn’t get to say – Oh, I’m not a hand, I don’t belong here, I’m not a part of the body. We look to what we can do. We honor our own body – uniquely created and gifted – bringing to the world what only we can bring – what only you can bring. You, and me – all of us.

And then, the Apostle Paul pulls all of that together – through the din of their discord – Paul says, all of these bodies – all of your bodies – all of our bodies – we are one body. We are interconnected; we are interdependent. If one suffers, all suffer. We can’t be who we are without every body there. We need each other. If we didn’t have each other, or if we were all the same, Paul asks, where would the body be?

Our body is the threshold where we encounter God. The body of Christ – our bodies together in One Body – is where the world encounters God. This Body, this is where Christ is coming to life in the world right now, and we are a part of that.

Howard Thurman speaks of this in terms of the Growing Edge.[4] In embodied language, he speaks of life in a weary world, where we strain to see the signs of life – “that one more breath from the exhausted lung, the one more thing to try when all else has failed, the upward reach of life when weariness closes in on all endeavor.” Even so, Thurman writes, all around us life is being born – the roots are at work deep in the earth – life is being born. Look to the Growing Edge!

We live in a weary time – this time of pandemic. We have run the race of this pandemic with endurance – and grace – and it seems like every time we glimpse the end, the finish line gets moved farther away. We can feel that in our bodies. And even so, as we have moved through this pandemic together, we have grown strong together. Our work now – living together in this body –strong and steady and fierce – is to look for the Growing Edge – that place where even now – Christ is coming alive in the world.

In her book, The Deepest Belonging, Kara Root talks of thresholds as liminal spaces – where what we have known has faded away, and what lies ahead is not yet within our grasp.[5] In those thresholds, she says, what remains is us and God.

From the clutter of our world, the Apostle Paul calls us into the threshold of the body – our bodies, together, the Body of Christ – a body where every body is valued, where every body has something to bring, where together we live a life of mutuality and love – the Spirit of Christ poured into and alive in us. As we settle into that body – with deeper awareness – the invitation is to Look to the Growing Edge, and to live life there.

Just as the body has many members, so it is with Christ... You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.”

Together, the Body of Christ:

May God bless our feet

that they might run with endurance the race that is set before us.

May God bless our arms

that they will stretch wide to welcome all whom God loves,

our hands

that they will be filled with Christ’s healing touch.

May God bless our eyes, and ears, and hearts,

that they might be open and attentive to the needs of the world.

May God bless our bodies – fearfully and wonderfully made –

that together as one body we might bless the world God loves.

© 2022 Scott Clark

[1] For background on the Corinthian community and letters, see Mitzi Smith and Yung Suk Kim, “First Corinthians,” Toward Decentering the New Testament: A Reintroduction (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018); Udo Schnelle, Apostle Paul: His Life and Theology (trans. M.E. Boring) (New York: Baker Publishing Group, 2005); J. Paul Sampley, “The First Letter to the Corinthians,” New Interpreters’ Bible Commentary, vol. x (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2002), pp. 800-13. [2] Esther de Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer (New York: Image Books/Doubleday, 1997), pp.38-50. [3] For more on the body of Christ as a community of mutuality rather than hierarchy, see Mitzi Smith and Yung Suk Kim, “The Body of Christ” and “First Corinthians,” Toward Decentering the New Testament: A Reintroduction (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018). [4] Howard Thurman, The Growing Edge (Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 1956). [5] Kara Root, The Deepest Belonging (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2021), pp.112-13.


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