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Jun 15, 2014

“The Body of Christ” 6-15-14

I Corinthians 12 & 13:1
June 15, 2014 (The 50th Anniversary)

In September of 1975 I started serving God as a pastor in Pennsylvania.  After a few months, I suggested to the Session that we might change the order of Worship, moving the Scripture lesson closer to the sermon.  Some of the folks there wondered why the scriptures should be closer to the sermon and I said that since the sermon was based on or about the scriptures, I wanted the worshippers to have it fresh in their minds.  The elders thought that was a good idea, but some of them confessed that they had not known that the sermon was connected to the scripture readings.  Which may have said a lot about previous sermons or about the attentiveness of those folks.
I was glad when I started my ministry at Faith Presbyterian Church 6 years ago to know that everyone understood that the sermon was based on an exposition of the scripture passage that preceded the sermon.  That tradition seems to have been here from the very beginning as we see that the scripture lesson for the organizing worship Service was Matthew 16:13-20 and the title of the sermon was “Whose Church Will It Be” and it was preached by guest Rev John Buchanan.
After all the intervening years I want to follow up on Rev. Buchanan’s question by assuming that he stated that the church and this congregation of it belong to God, and especially to Jesus, whom Peter proclaimed to be the Messiah and the Son of the living God. 
But, having established to whom the church belongs, there are still many questions to be answered about how it shall properly operate.  I think Paul was answering some of those questions in I Corinthians 12, 13, and 14.  All bible Scholars agree that those 3 chapters form one unit or thesis.  Today we are only looking at the beginning of that unit, but even here we see a few questions and answers about the nature of the church.
One of the first questions taken up was about the Spirit or spirits who are to be active in this new worshipping community.  In the ancient world there were many spirits and gods and goddesses.  So in writing to former idol worshippers and polytheists, Paul wanted to establish that there was only to be one Spirit active in their individual and corporate lives.  But this one Spirit bestowed a multitude of gifts.  Several of these gifts are mentioned here and in other places in I Corinthians.  So in the Christian community, or the Church, there is not a spirit of wisdom, a spirit of knowledge, a spirit of tongues, a spirit of miracles, a spirit of healing, and so on.  There is one Spirit bestowing a multitude of gifts on a multitude of people. 
Since all gifts are from the one spirit, there is to be a unity found in them.  The recipients or users of those individual gifts are not to be seen as competitors, trying to prove that their gift and the spirit who gave it was superior.  All the gifts given to the individual members of the one church are to be used for one united purpose, to build up and expand the kingdom of God, which in the present time is known as the Church.
Paul established all that in the first 11 verses of chapter 12, then went on in succeeding verses to give an illustration of what he had taught.  He was not the only person or even the first person to use the metaphor of the various parts of the body all being connected in one being and all working toward one purpose as an illustration of unity. 
About 500 years before Paul wrote, Menenius Agrippa had developed a fable about the active parts of a human body conspiring to starve the stomach because they perceived that it consumed and did not contribute to the work of the body.  This was to illustrate that all classes of Roman society needed to work together to make Rome strong. 
In Paul’s time, Seneca used the concept of the human body in the same way. 
Paul, then took this established metaphor, or accepted truth of the secular realm and applied it to the various people who are a part of the church.  In doing so, he did what many of us have done.  We have come to an understanding that all truth is ultimately from God, whether it had its origins in the church or in the sciences or even in less reputable circles. All truth is of God.
But I want to get back to the metaphor of the body and its various parts.  Paul used it to explain that each Christian has gifts that are needed by the body at large, which we call the church, but in this passage, Paul didn’t, at first.  In two places where we might expect Paul to use the word church, (in the Greek Ecclesia) we have instead the word Christ.  See vs 12 & 27.  He finally uses it in vs 28, after he has established that the body he is writing about is the body of Christ.  The church is the body of Christ on earth and we are all parts of it.
As we have been celebrating our 50th anniversary we have been remembering some of our parts who are no longer with us.  Some have moved to distant and exotic locations.  Some left.  Some died.  No one is more aware of this than me.  In the past 6 years I have officiated at the funerals of 17 of our church members.  It is a sad truth that some of us have learned about our own bodies that we can get along without some of our parts, but we cannot survive without our head.  Neither can the body of Christ survive without honoring its connection to Jesus.  We belong to him as individuals and as the church in this place.
A body cannot last long without a heart.  And that is what Paul wrote about in chapter 13, the first verse of which I have included in our lesson this morning.  One of the key characteristics of the body of Christ is that it loves as He loves.  So all of our gifts are to be used to benefit each other and the church with love; love for each other, love for our neighbors, love for brothers and sisters around the world.  And most of all, love for Jesus our Lord and head.
As we celebrate our love for each other and Jesus, and as we celebrate the Lordship and headship of Christ over us, we now come to this table, where we once again acknowledge that He is our master and that He is the one who loved us demonstrated his love for us by dying for us.  In his death we have life and love for each other and for Him.  Amen.

 


Pastor David L. Horner
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906