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10.24.21 One with God and One Another 1 Corinthians 12 Sermon Summary

by on October 26, 2021

The Apostle Paul refers to the church as a Spiritual Temple and the Bride of Christ. His theology led pseudonymous authors to refer to us as the Household of God. But the most famous metaphor for the Church in Paul’s writing is the “Body of Christ.” And to me it is the most surprising.

As a Pharisee, Paul would have been preoccupied with the body. He would have been a fan of baptism for ritual cleansing. Even so, what the Pharisees thought about John’s baptism of repentance is mixed, according to the Gospel accounts. John wasn’t a Pharisee, for one. And though he came from a priestly family, that didn’t help much because he didn’t minister at the Temple.

The Pharisees also got into a conflict with Jesus in Mark 7 over the washing of hands before eating. Jesus excoriates them. In another passage, Jesus calls the Pharisees dirty cups and tombs; beautiful on the outsides but filthy and dead inside.

So it’s interesting to me that Paul lands on the “Body of Christ” as a metaphor for the Church, because I think Paul had “body issues.” In his writing we see concerns for purity leading him to advocate for separation. But we also see him welcoming and accepting the impure. 

I suspect Paul learned about the church as the Body of Christ at the Lord’s Table. There he saw women and children participate fully. Sinners were welcome. The poor were fed. The rich shared generously. At the Table, the Kingdom of God is on display through the Body of Christ, and Paul would have seen this.

I think Paul realized that “in Christ” (another of his favorite expressions), the church should be a place where all are welcome, all are fed, and the Kingdom of God is on display. 

Not just on Sundays, but every day.

Not just in Sanctuaries, but in every building. 

Not just around this Table, but at every table. 

For Paul, we are the Body of Christ for the world—everywhere, at all times.

Saint Teresa of Avila (16c) put it this way:

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

What does this mean practically? We get glimpses from two other New Testament letters.

If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2:15-17)How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. (1 John 3:17-18)

Saint Augustine referred to our passage in his Sermon 272.

Listen to the Apostle Paul speaking to the faithful: “You are the body of Christ, member for member.” [1 Cor. 12.27] If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying “Amen” to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear “The body of Christ”, you reply “Amen.” Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your “Amen” may ring true! Be what you see; receive what you are. This is what Paul is saying about the bread. 

And I believe Brennan Manning had Augustine’s passage in mind when he wrote this passage from the chapter “The Ring of Truth” in Wisdom of Tenderness (pp. 55-56).

What gives the ring of truth and the stamp of authenticity to the Christian’s response to Abba’s love, the firm assurance that she isn’t deceiving herself?

The answer is neither vague nor ambiguous. Speaking first through the voice of his beloved Son, Abba says, “Come you have your Father’s blessing! Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.” Why do I declare you blessed and beneficiaries of the Kingdom? Because the only Son I’ve ever had was hungry and you gave him food, he was thirsty and you gave him a drink. He was a stranger and you welcomed him, naked and you clothed him. He was ill and you comforted him, in prison and you came to visit him. Then you just ones will ask me, “Abba, when did we see your beloved son hungry and give him food or see him thirsty and give him a drink. When did we welcome him away from home or clothe him in his nakedness. When did we visit him when he was ill or in prison?” I will answer them: “I assure you as often as you did it for one of your least brothers and sisters, you did it for my only-begotten Son.”

Our church has decided to use our building for four weeks next year hosting families experiencing homelessness. And our city is scheduled to receive 100 Afghan refugees soon. Our church is going to sponsor at least one of those families for a year.

That’s what the Body of Christ known as Faith Presbyterian Church is doing. But we all are the Body of Christ, “and individually members of it,” Paul writes. So may each of us find ways to participate in Christ’s ministry. Like Paul at the Table of the Lord, may we behold what we are, and become what we receive. Amen.

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