1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.
Just this week I rediscovered my love for the PBS show Call the Midwife. Has anyone seen it?
Or maybe you’ve enjoyed the drama of Downton Abbey, another gem set in England. Something I notice at work in every scene of these two shows is the idea of “class” or “social status” and how society is both segregated by it and drawn together in the great ecosystem that is a neighborhood. It matters where you came from. Who you are in comparison with another. What your education opportunities may have been. The servants, the midwives & nuns, the police and news reporters, those who went to war and those who aren’t expected to put their lives in harm's way. And of course the nobility. Each with clearly defined positions in society, specific roles and expectations always at play.
The scene is similar as we listen to how first century Christians were operating when it came to church work. Paul hears that some in the early church felt their gifts were more significant, placing them in an elite spiritual position. It’s no surprise, is it? For as long as humans have organized ourselves, we’ve dealt with systems of privilege and oppression. Get this, the same body analogy Paul offers was used in the Roman Empire of his time for a very different reason: to describe WHO was the head- and who wasn’t. The Emperor gets the power simply by claiming his part of the body is more important. Knowing this, I’m even more drawn to Paul’s use of the body as an image of equality and mutual respect. Paul clears up any confusion about who is important within Christ’s body: no one and also, everyone. “But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”
The truth is, we don’t have to watch a period piece from England to see classism at work. We humans are very good, in all times and places, at creating artificial hierarchy in our cultures. Fred Rogers knew this well. We look back at his theology of neighbor now and think “oh how wonderful,” but the truth is, he wasn’t always well received for saying things like: “Mutually caring relationships require kindness and patience, tolerance, optimism, joy in the other’s achievements, confidence in oneself, and the ability to give without undo thought of gain.” With such firm conviction, Fred Rogers brought to life the Gospel message for countless children and adults for over 30 years.
He believed, as does the Apostle Paul, that Jesus has an entirely new paradigm for community; people interested in following “the way” to abundant life for all have to dream bigger than social status or class. We need to claim the inherent goodness and key role each part of the body possesses- if we are to thrive together. This analogy of the body works for the church, yes; and for the towns we live in, our schools and hospitals, government, non-profit and for-profit institutions alike. Our families, and most of all, the neighborhoods we call home.
In what ways do you affirm this truth in your life? Respect for all, acceptance of each distinct ability, appreciation for how we each can make the whole better than the sum of its parts? I’ll give you one great example- each time I meet with our boards and executive council, I am moved by the way our decisions and work are more thoughtful and robust because we cherish one another’s distinct gifts. Want a tangible look? Check out the details of 2021 in our Annual Meeting booklet. It’s amazing to see the breadth of ministries we engage. And some of our coolest ministries occur when we choose to take gospel love outside the walls of church, right into our neighborhoods. Healthy communities, like healthy church groups, depend on co-existing neighbors who know each other well enough to appreciate what each offers the world.
What if it is really that simple? What if the ONLY goal we created for this year was to learn more about the gifts our neighbors possess? When we pay attention to what others offer the world, something sneaky happens…we begin to discover more of our gifts too. Fred Rogers offers this final word for us today: “Discovering the truth about ourselves is a lifetime’s work, but it’s worth the effort.” If you think this work is pithy or trite, I challenge you to name one person in your neighborhood that you don’t know well- and initiate contact in some way this week. Send a card, share a conversation on the sidewalk, ask them where they work, if they have siblings, if you might be able to help them with a chore? The more we practice, the easier it becomes to acknowledge and appreciate the other parts of this big, beautiful body we call humankind. All in the name of the one who inspires equality and respect for others, Jesus our Christ.
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.