The Rev. Ian Emile Dunn
Being the Body
A Homily for Epiphany II
January 17, 2021
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
I remember hearing this story, I think, told by my art teacher of all people when I was a child, and I thought it helpful for days such as these:
A certain Father had a family of Sons, who were forever quarreling among themselves. No words he could say did the least good, so he cast about in his mind for some very striking example that should make them see that discord would lead them to misfortune.
One day when the quarreling had been much more violent than usual and each of the Sons was moping in a surly manner, he asked one of them to bring him a bundle of sticks. Then handing the bundle to each of his Sons in turn he told them to try to break it. But although each one tried his best, none was able to do so.
The Father then untied the bundle and gave the sticks to his Sons to break one by one. This they did very easily.
"My Sons," said the Father, "do you not see how certain it is that if you agree with each other and help each other, it will be impossible for your enemies to injure you? But if you are divided among yourselves, you will be no stronger than a single stick in that bundle." (Aesop's Fables, from the Library of Congress Website.)
Perhaps the most dangerous trend in modern Christianity is the idea that we are some how islands, that we stand alone. We see this in how people practice their devotional lives – that being a part of a church is secondary, but we also see this as denominations have dwindled in favor of churches being independent.
I was laughing with someone about this the other day – they came from a presbyterian background, and sometimes you see independent presbyterian churches – which is simply not possible given their polity – just as independent Anglican churches are no possible. But – no church is able to be genuinely independent – this is fundamentally against the nature of the church – no each individual is part of a greater body – and each congregation is part of a greater body. We need each other for there is strength in unity.
This was perhaps the most fearful moment for orthodox Christian leaders during the first days of the pandemic, a concern we all shared – was what might happen if we stream our services online. “Will some grow comfortable and never wish to return?” We worried, “Will some find that church is a nice thing in their life, but so is sleeping in on Sundays and eat waffles at noon and calling it breakfast?”
The Christian is stronger when he realizes that he is part of a body – that he needs his fellow Christians in order to run the race that is set before us. Christ did not redeem us so we could stay alone – but he redeemed us into a body.
Just as the church is stronger when all her members are active and engaged and she is engaged with other Christians – not just locally, but around the country and around the world.
This is why we pray for our denomination.
This is why we pray for other churches in our diocese.
And this is why we pray for other Christians locally.
We are not an island, and we do not stand alone.
But this temptation to be lone wolves, to try and go at it alone, or worse, to think that our actions do not matter, or that we do not matter in the body of Christ – is as old as the church itself.
If we take time to read the two epistles to the Corinthians we learn that the Corinthian church was wildly unhealthy. It was rocked by at least one extramarital affair – favoritism – a lack of reverence at the Lord’s table, and the deep dark pain of rampant sin. The Corinthian church was the definition of an unhealthy church.
Unity – was not at the tip of their mind – disunity seemed to be the norm.
This is where we pick up this morning, as we read St. Paul is writing to try to bring them back together, to settle their fighting, and call them to repentance from their sin.
So, we see that this idea that we can go at it on our own, the idea that we can don’t need anyone else is as old as the church herself.
But this is also contrary to the gospel and the way of the church.
In scripture we see Christ referring to those who come to know him, trust Him, and follow him as his family. Those in communion with Christ were bound together as a family is bound together – this is not the image of some disunified body – but a closely linked bond. Christ saw this bound as so closely knit that he told those who listened and followed him, that that which was given up would be returned in a multifold manner.
Likewise, the early church established the bounds of orthodox as that which was believed at all times, in all places, by all people.
As the church wrestled with the identity of Christ – they strove to maintain the beliefs that all who came before had believed – that they would not develop something novel, but be bound together not only in deed but in belief as well.
Bernard of Chartres, a 12th century theologian was thought to have said that we comparable to dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants.
Again, we see that in our theological thoughts – we do not stand alone.
But the church also recognized for centuries that this was not merely an intellectual bond, but also a supernatural or spiritual bond – a bond between those who came before, and those who will come after, as well as for all the saints living in this day.
The glory of being a part of the church is that we are not merely islands, but rather we are bound together as a family is bound together with all the believers that came before us and those who will come after us, and those who exist with us today. And we are stronger for this.
I want to give you some more context, for this amazing connectivity of the body of Christ. It hit me some time ago when I was studying something St. Paul had written.
In your Bible, depending on the translation – you may notice a little footnote that says something like “some manuscripts have this word instead.”
This represents what is called a textual variant.
The reality is that there are thousands of these because we do not have the original manuscripts, but rather copies of copies.
Some people have tried to use these variants to undermine the validity of scripture and say “ah-ha! You just can’t be certain of what scripture says and therefore it is not very trustworthy.”
The reality is – despite these variants the testimony of scripture continues to be profoundly consistent and a vast majority of them are virtually inconsequential. Still there are some that are of interest.
One evening I found myself studying one of these variants for seminary, I believe, and two amazing things came to mind – first – St. Paul actually wrote these words – he had a message in mind, and he wrote or articulated to a scribe the words that he wanted the church to hear.
Almost two thousand years ago these words were inspired in him – a real person thought these words and spelled them out and the other brothers and sisters in Christ heard these words read to them.
The words we read on Sunday morning, in our times of devotional at home – were read by a brother in Christ, and read to brothers and sisters in Christ.
Likewise – the copying error and all words we read were copied by scribes – they were copied by believers who wanted to glorify God with their actions. A human hand attached to a person who loved Jesus set out to record these words in order that others might know Jesus better.
Even in our nice Bibles, printed by a big publishing house somewhere in the Midwest connect us to the universal church.
The words we read – hundreds of thousands around the world read as well.
The words we read – were read and believed by hundreds of thousands before us.
And the words we read – were copied by hand for centuries and were written by the hand of the original authors. Does that make you feel closer to the Christians who came before us?
Have you ever paused to think about how amazing that it? Have you ever paused to think of how connected we are with our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout all times – in all places – spanning – ethnicity and socio-economic status?
This alone is amazing.
I hope you are coming to a firm understanding and that this is driving you to a firm belief that the church is spiritual unified. That we are one in body – that in Christ we are not little churches scattered here and there but together – praying for each other, caring for each other – living to glorify God.
St. Paul explains to us that this binding together happens at baptism – that in our death and burial in the act of baptizing we are brought into the body of Christ – we are made a part of the family – we are bound into the covenant which Christ has bound to us.
In our baptism we are told that we are dying to our old self – we are dying so that we might live to Christ.
In our baptism our old identity is lost –
At Corinth – they found themselves separated – Jews to one side, Greeks to the other. Slave to one side – free men to the other. And perhaps we look back at this and wonder – how could they possibly do this?
But we do this too – we have a tendency to segregate by our preferences.
On one hand, this isn’t terrible – it’s beautiful to have friends who can support us when we fall, exhort us when we’re failing, and encourage us when we’re struggling, and not everyone in the church will do this for us.
However, if we start to do it to view those who are outside of our friends group as some how less than we are, if we start to think that we are better than the others – then our friendships crease to be friendships and start to be segregation – and this is what St. Paul is exhorting against.
For – just as sin separates us from God – sin separates us from one another.
Sin makes communion with one another to be often fraught with frustration and pain.
Christ’s redemptive act unifies us – in our death to self-shown forth in baptism – in our new life in Christ – in the being raised from the water – we are being trained by the Holy Spirit to live, not only with God – but to live as we were designed to live but to live in perfect unity with one another.
A part of God’s redemption in Christ is that he tears down the walls that once separated us.
And He does this not merely for the fun of it – not merely because it’s his pleasure but in order to create communities that function to be a blessing to the world to His glory.
Each person here – each person sitting in our little church this morning is an important member of the body of Christ, each person here has a function to help encourage and edify the body.
You may be wondering “what could I possibly do?”
You may have thought “but I have nothing to offer.” Or “there are so many limitations – what could I ever do?”
First pray – never underestimate the power of prayer.
Pray with fervency for the church, pray for her needs, pray for unity.
If you have time – take the directory home and pray for each person. If you know them – pray for the things you know they need, or struggle with.
If you don’t know them – pray for the opportunity to know them better – pray for them because God knows what they need.
Pray, also, that the Lord would reveal areas that you can serve the church.
The reality is All Saints is a small but believe it or not – she is a growing church. The reality is – we don’t necessarily know the opportunities that we have until God reveals them to us. So, pray – pray for the leadership of the church, pray for me, pray for yourself.
And even if the thing seems small – if it is done to the glory of God, if it is done with a desire to make Christ known in this world – it will glorify God.
I once heard a story about a court jester. He was goofy – and could make silly jokes and juggle well. But he did not command the respect of many in the court. His existence was imply to entertain.
One day – he got within his mind that he would become a monk.
As he went through this process, many in the monastery looked down on him, and sneered at him “what could this court jester ever bring to our community.” They asked.
But he worked hard, he sought to do tasks that others may not have wanted to do. Sometimes he did them poorly and those who had been in the community for some time would mock him.
One day, while he was supposed to be washing dishes, no one could find him.
Finally, the abbot opened the chapel door and saw the jester juggled in front of a statue of Jesus.
“What are you doing?” The abbot demanded.
And the jester looked at him and gently said “I didn’t know what else I could give to my Lord, so I’m giving him my best talents.” And the abbot looked upon the face of Jesus in a new light – it was as though his face as was looking down upon the jester smiling.
We have a tendency to downplay what we can give to the Lord, more often than not we are our worst critics, and we think “I have nothing to give.”
But – whatever we can give the Lord delights in.
Do not downplay the gifts the Lord has given you – but ask for wisdom how to use them to His glory.
In the same way – we also have a tendency to overestimate how important we are. Think, well, I am the priest of the church – and therefore I am the most amazing.
Recent allegations came out about yet another well-known evangelical leader – that he lives in narcissistic fantasy land, that he lives as though the world needs his giftings and so he is some how special and his actions do not matter.
If we raise ourselves up and start to believe that we are above reproach because of our gifts – we break down the bounds of the church – we damage our brothers and sisters in Christ.
No my dear friends – God is glorified when we find this middle groun – when we freely offer all we can, by the grace of Christ, to the glory of God – and when we do this humbly.
This is what St. Paul calls us to – St. Paul calls us – that each and every member of the body of Christ, each and every person who is in Christ – has something to offer – has gifts to use to the glory of God.
It does not matter how young or old the person is.
It does not matter if the person in male or female.
It does not matter if the person is weak or strong.
Each of us has task – each of us has gifts – that God has called us to and when we use them in humility and grace – one towards another God is glorified.
And we do this – not because we are powerful, not by our own will – but because we have been born anew by the spirit. Because we have been unified in Christ.
We do this because Christ first loved us.
This morning we saw how the church is called to be one – how her strength is found – because she is bound together – how Christ has knit us together for His glory – how we are bound together for our encouragement.
For we are bound together first with those who sit with us here each Sunday morning – but also with those who sit at other churches in Prescott – and those who sit in other church in our denomination around the country – and those who sit in churches around the world and are worshipping Jesus today, as we do.
But not only that, but with each and every Christian who has come before us.
And each and every Christian who will come after us.
I can think of no more beautiful thing.
We are bound because we have been called to live in a more excellent way.
No longer is our way a way of disunity – a way of division our way is the way of love.
Our way is the way of Christ for just as Christ first loved us – so are we called to love.
I want to end this morning with one more challenge – one more calling to prayer – pray this week that God would show you the depth and breadth of His love for you – pray that you would not only understand it but feel it as well.
Then pray that you would learn to love as God has loved you.
Pray that the Holy Spirit would show you how to love as you are loved by God.
Imagine for a moment – what our community would look like if we loved as God loves us.
Let us be given to the humble prayer – that by the grace of God in Christ we would be one, that we would use our gifts to God’s glory, and that we would love as God first loved us – for this is the more excellent way.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.