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Genesis 2.4a-7, 18-23

I Corinthians 12.14-27

Embodiment

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost - World Communion Sunday

Barbara Jan, what is with all the negativity?  “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…”  Barbara Jan, that’s five negatives – “No, Not, Nor, No, Contrary…” in one breath!  Don’t you know that you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar?  Besides, the Yankees are in the playoffs and Aaron Judge has the home run record – why so downbeat?

It’s not exactly my fault Alan – I just read what Paul wrote to the Corinthians – the passage you asked me to read, by the way.

I understand, but can’t you be a little a little more positive?  Today is World Communion Sunday – we need a message that’s positive, bright, uplifting – and most of all, brimming with affirmation!  Let’s try this again, and, to quote the great Johnny Mercer, see if you can accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative…

Well, all right, let me give it a try:

“Indeed, the body consists of many members. If the foot were to say, I am a foot, and I am part of the body, and so are you, hand!’ that would be true.  And if the ear were to say to the eye, ‘Eye, you and I both are important parts of the body!’ that would be true as well. Since they are all part of the body, the eye can do the seeing and the ear can do the hearing and the nose can do the sniffing.  As it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as God chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. Thus the eye can say to the hand, ‘I need you’, and again the head to the feet, ‘I need you.’  Indeed, every member of the body is indispensable, every member of the body is honorable.  But God has so arranged the body, that in this way 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.”

How’s that?

Much better, though you did leave that little bit about suffering in there, but I suppose we can live with it.  Thanks Barbara Jan, we feel better already!

I think there are few better passages to remember on this World Communion Sunday than this one that reminds us that we all belong to each other, that as different as we might be from each other, or from the congregation down the street, or the one on the other side of the world, we are undeniably one in Jesus Christ.  “You – we – are the body of Christ, and, each of us is part of it.”  As Paul was very careful about saying, we belong to each other – we all belong to each other, and there is no part of the body – oops, sorry Barbara Jan, I’ll put this in the affirmative - every single part of the body is important and necessary, no matter how we might feel about it.

Brian Volck is a Cincinnati pediatrician who writes in his spare time for the blog of the Ekklesia Project.  One of Volck’s recent essays was titled, “A Nose Hair in the Body of Christ,” and borrowing from Paul’s image in I Corinthians, he reminds us that, “We’re all part of the body of Christ, and we have a role, however small. So what if you’re the nose hair? You’re there for a purpose. You may not have any idea what good you’re doing, but that’s still your job: to be a nose hair in the body of Christ.”  Now I will be the first to admit this is not the most appealing of images – although it would have been an entertaining sermon title – an image which is improved only slightly when Volck  goes on to say, “If we’re to take Paul’s image of the body seriously, then not only aren’t we the best judge of our own significance, we may not even understand what it is we do. Somebody, after all, has to be the appendix.”

I think I’m going to leave this particular metaphor aside before it goes any further, but I do hope that flipping Paul’s words from the negative to the positive this morning was helpful, because it helps us to look at things in a brighter light – it reveals how important each and every one of us is to the body.  Which also means we are important to each other; Paul allows us to go so far as to say that each member needs the other.  In some senses we can’t do ministry adequately unless we are all working together, and each of us does our part.  This morning, let me invite our consideration of Paul’s words in a yet a third way:  I want you to look at the person next to you, look at the person in front of you, look at the person behind you.  Paul would remind you that you need that person; we get that.  So this morning I want to flip Paul one more time and say that person also needs you.  The person next to you needs you to be part of the body.  The person in front of you needs you to engage in God’s mission.  The person behind you needs you to be generous with your time, your talent and your treasure in order for this body of Christ to be complete.  We are the body of Christ, and each of us is part of it.

I had a delightful conversation at The Villager Friday morning with a neighbor of ours who was reading a book titled Anatomy of the Spirit, by Caroline Myss.  The book draws on Christian, Jewish and Hindu ideas that make connections between spirituality and physical health.  This neighbor is a Yale-trained physical therapist who incorporates spiritual energies into her practice, and we talked about the ways the body, mind and spirit work together to create and maintain fundamental human health and wholistic well-being.  As our Judeo-Christian heritage has it, we don’t just love God with our heart or our spirit, but, as Jesus tells us in Matthew, with all our “heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, with all our strength,” which enables us then to be able to love our neighbors as ourselves.  There is a connectivity among the heart, the body, the mind and the spirit that we want to recognize and exercise.  For generations medicine has focused on whatever it is that is ailing us:  a sore shoulder, a broken bone, a hard-to-locate pain, a blinding headache, an ingrown nose hair, a swollen appendix – but in this generation the medical field is far more focused on the whole human being, that something going on in the sole of your foot can be causing your sore shoulder, or that an emotional trauma you suffered last week or fifteen years ago could be related to your blinding headache. “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it… for [we] are the body of Christ, and each of us is part of it.”

There are many ways to think about the embodiment of the church. We heard from Genesis the familiar story of the creation of the first man and woman, and you can hear in the telling the tenderness, the intimacy and the care with which God created our first mother and father:  “The Lord breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being… and the woman he took from the side of the man, closed the flesh, fashioned her into a woman, and brought her to the man.”  It is with similar tenderness, intimacy and care that God created, and continues to create the living, breathing body you and I call the church.

Writer Frederick Buechner has a wonderful way of expressing how and why the church was created this in an essay he wrote titled simply, “The Body of Christ.” Listen:

“God was making a body for Christ… [After the resurrection] Christ didn’t have a regular body of his own any more so God was making him one out of anybody he could find who looked as if they might just possibly do.  God was using other people’s hands to be Christ’s hands and other people’s feet to be Christ’s feet, and when there was some place where Christ was needed in a hurry and needed bad, God put the finger on some maybe-not-all-that-innocent bystander and got them to go and be Christ in that place himself for lack of anybody better.”

I know, it’s a little twist on Theresa of Avila’s “God has no hands but yours…” but I do like that unexpected bit at the end.  Sometimes when God doesn’t have the time to assemble the body, God just sends one of us out there to do something powerful, something important, something Christ-like.  It doesn’t matter who we are, and to Buechner’s way of thinking, we don’t even have to be particularly faithful or religious for God to use us – we just suddenly find ourselves in a place where we have the opportunity and the ability to do God’s work, to be the body of Christ.

So as we come together around the table in a few minutes, as we embody the sacrament of communion, we remember that we are the body of Christ.  We are the body on the hill in Chester and we are the body across the globe.  Every member is important:  the eye, the ear, the head, the hand, the foot, and yes, the nose hair and the appendix.  On this World Communion Sunday, each of us claims the embodiment as our own, as you and I together determine just what kind of body we are going to be.

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