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Third Sunday after Epiphany | Rev. Vicki Kemper
1 Corinthians 12:12-13:13
As Mary Luti says in today’s UCC Stillspeaking Devotional, our scriptures are, by turns, “life-interrogating, community-shaping, weird and wonderful.” And sometimes even one passage of scripture can be all of the above and more: confusing, challenging, unsettling, hackles-raising, comforting, mysterious, and, yes, even beautiful.
So it is, I think, with our long reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
You see, Paul knew these people. He had planted this church and spent at least three years there before moving on to Ephesus. Before he ever wrote to them, he started getting letters from them, letters that painted a not-so-pretty picture of life in the church: Some people were arguing over who was most important, other members were insisting that everyone be the same, and many, if not all of them, appeared to be more interested in the dramatic spiritual gifts than in truly caring for one another.
We hear this passage today not because we struggle with any of these issues … but because, well, the first part is from the lectionary, because it seems to be a fitting reminder as we receive new members, and because, believe it or not, the so-called “love chapter” was not written for weddings! It’s about spiritual gifts, life in the church, life in the world, and what is most important always. Because the time is always right to love.
We need to hear this still-speaking Word because it’s so easy—and often good—to get caught up in our various callings, our vibrant ministry teams, and the many “jobs” we do for the church. Because tasks can be easier to manage than people. Because it’s worth remembering that, having been baptized in God’s extravagant Spirit, we are no longer Jew or Greek or Christian or Muslim, agnostic or atheist. We are no longer slave or free. We are no longer black or white or brown or other. We are no longer gay or straight or trans. We are no longer male or female, neither or both. We are no longer Republican or Democrat, socialist, anarchist, or narcissist. We are no longer native or immigrant, rich or poor, young or old, educated or not, housed or not, able-bodied or not, employed or not, partnered or not, filled with faith—or not so much. Because we are not only God’s hands and feet, but also elbows and knees, shoulders and backs, tongues and noses, eyes and ears, hips and ankles, lungs and kidneys, fingers and toes.
We hear God speaking in this passage because it reminds us not only to celebrate our God-given diversity, but to be one in spite of it. Because we know that only God would tell us to honor the weakest among us. Because all of us are beloved, and each of us is gifted.
We need this word of God because the world is a scary place, and we need to remember that we’re not alone in it. Because life can be hard, but we must not become hardened to it. Because it snows—or not—on the just and the unjust, and we need to feel God’s power in us. Because life is beautiful beyond our imagining, and we need eyes and hearts of love to know it.
We heed this word of God’s because even as we celebrate the reception of new members, it is important to remember that we are the body of Christ. Because the Body of Christ is not so much something we join as it is who we are. Because it is less about what we do than how authentically and fully we can live out who God made us to be. Because there is always room for more. And because if one person suffers, we all suffer with him; if one person gets the glory, we all celebrate with her.
Who is to say what special gifts Pat, Denise and Ron bring to the world and to us? Who knows how they will strengthen and gladden, stretch and challenge this body? Who is to say what gifts you have to bring—what strengths have yet to be mined, what wounds remain to be healed, what bright light within waits to shine.
I have a few ideas—because I have heard Pat share her faith in Bible study and I have been moved by her warmth and compassion as she greets residents of a nursing home. I have a feeling—because I have seen how Ron and Denise love their children, I have been awed by their organizational skills and generosity and their regular volunteer stints at Not Bread Alone, and I have been blown away by the maturity, boldness, warmth and faith of Maxwell, Monet, and Xavier.
I have a few ideas—because I have lived with you and been loved by you, because I have watched you grow and serve, live and love one another.
But only God knows how our new members will bless us, and how we will bless them. Only God knows who you—and we—will become. All we know for sure is that they are part of us now—and we are part of them. We belong to God and to each other. All we know for sure is that this means we are called to love them as God does, to honor them as Christ does, to empower them as does the Spirit.
All we know is that we are bound up together in this love business, and that it is in loving God and one another that we will be healed. Though many, we are one body. Though broken ourselves, we are God’s heart in a world of hurt. Though we know only partially, we find comfort and strength in being completely known and utterly loved by God. And we experience that love here, in this body. We nurture that love, here with one another.
It is the love that puts up with all things, trusts in all good things, hopes for all, and endures all.
It is the love that reaches out and embraces all. It is the love that makes us something. It is the love that transforms and strengthens, surprises and enlivens. It is not always a warm, fuzzy feeling, but a conscious choice to put another first, a holy intention to let ourselves be changed.
We are the body of Christ and parts of each other. We are created in love, for love. We are many parts held together by one Love. We learn it by living and giving and loving together—each part, every part, all the parts, all the gifts, all the love.
It is weird. It is messy. And it is wonderful.