The Message, January 23, 2022, "Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes"

The Message, January 23, 2022, "Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes"

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
January 25, 2022

 

“Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

            This may come as a surprise to you … but I am not getting any younger. I know that some of you may have believed that I am like Peter Pan and will remain young all my days, however, that is not the case. I am aging like everybody else’s body. I am starting to make those sounds that people of a certain age make with they stand up or sit down.

            Every morning I am reminded that my whole body is connected when I contemplate getting out of bed. Often, a groan emerges from my mouth as my back, neck and knees try to work together to navigate their way across the bedroom floor.

            Apparently, at a certain age, sleeping can be a very taxing activity!

            Other than the very familiar passage that follows in the next chapter of this letter, the often-recited love passage, this illustration may be one of the best-known images in the writings of Paul. Not only is it familiar to us, it would have been familiar to the readers and listeners of his day.

Paul was not breaking any new ground with this thought. It was fairly common to compare civic or political systems to the human body. It is a practice that is still fairly common in the description of systems and organizations.

In this case, he was likely referring to Rome, the empire within which they lived. The Romans used the image of the body to describe the function of their civic society.  However, in that case, some functions, some parts of the body were ranked and ordered. There were tiers of status with some parts of the “body” considered to be more important or more significant than others.

Paul was contrasting this way of thinking with what should occur in the Messiah’s body. It is clear from this passage that some parts of the “body” were functioning in a way that more closely aligned with the secular world.

We know that Paul had established churches all over the region. Paul built Christian churches in the midst of pagan communities. The churches attracted members that had no idea of what it meant to be a Christian. They did not have the Book of Worship or the Manual on Ministry to draw upon. They did not any institutional memory from which they could learn. This was all brand new for them.

Paul tried to make it easy for them. He used an image that was familiar to them. The church is like a body, but … not just any body. The church is the Messiah’s body.

You are members of the Messiah. You are the People of God because you were made by God and because you are made in God’s image.

You are here because you believe in and follow the Son of God, the Word of God, the Word Made Flesh.

We are more than casual members of a team, club or social organization. This is not the Lions Club, or the Rotary Club, and we are out there selling tickets to the annual bar-be-que. (Although, a bar-be-que sounds really good about now.)

No, we are contributing parts of the Messiah … the Christ! The Messiah was one who was representative of the people. So, as members of the Messiah, the Christ, we all share in that awesome responsibility. That is not something that should be taken lightly.

Paul penned these words nearly two thousand years ago, and yet we still struggle with them today. There are still churches that operate according to a corporate model. There are members of churches that believe that their contributions are more important or significant than others. There are members of churches that believe that they themselves are more worthy than others and merit a special place in the Kingdom. There are churches that claim to possess the true path to righteousness and salvation to the exclusion and rejection of others.

Competition is a part of all of our lives. Comparison is part of human nature. We measure ourselves by comparing ourselves to others. We evaluate our worth, our value, our importance in relation to others in our organization or community.

I suspect that most of you went through some sort of evaluation process in your lives. Many employers do annual reviews of their employees. Promotions, raises and perks are rewarded based upon those evaluations.

Churches are not immune to this reality. Churches are made up of human beings, and many of our very human traits, characteristics … and flaws … emerge in our relationships with one another. As we read Paul’s letters, we read about power struggles, and gossip, and false teaching. We read about ordinary people trying to find their way as God’s people.

As I said earlier, we are familiar with the illustration of an organization functioning as a body. It is not a difficult image to understand. After all, we all live within that design. But what is Paul actually saying to us? What lesson is he trying to impart? According to New Testament theologian N.T. Wright, there are three lessons contained in this passage.

First, the church is the place where, together, we learn how to be God’s genuine human beings, worshipping God and serving God by reflecting God’s image in the world.

Second, Christians are part of the Messiah’s body … Christ’s body. The Messiah is God’s ultimate king. Those who belong to Jesus as the Messiah, those in whom the Holy Spirit lives, are the people of God.

Third, we are all baptized into the one Spirit of God. There is no special experience through which some Christians join a superior class, leaving other Christians behind.

(N.T.Wright, Commentary on 1 Corinthians, pp. 159-160.)

We are all connected, intertwined and interdependent. When one member suffers, we all suffer. When one member is exalted, we are all exalted.

We are all blessed with certain gifts. The gift is God’s gift to the whole church through the individual who has received it. These are the gifts through which God establishes and builds up the Church. The gifts are not for an individual’s personal gain or for their own personal glorification.

Within this letter, and in his letters to Ephesus and Rome, Paul lists a variety of gifts. The lists are all different because the church is not static. The church is a living, breathing organism. Every church is different made up of different and unique individuals in different and unique circumstances. But they do have one thing in common. The gifts are given by God to be used for God’s people.

Every gift is significant. Every gift is of equal value. Every gift contributes to the health and vitality of the whole.

I am the “face” of First Parish Church. When people tune in for the live-stream, they see me. My face is everywhere. I am the one that stands in the pulpit. But that does not make me indispensable. It does not make me any more significant than any other. I represent you, but you are all a part of me. You are all a part who we are as a church family.

A song with only one note is not really a song.
An orchestra with only one instrument is not an orchestra.
A body with only fingers … is just creepy. And it cannot survive as just fingers. There are no vital organs to supply the fingers with what they need. There are no other parts of the body that enable the fingers to do what fingers do.

You are the Messiah’s body; individually, you are members of it. That is the basis of all of the true understandings of the church and of humble service within it.

As far as we know, Jesus never put pen to paper … or stylus to papyrus. The Word Made Flesh never wrote a word. He did not write the Gospels in the conventional sense. He LIVED the Gospels. He lived the example that we are to follow. He wrote every “word” upon and within the hearts of those who follow him.

Now WE are the word made flesh.

We are the head, shoulders, the knees the toes.
We all contribute in our own unique and equally important ways.
We all carry the message of love and grace to the world.

We are the body of Christ … the Messiah … God’s ultimate King.

            Let us walk, and talk, and sing and serve together. Amen.


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