Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”
Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
are here because you believe in and follow the Son of God, the Word of God, the
Word Made Flesh.
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.)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
(N.T.Wright, Commentary on 1 Corinthians, pp. 159-160.)
are all connected, intertwined and interdependent. When one member suffers, we
all suffer. When one member is exalted, we are all exalted.
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.
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.
gift is significant. Every gift is of equal value. Every gift contributes to
the health and vitality of the whole.
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.
song with only one note is not really a song.
orchestra with only one instrument is not an orchestra.
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.
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.
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.
WE are the word made flesh.
are the head, shoulders, the knees the toes.
all contribute in our own unique and equally important ways.
all carry the message of love and grace to the world.
are the body of Christ … the Messiah … God’s ultimate King.
Let us walk, and talk, and sing and
serve together. Amen.
Congregational ChurchUCC, SACO MAINE12 BEACH STREET | SACO, ME 04072