Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Value of Each Part

The Value of Each Part
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
May 14, 2017
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
1 Corinthians 12: 12-26

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives   
For your eyes show the way
    Your mind knows the truth
    Your being is the life.

Even with the recent news, I wanted to continue with our Easter series, looking at the meaning of Easter from the Letters. So far we’ve looked at the 1 Letter of Peter and we’ve looked at Paul’s letter to the Romans, and today I wanted to look at one of my favorite parts of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. Like I said last week, these epistles are really letters, and they have their own specific context. The church in Corinth knew many divisions, and Paul was constantly working with them trying to get them together. They were divided on things like which apostle brought the gospel to them. They were divided on who would be served first when they shared table. They were divided on questions of piety, people who were following all of the Jewish dietary laws and those who were not. And they were divided on notions of whom was the greatest among them, whose job was the most important, etc. It is this division that Paul is speaking to in the section of the letter we read today. . . Here is 1 Corinthians 12: 12-26.

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 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.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

I’ve always loved this passage, the imagery is so clear, when we think of our own body we know that every piece is important. We think to ourselves, is there really one aspect of our bodies we could actually do without. Not having eyes, not having ears, nor legs, arms, even pinky toes have a purpose. But sure then we look around and we have to take note that here in the real world there are people who have parts of their bodies that do not work, people who were born blind, or deaf, have fingers, or toes missing, and they function and even thrive in the world. How many amazing musical geniuses are there who are blind, folks like Stevie Wonder, or Ray Charles, or Ronnie Milsap, or the amazing voice of Andrea Bocelli. . .  geniuses of old as well, John Milton all but lost his sight by the end of his life, and Beethoven lost his hearing, there is great irony, but here in God’s world it seems that though they are without a part, the other parts seem to be given extra. . . extra awareness, extra perception, extra . . . something extra. . . , the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, we could wonder to ourselves, if they had not been born without sight would they have been the amazing genius’s that they are. . . I remember, the old Flip Wilson comedy skit about Christopher Columbus. . . and he’s going through Columbus convincing Queen Isabella to give him money to discover America, little Isabella Johnson he calls her, and he says, “if I don’t  discover America, there’ll be no land of the free and home of the brave. . . and no Ray Charles. . . then he says when Isabella heard that she panicked. . . No Ray Charles. . . you gonna find Ray Charles. . . he in America. . . of course he’s in America where do you think all them records come from. . .” but would there have been no Ray Charles if he hadn’t have lost his eyesight at a young age. . .

so we might read this passage one way and think that in a church there must always be the eyes, and there must always be the hearing, there must always be every part, and every part the same, in every place you go, and then maybe we could go around assigning the parts, that all would be the same, and the church down the street would have all the same parts as the one across the street, and the one outside of town, and the one across the state, and we might look at ourselves  and wonder where are our eyes, where are our legs, how come we don’t have this or that, but that would be ignoring this one amazing fact found in the middle of this passage, buried in middle, lest we begin to take it all too literal, and that is where it says,  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.”

This is the amazing piece that Easter brings to the table, with the amazing freeing, power of the Resurrection, and that is how it empowers us and frees us to be who we are, and that we have value, and if we were lost there would be this lessening of the world, but with us there, no matter how strange our gifts are, they are important and valuable, and crucially necessary, for this body of Christ, born anew and running free in the world, that is the church of which Christ is the head is not able to always nail down and systematize, though we’ve tried and tried for years, 2000 to be exact to perfect it. . . and the more we try, the more that we get astray, but also the more shut down and controlled it gets, the more it cannot be contained, and new life breaks through any of the artificial barriers that might have been imposed.

So that being the case, that the metaphor is that each part is necessary, but not every organ is a standardized model, the question that we all must ask ourselves is, what part am I, which piece of the puzzle am I, what is my role to play. We don’t have to ask whether our part is necessary it is. We don’t have to ask ourselves whether our part has value it does. We don’t have to ask ourselves whether our part has a place within the body of Christ it certainly does. . . all we need to ask ourselves is, simply, what is my part to play, because we all have one, and no part is more or less important than another.

This is truly the radical teaching, the radical beauty of the Easter message because there have always been hierarchy within religion, society, and culture. There have always been levels of importance. There have always been classes, and each class is more or less valuable than the others. These distinctions might have been made in the past because of talent, they may have been made because of wealth, they may have been made because of title and role, they may have been made because of some leadership model, like the king, or the nobles, or the priestly class, since they were leading were somehow more important, but here not so much, these distinctions may exist, there may be different roles that we are called to play, but they are each of importance, they are each of value. . .

There is a great book by Dr. Seuss that I Clara loves to have me read all the time. . . it is called Yertle the Turtle, and it might be my second favorite after Thidwick the Soft Hearted Moose, but in Yertle the Turtle, Yertle is king, and he is king over all of salamasond, the pond where he lives and rules, but he gets tired of ruling just the pond, he wants to rule more, he thinks if he were higher, he’d rule over all that he could see, so he gets his turtles to stand one on another’s back, with him on top, and he gets up there and is happy that he can rule over more and more, but he wants to see more and more so he can rule over more and more, so he get’s more and more turtles to stack themselves up, and he goes higher and higher, until the only thing higher than him in the sky is the moon, and of course he is envious, but at the bottom of the stack there is a small turtle named Mac, and Mac, tells him of the stress they are all under holding him up, saying it is great you’re the king and are seeing such sights, but we down here should also have rights, and Yertle tells him to shush up, because he is the king, at the top of the stack, and the turtle on the bottoms just a turtle named Mac. . . but eventually Mac gets fed up, and he burps, and his little burp shakes the throne of the king, and they all fall to the ground. . . and poor Yertle is only the king of the mud, and the end of the story is plain don’t you see, the turtles, well all the turtles are free, as turtles and maybe all people should be. . . You see, old Yertle forgot that his supposed value stood literally on the shoulders of many whose importance could be forgotten, but was certainly important none the less. . . you see stories like this come out of this notion of this Easter understanding. .. . the eye cannot say to the foot, I have no need of you, for he does. . . none are without their import.

The hierarchies of the past are, at least they should be gone, how often do we not in practice hold up this important teaching. Some may blame it on the Kings like Yertle but quite often it is due to the apathy of the Turtles named Mac, because though the story paints it as if Yertle is just sitting on the top doing nothing, in reality often is the case that those who are at the top get there because they are the ones willing to do. . . they are the ones who work and sacrifice and put out.  . . they are the ones who find themselves always volunteering, always doing the work, always martyring themselves for the benefit of all, and many times without thanks, and they find that they are trapped as the doers, because if they do not do, it will not get done. . . and people willingly give up their value and their rights to those who are willing to do the work, and systems of hierarchy thrive on such notions. . . but we as Easter people. . . as Easter Presbyterians cannot do such things. . . we are each called, each have an important role to play, each have something to bring to the table, and it cannot be done, it cannot be brought by anyone else. . . so again we are back to the question, what are you called to do?

I wrote in my letter to you this week two important words. “Lean in. . . “ and it just so happens that those are the words that Yertle had forgotten, he instead was leaning on, and didn’t realize it. When you lean in to the center you are leaning and being leaned on, and you are leaning on that which connects you together in the first place. . . the Holy Spirit, the power of God, and the Resurrection love of Jesus Christ. . . May we all lean in because as it was written: “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” The arrangement is perfect, and you are that arrangement. . . so lean in. . . Amen.