THE BODY OF CHRIST IN THE WORLD
Psalm 122; Ephesians 1: 20-23; 2:17-22
Pirates at sea—real pirates—can be menacing, defiant, and ruthless. Thankfully for those who go to the movies that are Disney productions, pirates can be cut from the cloth of crankiness and craziness. My father e-mailed me this joke last week: A pirate ran into a buddy he hadn’t seen in over a year. “Hey!” his friend exclaimed, “I haven’t seen you in ages! You look all beat up! What happened?” “What do you mean?” the pirate asked. “You have a wooden leg!” his friend noticed. “Oh that,” said the pirate, “A cannon ball took off me first leg.” “And what about your hand; you have a hook!” his friend noticed. “Argh,” said the pirate, (because all pirates say that) I got into a sword fight and me hand was cut off; I was fitted with this hook instead. “And what about the eye patch?” his friend said. The pirate let out a big sigh. “One day we were at sea and a flock of birds flew overhead and one of them dropped something in me eye.” “You’re kidding!” his friend cried out. “You lost your eye from that?” To which the pirate said “No, I went to wipe me eye and it was me first day with the hook.”
A man without a leg, without an arm, without an eye; how many people do you know with less than all their body parts? Some would assume that people are weaker as they become blind or deaf or lame; some are. But there are others who, with human will and God-given grit, do more than they did with all their limbs and senses! Fanny Crosby, the writer of many hymns of faith such as “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine!” “Rescue the Perishing!” and “To God Be the Glory,” was totally blind; her words have inspired generations. Marlee Matlin is one actress who has brought attention to signing and deafness by winning performances on film, and recently she got accolades for dancing without being able to hear the music. Beethoven also was profoundly deaf and wrote and conducted almost all of his symphonies, especially his 9th, without being able to hear. What greatness. And one man I admire greatly, Fred Gard in our own church, has been in a wheelchair since the 50s. He ran his own construction company, lives on his own, and drives himself to church, gets into his own wheel chair, wheels himself in from the parking lot, and then he wheels himself out, attending as faithfully as some and more faithfully than some mobile people! None of this is to say that a person needs a physical disability in order to be great; there are other great hymn writers such as Charles Wesley; there are other great composers like Bach; and there are other fine elders and members in this church and others. But when it comes to the church being described as the “Body of Christ,” in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and in other New Testament letters, it is brings to our minds a rich analogy to our human bodies, with many parts, each part with a different function. We are blessed with a double meaning connected with Christ’s body, now resurrected from the dead, and the analogy of the church being the spiritual body of Christ. If, for example, you notice the cornerstone plaque on the north corner of the front porch as you leave, you will see the words from our text today: “With Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.” Jesus is no more buried under the corner of the building than you are or I am of course. But for those hearing it in the first century, they were used to hearing analogies about their trades (Builders understood the importance of Jesus if he was called “the cornerstone;” it helped them understand his importance. In a farming community, there might have been a grower of grapes to whom Jesus said “I am the vine, you are the branches: cut off from me you can do nothing.” Of course that was not literal; but the farmer certainly got the meaning. So it is with us; if Jesus is the Head and Cornerstone, then we honor that, as gruesome as it may sound if we get stuck in the physical realm. A body without a head cannot function spiritually or intelligently. Yet how many people try to live their lives without having the mind of Christ in them? I’ve seen plenty, haven’t you? So the Body of Christ, which is the church, is not the building, it is the people who, like a good rowing team, pull in synchronous motion together.
What does the body of Christ look like, you may ask? It looks like the beehive of activity that was here Friday and Saturday for the Attic Sale, with men, women, youth, and children, according to their abilities, sorting or cleaning jewelry, clothing, appliances, books, and other donated items. On Sundays some preach, some sing, some usher, some pray, and later some offer Sunday School lessons or show hospitality by preparing food to share. On mission trips the body of Christ includes drivers, cooks, carpenters, roofers, naturalists, and generalists. You see, the body of Christ goes with us where ever we go as the church, and the way it goes with us is just this: From one of Paul’s other famous letters: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal to God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon himself the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of mortals; and being found in the fashion of a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” The body of Christ, which is YOU and Me in the world, and any of us in ministry wherever we are, are persons praying to and honoring our Lord and Savior, and humbly living like he did. The Body of Christ can be healthy and capable, like on our best days of human health. On those days the church (that is, you and I, both collectively or individually,) tells others how much our congregation means to you- that is part of witnessing; we take food to those who cannot prepare it for themselves- that is hospitality; we rejoice with a newborn child or with other milestones- that is celebration; and we physically help those who cannot help themselves- that is compassion. Like the pirate, on our worst days, the church seems like a half blind cranky individual who cannot see injustice, pain, or outsiders; on our worst days we have spiritual arms missing from foolishly fighting with other Christians or other faiths; and on our worst days our work is hobbled by injuries brought on by accident, sin, or situation. In so many ways, the church is human; but on our best days, the church is the divinely chosen bride of Christ, instrument through which God works holy purposes out; on our best days God uses us to carry out plans to change and reach the world. On our best days we do what Jesus would do. Jesus’ physical body was bruised and striped for our transgressions, but his spiritual body is united with his bride- the church- in the work and blessings God intended for that union to produce. You get the picture. No matter where you are, will you go with the mind of Christ? On our sharpest days, our blindness to justice can be transformed into vision; our deafness to cries of anguish can hear a voice; and our paralysis in fulfilling the Great Commission can grow into reasons to walk … or roll, for the sake of our Savior. The Church’s one foundation, not the bricks and mortar foundation, but the Spiritual and Salvation foundation, is Jesus Christ her Lord. Thanks be to God!
Jeffrey A. Sumner March 30, 2008