Yr C ~ Epiphany 3 ~ 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
This scripture passage is famous for the extended metaphor Paul spins about the foot not being a hand, and the ear not being an eye. It’s really memorable, and it lays out a pretty solid point quite colourfully. A body has many parts, and it functions best when the variety and diversity of the parts are able to be themselves, and not try to be someone or something else. An obvious, and solid sermon. And then, like many, many well-meaning preachers who have followed him (present company definitely included), Paul pushes the metaphor a bit too far and in his enthusiasm he blows it, and seemingly undermines his entire message. Except he doesn’t, actually – it just appears that way because we’re only reading part of the story.
There are four sections to this reading. It begins with 1 Corinthians 12:12-13
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.
For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free– and we were all (given) to drink of one Spirit.
Beautiful, right? Though many – one. One body, not despite our differences but one body including our differences – strengthened and blessed by our differences and variety.
‘Diversity in oneness’ seems like a paradox. And it is. Faith is built on beautiful paradoxes. I’ll use the word One with a series of nouns, and hopefully you’ll see that every one of them is paradoxical because the noun is never just one thing: One church. One faith. One hope. One body. They’re paradoxes.
There are over 25,000 Christian denominations in the world, but we profess one church. There are as many ideas about faith as there are people watching this livestream – times a kajillion – but we profess one faith. And despite there being such divisions within it, we strongly profess one body of Christ. And the thing that holds this giant pile of paradoxes together? One Spirit – dancing like tongues of fire – blowing through us and animating our lives.
On a very profound level we are one. And yet on an equally profound level we know that we are also different. Can we be one and different at the same time? Absolutely! Can we be united and at odds at the same time? Absolutely. Life doesn’t make sense any other way.
We are one – body, church, faith, denomination – and yet there are decidedly competing visions for how to move forward. Same thing happens in our governmental elections. I may agree with this or that party and profoundly disagree with a couple of the others, but I honestly have no doubt that every national party sees itself as Canadian – as one country – as one people. But from that oneness there springs profoundly different visions.
Political conflicts, church conflicts, family conflicts, they’re all aspects of these competing visions. And I think the reason we get into trouble is that we tend to focus on our differences instead of on our oneness. When someone gets angry about something in the church it’s usually because their sense of how it should be rubs against someone else’s. How different would church life be – not just here, everywhere – if we began our disagreements like this: “I realize you want the best for the church, and so do I, but it seems we see it in different ways. Can we put our heads together (not butting heads) and try to see it together?” Wouldn’t that be awesome?!
After that unity in diversity section Paul does the hand/foot, ear/eye thing and punctuates it with an admonition saying one part of the body can’t say to another part of the body “I have no need of you!” But think about that for a minute. Why did Paul need to say that? It’s because some parts of his church body in Corinth were doing exactly that – they weren’t celebrating the diversity among them – they were privileging some members and disparaging others. I’ll tell you the reason why in a minute. (Oh, the suspense! – All right, I’ll tell you a bit now.) read on