Stewardship Sermon - 2023a
Old Testament – Psalm 19:1-10
New Testament – 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
“We Are the Church Together”
INTRODUCTION: For several years now there’s been an exhibit touring the country called Grossology: The Impolite Science of the Human Body.
Based on Sylvia Branzei’s book by the same name, the exhibit introduces children to the workings of the human body through humor and large scale anatomically correct replicas of assorted organs and other features.
As part of the exhibit, for example, children can walk through a giant nose where they learn about what causes runny noses and allergies.
The humor comes when the nose, known as Nigel Nose-It-All, sneezes causing large fake dirt balls (which are supposed to be you know what!) to come shooting out at the unsuspecting children.
At another station children can also listen to the various sounds made by the human body. They can hear things like a stomach gurgling, air moving through lungs, a heart beat, and even a throat gulping.
And yes, since this is a children’s exhibit, kids can learn about certain other human noises at a station appropriately named the Toot-Toot exhibit! There’s also even a 30-foot-long 3D re-creation of the digestive system that children can walk, climb, and even slide through.
Perhaps not surprisingly the aptly named Grossology exhibit has been a huge success, at least among kids. While we adults might find such an exhibit far from appealing, children revel in its humorous approach to the human body.
But, says Grossology’s creator, don’t be fooled by the exhibit’s silliness because it’s really science in disguise. While the kids laugh and have a good time during the program, they’re also learning how the human body works. So it’s both fun and educational all at once.
ONE: Well, in his own way, the Apostle Paul also liked to use the human body as a kind of educational tool.
But rather than delve into the science of how the body functions and works, Paul liked to use the body as a metaphor for the church and how it should function.
Paul’s metaphor, as many of you might recall, is easy to follow. In the same way the human body is made up of assorted different parts that must all work together, so it goes for the church.
Yes, says Paul, the human body is one, but for it to be one all its parts or members must work in unison. Where would the foot be, he asks rhetorically, if it were to decide it had no use for the hand? And likewise, where would the ear be if it were to decide it had no use for the eye?
So while the body is one for Paul, it is only one because of the assorted parts within it that work in tandem. And what is true for the body is also true for the church. The church, rather than being composed of just a single member, is also composed of many members, which when working in consort make for one.
Or as Paul so famously put it: “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…Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
Back in the early 70s two composers named Richard Avery and Donald Marsh wrote a hymn called We Are the Church. A popular tune now found in many hymnals, the lyrics echo Paul’s theology.
Or as the very first verse and a portion of the refrain like to put it: “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people. I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together!”
Well if Paul were alive today, Avery and Marsh’s tune would surely be one of his favorites. For the song gives nice expression to his own view. “Now you are the body of Christ” says Paul “and individually members of it.”
TWO: But here’s where Paul’s idea of the church being like a body becomes more than just a simple image.
You see, back in Paul’s day it was a pretty common practice to use the body as a metaphor for human societies and how they should be configured. Yep, turns out all kinds of folks liked to use the body with its various parts as a stock analogy for discussing human relationships and social arrangements. Except when the analogy was normally used, it was always done to reinforce the status quo and promote a social hierarchy.
Those at the bottom of the social pecking order, in other words, were always equated with the lesser, undesirable parts of the body. While those at the top of the social order, well, they were always associated or equated with the more desirable parts.
The peasants, grunts, and day-laborers of the world were considered inferior because they had the task or role of being, say, the feet, while the political leaders, landowners, and mercantile folks were seen as being superior because they had the task of being the brain or the heart or some other important organ.
So back in Paul’s day the body analogy worked almost like the caste system that exists in India. While everybody had a part to play, some parts were clearly seen as more important than others. And the people who were equated with things like the brain and the heart, they were naturally considered to be of more value than those equated with lower parts of the body.
But that’s hardly what Paul does with his body analogy, is it? Instead, in an effort to stress the importance and value of the gifts and talents of all, Paul actually flips the order of things:
“On the contrary,” says Paul “the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 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.”
So Paul’s way of using the body to talk about the church was actually pretty revolutionary. While everybody else was using the body metaphor to create and maintain a social pecking order, Paul was using it to actually stress the value and importance of all people and their respective roles in the church.
THREE: In a short story by Anatole France called “Our Lady’s Juggler,” a man named Barnaby ekes out an existence by performing juggling tricks for money as he moves from one small town to another.
And as a highlight of his act, Barnaby will do a handstand and then proceed to juggle six small copper balls with his feet.
But then one day, while walking to the next village to perform his act, Barnaby encounters a monk going in the same direction and so the two travel together conversing as they walk. And eventually, after getting to know Barnaby and recognizing that he is a man of good-will, the monk invites Barnaby to join him at the monastery where he is the Prior.
And so that’s just what Barnaby does. He returns with the monk to begin a monastic life. But once at the monastery it doesn’t take long for Barnaby to feel pretty inadequate.
For you see, the monastery is full of all kinds of talented and skilled monks. The Prior writes theological texts about the Virgin Mary that are highly revered by all.
Another monk, Father Maurice, will then copy the Prior’s writings in a beautiful script onto pages of vellum.
Friar Alexander, likewise, is known for his paintings of the Virgin Mary, while Friar Marbode is, similarly, known for his exquisite and detailed stone carvings of her.
Needless to say, Barnaby laments his apparent lack of skill. Surrounded by gifted brothers, Barnaby bemoans for weeks that he doesn’t have any such talents to offer the Virgin Mary himself.
But then one morning, after a night of dreamy sleep, Barnaby awakes with joy. Smiling, he heads straight for the chapel where he then stays for the next hour by himself.
And then the next day, he does the same thing again until it becomes part of his daily routine. Barnaby awakes early, slips away to the chapel, and then returns an hour later.
Well, the Prior, growing increasingly curious, finally decides to peek in on Barnaby one morning to see just what in the world he might be doing in the chapel.
And so peering through a crack in the door of the chapel, the Prior is initially shocked at what he sees. For at the front of the chapel, doing a handstand before a statue of the Virgin Mary, is Barnaby juggling six copper balls with his feet.
But then something kind of amazing happens. For just as the Prior is about to barge into the chapel to reprimand Barnaby for his imprudent behavior, he is stunned to see the statue of the Virgin Mary slowly come to life.
And then to the Prior’s even greater amazement, he watches stunned as the Virgin Mary walks over to Barnaby, and with a smile on her face, gently proceeds to wipe the sweat from the brow of his forehead with a small portion of her blue shawl.
And with that, the Prior quietly utters an “Amen,” as he turns to leave Barnaby to his juggling.
CONCLUSION: Well, after hearing such a story, it’s easy to come back round to Paul again, isn’t it?
After all, it seems safe to say that Paul would surely concur with the basic sentiment of such a neat little tale, don’t you think? For just as the human body, although made up of many different parts, is still just one body, so it goes for the church.
Blessed with gifts and talents are we all, and it is only with each and every single one of them working in tandem that the church can be truly whole.
For “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people. I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together!”
To the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.