The Body of Christ – 1 Corinthians 12

Just as he warned about the dangers of the divisions around personalities (early in the letter – I follow Cephas,etc), Paul asks the church to consider carefully the use and purpose of the wide variety of gifts among them. These new believers are discovering (very quickly) that living according to the promises of God – living as people freed by the resurrection of Jesus – has opened them to new understanding of the world. And an awareness of the presence of God has activated new desires and abilities in them – Spiritual Gifts, Paul calls them – that change the way they perceive one another, and interact with one another. So Paul names some of the gifts he has identified and begins to describe how these various gifts can serve the church. And to underline his call for unity and cooperation, he offers the enduring metaphor for the church; “You are the body of Christ…”

Feet and hands, fingers and toes – this is how Paul describes the church in all its glory. An interconnected, interdependent organism of tremendous complexity – that is true of the human body, and no less true of the church of Jesus Christ. And while we claim the metaphor, we don’t often think about the finer details of it. Is it true only for congregations? Does it apply to Presbyteries and Synods? What about denominations? Can this really be of use to us now that Christianity has crossed boarders and oceans and continents, to influence the whole world?

I think the answer is yes – and now more than ever.

This is not about deciding which of us is a foot, or an arm, or something less honourable (to use Paul’s phrase) this is really a lesson in the necessity of working together. We are pretty good at understanding this at a congregational level – though we would be more likely to describe ourselves as a family than a body – but lets consider the opportunities that exist beyond ourselves. We are a Pastoral charge made up of two congregations. We share a minister (me) and have been this relationship for a very long time. But when was the last time we considered our obligations to one another as anything other than an inconvenience? We want to do our own thing (and have done so faithfully and well for one hundred years or so) but neither of us can do what we love to do (and are called to do) without the other. It is true in a single congregation – no less true of our pastoral charge, or our Presbytery.

These gifts we have been given – each manifested in different people or places or communities – gifts of imagination and generosity and wisdom and leadership – are generously scattered through (and within) congregations of every size and Christian communities of every configuration – and we impoverish ourselves if we think we can do without one another.

Our cooperation is more than a practical necessity. It is divine imperative. And we have been given all that is necessary and good for the task of proclaiming the gospel and “being the church”. And I think it is time we explored the full potential of our various gifts; not just within this congregation, or between our two congregations (though we must start here). We need to make the circle wider.

My call to Thorburn and Sutherland’s River was always a call to service in the whole church. Ministers in the PCC are ordained to serve in every court of the church – and so I have been privileged to hear many conversations about our collective future – all tinged with concern. I have been privately promoting a different approach – one that reflects Paul’s metaphor of the body. I have suggested such foolishness as collecting our individual congregational finances into one treasury within the Presbytery (I don’t yet know if that is even legal, but bear with me)

My idea comes from the notion that we are dependent on one another, that we are all engaged in the same mission – to proclaim the gospel of Christ and all that it means – freedom from the bonds of sin and death – a fresh perspective on this life, and hope of life eternal. And we can’t do that if we are holding too tightly to our legacies and our buildings and the challenges of meeting 25 different budget targets…

There are members of this body of ours that are weak and suffering and need help. There are members that are thriving and joyful and eager to move forward. And all of us are the body of Christ, and individually members of it. How will we honour that image, and serve God? What will our next step need to be? I don’t know, but I am willing to consider bold steps – no less bold that the path Jesus followed. Let us be bold for Christ together.


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