The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Third Sunday after the Epiphany—Year C; Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; I Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21; Video
Today, we get to join the Corinthians and go to Biology 101. We will be covering the body as a system. This class will be taught by the esteemed Professor Paul, whose last name we don’t really know.
The body is made up of individual members—one body, many members. For example, feet, hands, ears, eyes, nose, head, and parts of the body that we might consider weaker, less honorable, less respectable (Paul leaves these to his student’s imagination). Now then, if the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” does that make it any less a part of the body? No. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, how could you smell? The body works as a system, and all these members are arranged to help the body live well. If all were a single member, where would the body be? And like any good professor, Paul repeats his theme—many members, one body.
So, the eye can’t say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” In fact, those members of the body that seem to be weaker—they are indispensable. Those members that we think less honorable—we clothe them with greater honor. And our less respectable members—we treat them with greater respect.
But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
And then, like any good professor, Paul makes the connection from this body system to the real arena of application—the community. Now then, YOU are the body of Christ, and individually members of it. And then he goes on to lay out all these functions within the community: apostles, prophets, teachers, doers of deeds, healers, helpers, leaders, Spirit-mediators—so many members, so many gifts, all of them a part of the body, all of them needed for the body to live well. No gift better than another, all matter to the body; no gift worth less than another, all matter to the body.
And in his introduction to this lecture, Professor Paul indicated that he was taking this up another notch. It’s not just about the community of faith, but it’s about something so much bigger—it’s about Christ and the Spirit and breaking down barriers. 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 made to drink of one Spirit. There were societal barriers between Jews and Greeks—not so with the Spirit, not so with Christ, not so with his body. There were societal barriers between slaves and those who weren’t enslaved—not so with the Spirit, not so with Christ, not so with his body. No one group gets to look down upon another, and those who have been at the bottom—those who are weaker, those who have had less honor, those who have had less respect, they are lifted up in this body—they are indispensable to this body; they are clothed with greater honor, more respect.
Look around our community, our society—dear body of Christ incarnated at St. Luke’s, how are we doing at breaking down the barriers? How are we calling out those who would say to another, “I have no need of you,” starting with a piercing self-examination of that voice within ourselves who thinks that about another? How are we making known to those who have little power in our society that they are indispensable? How are we lifting up those who lack honor and respect and treating them with the respect and dignity that is their Godgiven birthright? How are we having the same care for one another? How are we suffering together? How are we rejoicing together? Where are those spaces where we even experience being together in the one body? Or are we just trying to go it alone being a progressive foot or a conservative hand or a libertarian eye, or a black shoulder or a white knee, or a male hip or a female elbow, or an Episcopal ear or an Anglican head?
And lest we think Paul has an agenda (and frankly, what teacher doesn’t), don’t blame him—he got it from Jesus.
Luke 4. Jesus’ inaugural sermon. His first chance to lay out his vision, his mission, before the hometown crowd. Nazareth is his Iowa. He has been filled with the Spirit and field-tested his vision with Satan in the wilderness, and he is pumped up! The synagogue in Nazareth is packed—they haven’t seen a crowd like this in a long time. All ears are leaning in to catch his 10-point plan. And like any good leader trying to establish his vision, he lays out a good and solid foundation—Isaiah 61. Good choice. A favorite of his listeners.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And like any good leader, he has tweaked his source ever so slightly to put his own stamp on the vision—Jesus explicitly lifts up the poor, in addition to Isaiah’s oppressed, and he is going to help those who are blind recover their sight—Jesus is about restoring the vision to all those who have lost it. And he won’t let go of that radical, radical vision of jubilee—the year of the Lord’s favor—a vision to forgive all debts and give those who have had to economically sell their soul a chance to start all over again—clean slate, fresh start, and a place to call home.
And Jesus rolled up the scroll, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him; they were on pins and needles waiting to see what would come next. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
When you hear people say, “God has a bias for the poor and oppressed,” this is where they get that. The God of Isaiah proclaims it, the God of Jesus proclaims it, the Spirit of the Lord proclaims it—the weaker, disrespected, dishonored members of society, the Spirit of the Lord has come down through Jesus to bring them out of the shadows and lift them up, so that they, too, know they are indispensable to him and to his body. We, and they, are members of the body and members of one another. We aren’t whole if we aren’t suffering with these members of the body, and we aren’t whole if we aren’t rejoicing in their gifts, and if we think we have no need of them, well, they’ll be enjoying jubilee while we, like that elder brother of Luke 15, stand outside and miss the party. We, and they, are members of one another, so in very real terms, we can no longer speak of “we” and “they,” but only of how we are one.
Take a look around, any more, there are precious few in this world who understand what it means to live as the body—the body is not well—on almost any level we can think of, the body is not well. Paul, Jesus, they are all trying to show us the way to wholeness, the way forward that will lead the body back to health.
Take your place in the body, and let’s be the hands that reach out until everyone knows they belong. Only then will we find the wholeness that we’re all looking for. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
January 24, 2016