Sunday, January 27, 2019

2019.01.27 Body Matters

In preparation for a sermon, I engaged probably one of the most powerful and apt metaphors for the human condition: the human body. I know many of us religio-spiritual types would like to dismiss the flesh of the body as only a container for what matters most, they think; that is, the soul—the sliver of divinity in all living things. Bunk! We are ensouled bodies and embodied souls, and all of it works together for the good of all.

The metaphor that intrigues and inspires me is in Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth: I Cor.12: 12-31a. The lectionary ends the reading for Epiphany 3 on the first part of a whole verse. I’m always curious to see what they decided to leave out. What’s in verse 31b?

Paul addresses his people the Jews describing this Body of Christ. It’s startling when you let it seep into you, this new vision of a new community. Paul insists that no body part can say to another: I have no need of you. ALL members are honored equally; those that seem to be unworthy of honor, we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect. And furthermore, this is God’s desire and design. (Yes, I know that the brain is the head and the best body part, right? But what good is a brain without a body to empower?)

The whole body image is so egalitarian it surpasses even the best social justice rhetoric. It’s a non-partisan game-changer. Let it sink in. How does it make you feel?  Myself, I feel a little shivery when I see how huge and how demanding this vision is. I give to beggars,  pray like crazy, and do what I can, but I know that, secretly, I don’t see beggars as equal. Do I have a right to call myself a member of this Body of Christ—really?  I, a privileged person, can not say to the less fortunate, I have no need of you. I, an able-bodied person cannot say to the disabled-in-body, I have no need of you. I, a baptized Christian, cannot say to a Muslim, or a Jew, or a Hindu, or an Atheist, I have no need of you. I, a Democrat, cannot say to a Republican, I have no need of you. I, who count my race as Caucasian, cannot say to any other race, I have no need of you. 

Paul is a saint and spiritual genius, partly because he messes up so darn much. His spirituality soars, like with this image above, but alas, he simply cannot resist the temptation to qualify it. He rank-orders the gifts in this body of Christ (first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, and so on, all the way down to tongues.) Rank-ordering? Come on! What’s worse, concludes with: “But strive for the greater gifts.” Greater gifts? What? Paul sets us up for competition, critique, an ethic of win-lose. This is bad politics. This will NOT hold this body of Christ together. It certainly does not hold our world together very well.

So: what is in verse 31b? What is the second half of verse 31? What follows “Strive for the greater gifts”?  “And I will tell you a better way.”  Strive for the greater gifts, AND I will tell you a better way. There’s a better way than striving to be greater. What is it? 

Paul launches his famous hymn to love in I Cor. 13—what everyone wants read at their weddings. Love is a better way.  Love is the great equalizer, not gifts. Gifts divide and conquer. Love unifies. In Love there is no rank-ordering. Love holds this body of Christ community together. Love, by its very nature, and when we let it be divine-in-us,  neither competes nor devalues self or other. Pray for Love.

                               The joy of the Creator be your strength.
                               The compassion of the Christ be your heart.
                               The boundless energy of the Spirit be your soul.