Being Christ’s Body

Sunday, April 14, 2024
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

Living Faith Series: 1 Corinthians 12:4-20, 27

Grace and peace to you from God, our redeemer, and the Holy Spirit who calls us to be the church. Amen.

The lockdown days of the pandemic, when we were wiping down our groceries with antibacterial wipes and there was little actual knowledge of what COVID was, were about the most disorienting days of our lives. Without realizing what the effects would be, we practiced social distancing – which was really meant to be safe physical distancing within social settings. The unforeseen effects were that we socially distanced ourselves into isolation and echo chambers that have continued to impact the way we function in the wider community still today.

As a society we are living amidst the loneliest period of American history. Many have lost a shared sense that as a society, we belong to one another; that there is mutual benefit and mutual accountability for participating in the common good. In many places it’s even hard to find agreement on what a “common good” would be.

A recent article in the Atlantic cites that Americans today have fewer shared public spaces where connections are formed; like churches, libraries, school gyms, and union halls because these places either have greater restrictions on participation or they have shuttered altogether. Most of the public spaces today are “pay to participate”, which contributes further to people’s sense of loneliness. So, what do we do about this? What can we do? I believe that as people of faith, we can do a lot more than what we sometimes think we can, especially when it comes to overcoming division and isolation. As people of faith, God has called us together. The Church is an antidote to loneliness and a balm for our divisions.

From my perspective, we are living in a time when the vitality, hospitality, and generosity of the church is all the more important today, not just for us who already are here but for those who are hungry for belonging and relationship.

This isn’t the first time in human history that isolation and separation has impacted the human spirit. In the days of the early church, there was plenty of sorting and separating in society. Hierarchy was everywhere. The Greco-Roman world was highly ordered, with significant power and privilege given to a very small group of people.

Most people just sought to survive from day to day. God sent the Apostle Paul on a mission to start churches that radically reshaped this order by giving honor and value to every member of the church. Paul used the image of the body to help people see this new way of being.

It didn’t always go as God or Paul intended. There was clearly a time in the life of the church at Corinth that the old ways of sorting and ranking the value of people crept into the church. Some in the church lost sight of one another’s gifts, or failed to honor each person’s contribution.

It’s likely that some in the community thought their gifts or contribution was greater than others. As they say, “old habits die hard” as do rules for how people treat one another. Paul sets the record straight for how God has created and arranged the church to function.

Paul says, “For in the one Spirit, we were all baptized into the one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of the one Spirit.” In other words, no matter who you are, or what background you come from, your baptism is the great equalizer in the body of Christ. None of the rest matters in comparison to the gift of faith given in baptism. And from baptism, the Spirit works in everyone, providing gifts to benefit others.

Have you ever thought about that?

That when you were baptized, you weren’t only saved and forgiven, but that you were also gifted by God to be part of God’s mission of mercy and redemption?

Do you name your gifts as coming from God?

And claim them and use them for the common good?

Because your gifts, your interests, your faith matters – to others, to God, to the rest of the body of Christ.

Here’s the thing, if you’re baptized, you’re part of the body. No exceptions. And if you haven’t been baptized, it’s never too late.

In our baptism, we are forgiven and because we are forgiven, we are called into life together with Christ. As part of the Body, the Holy Spirit gives you gifts to contribute to the church and the world.

Being part of the church is not a spectator sport. Luther once said, “Faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing.” It’s both our duty and delight to share what God has given us.

Maybe you haven’t recognized the gifts you have as coming from God before, but they do. Your faith, your skills, your passions, your experience, offer something that makes Christ’s body richer and stronger than what it would be without you. And the world is better because you are in it.

Sometimes I wonder if we downplay the gifts God gives. Like we’re those in the body that Paul talks about that thinks, “Because I’m not this or that…I’m not part of the body…or I don’t really have anything to offer – especially in the church. Maybe you think, “I’m not that spiritual” or I’m not faithful enough. Or maybe you think that something you’ve done in the past or that has been done to you is too bad that the Spirit cannot use you.

That’s not the way the Spirit works. Remember – we belong to a God of redemption, salvation, and perpetual second chances. The body of Christ is not perfect. Even in resurrection, Jesus kept the marks of his death. In the same way, the Spirit uses even the hardest experiences we’ve had, the ones that have left lasting scars, and gives us new life.

Paul reminds us that as members of the Body of Christ, we lift up each other’s gifts, and when one part of the body suffers, we suffer together; when one part of the body is honored, we rejoice together. No need to compare. No need to rank who’s better or worse. All we need to do is claim the gift that is in each of us, and know that when we use our collective gifts together, people flourish and the Church is doing what the Spirit has empowered the church to do all along.

Friends, I see this in you all the time.

It’s in the knitters on Tuesdays in the library making prayer shawls and baby blankets for people in our congregation and community.

I see it in the Thursday community meal teams working together to feed people.

I see it in the musicians who lead us in worship with confidence and faith.

I saw it in the Lenten mentors who dared to have faithful conversations with our confirmands – sometimes never having met the young person before.

I see it in the quiet ways some of you provide rides to those in our congregation that don’t drive anymore and, and in the mentoring some of you offer to those in recovery because someone has done the same thing for you.

I see it in the hospitality provided at funerals and receptions, and the cards that are sent to those we pray for in worship. I see it in the ways you engage in leadership decisions on council or committees, and how you use what God has given to make a difference in community organizations around the area.

I see the body flourishing in the prayers you lift up for all those who are hurting in your lives and around the world, and the ways your faith in God is strength for you and others when the path in life is uncertain.

Such a wide variety of gifts at work in us – and the same Holy Spirit who has given them all!

Since January the Mission Discernment Team, the Church Council, and the staff have been listening for how God is shaping Augustana’s ministry now and into the future. One of the images that continues to emerge in discussions is of “a flourishing community of faith”.

We’ve been imagining what it looks like when the church flourishes. In a lot of ways, what we have imagined looks like Paul’s description of the body of Christ – where everyone knows they belong and no one feels alone, where there is room for people’s gifts, where we celebrate each other, and share in the struggles of life together too.

This flourishing body of Christ commits to work together for God’s purposes and is always looking beyond ourselves to see God at work in others. At the heart of this flourishing community is what God is doing in YOU, and your commitment to be Christ’s body, given for each other, and for the world God calls us into. We may not always get it right, and we’ll undoubtedly collect some scars along the way, and yet, the Spirit will continue to work in us, bringing to completion what God has already begun in us. Thanks be to God! Amen.

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