Luke 4:14-21 & 1 Corinthians 12: 21-27 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Jan 27, 2019
“I need YOU” was a slogan used over 100 years ago, yet that image is one that we don’t really need the screen to assist us to pull memory, do we? It is forever etched in our minds, isn’t it? Whether it is ‘Uncle Sam’ in the United States or Lord Kitchener in Britain, the sentiments behind one’s country truly needing them for military service were portrayed very powerfully. It is hard to imagine the fear of those days. It was a time prior to conscription when military service relied upon volunteers to enlist, to unite, and to protect the welfare of their country as the fear of war rose. “I need you” was the call from a country to its people to unite for their common welfare …to unite their gifts and talents…to become a united force during a profoundly frightening time. I need you…
As we explore the text from 1st Corinthians 12, I would like to suggest that there was an element of this same type of fear in Paul as he was writing this letter. As fun as it was, earlier in worship during our Theme Conversation time with the children, to make light about this metaphor about the way the elements of the body work together. For Paul, there was a strong undertone of fear as he wrote this letter. We remember Paul as the original ‘Bishop’ of the church ~ in fact in a time before there even was even ‘a church’ or ‘bishops’. Paul was encouraging this movement of people who were faithfully following the way of Jesus. Those who were illegally opposing the state of Rome, those who were secretly meeting in the basements of people’s homes, those who were risking death for their participation in the church. Imagine what it might have been like to know that if any of your friends or family members ‘turned you in’ for worshipping the Way of Christ, you would be severely disciplined, even to the point of death. These were the challenges of the early church in Paul’s day. And to these fears and challenges, Paul says to them “the body of Christ needs YOU”. The church needs YOU.
Paul’s use of the body as a metaphor for how the church might be modelled after the system of the body was not his unique creation, of course. As was the case with great wisdom teachings and classical literature, they were regularly borrowed. Paul, however, was unique in how he used the metaphor. Previously, its usage was for the purpose in helping to describe how those at the bottom of the social ladder should be grateful for the guidance and protection of their superiors at the top. Just like in the body how the brain makes decisions for the lower organs that sustain their daily functioning, the people of lower social stature should be grateful for those higher ups ensuring their guidance and protection. Paul offers this image in a very different way. Just as Jesus’ gospel way turned the world’s understanding of love, care and compassion upside down, Paul turned the metaphor of the body upside down as well. From an egalitarian perspective, Paul almost becomes the first Liberation Theologian here, arguing that all parts of the body are essential in order for the body to function at its fullest capacity. The foot is just as valuable as the hand…the ear is just as valuable as the eye…each and every part of the body is essential for the body’s fullest potential to be achieved. In fact, as Paul writes: “those members of the body that that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable, we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect”.
Paul presents us with one of the most powerful images for the church throughout all of scripture. This complex, intricate, delicate body which we occupy and rely upon is just like the body of Christ which is alive on earth through each of us. Our body is thrown out of balance without all of its parts and so is the church out of balance without the full participation of all of its constituent parts as well. And it is not a one-sided relationship either. As we celebrate in our very baptism, we are ‘beings in relationship’ with God. We are humans with an innate need to belong…and this body…this spiritual family…this body of Christ… is that spiritual place God has shaped for us. And in Christ’s body, there is no such thing as belonging without taking part. Being a Christian is not a ‘spectator sport’. It is not a one-sided affair of God wanting you or us wanting God. To use another metaphor, it is truly a beautiful marriage … a partnership where one compliments the other. And the whole is made complete with each and every component part present, valued and integrated into a fully functioning dynamic.
This Sunday is Stewardship Sunday. As we receive our charitable tax receipts from 2018, we consider one of the many ways that we support and make the church function as a healthy and vital body. Of course, money is not the only dimension of stewardship. In the church, we talk about the sharing of not just our finances: our treasure. Rather, we speak about three components of stewardship: the sharing of our time, our talents as well as our treasure. It is a time to ponder our stewardship … our call to offer back a portion of what God has given us in an effort of building up the body of Christ. Over the years, you may recall different approaches towards stewardship. The church has had larger endeavours such as an every-member visitation by the elders of the congregation ~ the elder would visit with your family, talk about the church and discuss your commitment plans for the coming year. The church has had multiple week-long Sunday series focusing on stewardship. At Northwood, I appreciate how we take an opportunity to talk about financial stewardship each week. Prior to the taking of the offering, the person who has previously read the scripture speaks an invitation to the offering…sometimes even offering a personal note on why they support the church. And this Sunday, as we celebrate all the ways people have supported their church, we take an opportunity to focus the service on stewardship.
One way that we encourage people to consider stewardship today is from a budgetary perspective. Biblically this comes from an understanding of people tithing to the church ~ returning a portion of their time, talents and treasure to body of Christ ~ to the church. The tithe goes back to our Jewish roots with Jewish law and practice requiring the return of 10% of one’s income or agricultural production for the benevolent work of the church. As the work of charitable organizations has increasingly diversified, we all need to make decisions with the charity of our time, talents and treasure. However, what has not changed is call for us to set aside a portion of our bounty and consider how we will portion to the church and other caring institutions. My dream would be that everyone builds a “charity budget” into their own household budget. If you think about it, we budget money every month for our housing, utilities, food and entertainment. When we think about stewardship, a “charity budget” is our call to consider how we are called to share in the body of Christ. You probably are aware of this, but a large percentage of our congregation give in one monthly donation directly through their bank account. Others write a monthly cheque. Whether we are travelling or attending worship, it allows our finance team to balance the ongoing financial needs of the congregation. I continue to receive questions from well-meaning folks at the church, who assume that we are a government sponsored body or that the head office pays the salary of the ministers. It is quite the reverse. We are all the body of Christ…we are all its individual parts…your time, talents and treasure allows us to be that body.
‘Being that body’ is truly where things start to get exciting! And that brings us to this morning’s gospel lection. With all respect to our mission statement of “embracing the community with the love of Christ’, I think Jesus said it much better! Scholars speak about Luke 4 as the “centre of Luke’s Gospel”. It is Jesus’ keynote address as he forges ahead into his adult ministry. Following the Spirit’s descension upon Jesus at his baptism, the Spirit’s attending to Jesus through his wilderness temptation, Jesus is now filled with the Spirit and prepares to forge ahead in his Messiah ministry. As a rabbi would, he unrolls the scroll and reads with authority what it will look like to be the body of Christ… “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 favour.’ And in those few verses, we hear why we do what we do as a church. Good news to the poor…proclaiming hope and release to all those who are captive…recovery of sight ~ new ways to see…helping the oppressed go free….proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour. That’s what the living, breathing, body of Christ looks like in action! The most powerful that Jesus did that day was not reading Isaiah’s words with authority, but rather it was adding his own conclusion. He concludes with these challenging words: “this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. And so, let us truly ‘hear them’. Let us hear them, let us live them, let us be them. As we move ahead into a new year of being the living breathing body of Christ.