Unity and Diversity
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Last week we explored the passage before today’s reading in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. It was a passage that proclaimed and celebrated that God is the source of our community’s diversity, and the source of the variety of gifts in our community. Last week we heard the good news that God has given us each as individuals unique and beautiful ways to use spiritual things to glorify God and to express love to God’s created world.
Fresh off of Paul reminding this diverse community of Corinth to appreciate all the different gifts, perspectives, and backgrounds in their community we are picking right back up where Paul left off.
“For 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 Greek, slaves or free…”
Paul is sharing with the church in Corinth the good news that as a church we are called to celebrate and appreciate our diversity, and also as a church we remember we are more than just our unique individual gifts, we are part of the body of Christ and are called to live in community with one another.
Paul proclaims that baptism is what helps us remember that each one of us are part of God’s created community. In our Reformed Tradition we believe that baptism is an outward sign that we as unique and beautiful individuals belong to God and it also is a moment when we recognize our responsibility to be a part of Christ’s community. We believe that baptism marks a new form of community that values diversity of gifts and perspectives, and values being interdependent towards one another, all to serve the common good.
Paul uses a metaphor of the body and its many members to drive home how the baptized community values and appreciates diversity of individuals and values interdependence of one another.
“If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? As it is, there are many members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body.”
God is calling the church to be a community that is made up of unique parts, all working together for a collective purpose.
For some reason, when I read this metaphor of a body with many members relying on one another, I think of team sports. Starting at a young age I always appreciated the collective nature of sports, and how you worked together for a purpose. I grew up playing all sorts of sports, but soccer and basketball were the ones I played the longest.
I was a goalkeeper in soccer. It can be pretty stressful being the last line of defense between your team winning and losing. Early on in my playing career I would find myself overwhelmed with so much pressure and actually would get so discouraged and distraught when I would allow a goal to be scored. Then one day my coach seeing I was overwhelmed by my individual pressure to not let everyone down said something to me that I will never forget. “Just remember that the ball went past 10 others teammates before it got past you. You as a team gave up that goal.” There was something freeing about those words. Those words are why I always liked the collective spirit of team sports. Win or lose, we do it together. You have those phrases like Together Everyone Achieves More. Or as a goal keeper I’d like to say to myself Together Everyone Allows Goals.
My family will be quick to tell you that early Saturday mornings in the fall I am not watching college football Gameday, I am watching European professional soccer. One of the reasons I love watching professional soccer is the fact a team is made up of individuals from all over the world, and they are being asked to find a collective spirit in the midst of all their uniqueness. They are asked to work together and rely on one another and find unity in the midst of their diversity.
My favorite team to follow is Liverpool Football Club. Kathy will tell you I am in awe of their manager, Jurgen Klopp. The man is so inspiring to me because he is all about finding that collective spirit and harnessing everyone’s unique gifts to be united as one team. Win or lose you will see him always encouraging his players and seeking them out to either console them or congratulate them with one of his world famous “Klopp hugs”. To get a better picture of how he seeks a collective spirit among diverse individuals I want to read a list of values he asked one of his championship teams to commit to:
…Readiness to support everybody
…Readiness to accept help
…Readiness to put their quality (gifts) wholly at the service of the team
…Readiness to take on individual responsibility
I want to highlight this list of values for a community because I think this is exactly the kind of mindset that Paul is encouraging the church to have as they value being interdependent of one another and value and appreciate the quality of gifts in their midst. The obvious difference for the church is we do not do these things to win in life, but we as Christians do these things as a way to express God’s greatest gift of love.
Paul writes, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.”
Paul is telling the church, a collective body made up of individuals with a variety of gifts that they are the body of Christ and they are called to share their life with one another for the common good.
It is not about metaphors anymore, it is about the church being the body of Christ, and imitating all the ways Christ loved the world. The calling of the church to be the body of Christ is about being a body of individuals that radically depend on one another and use their radical diverse gifts serving the common good.
Being a part of the body of Christ is about having a readiness and desire to lovingly support everybody and join them in their suffering and join them in their rejoicing. It is about having a readiness to accept love and help from others in the community when needed. Being a part of the body of Christ is having a readiness and willingness to lovingly share your unique spiritual gifts for the common good. Being a part of the body of Christ is about a readiness and commitment to take on the responsibility of caring for and loving others, especially those who are being marginalized in our diverse community.
Our gospel reading today proclaims the Good News of Christ’s love for the world, especially those who are suffering. Today’s gospel reading proclaims the ways we imitate Christ’s love for the world.
Jesus stood up in the synagogue of his home synagogue and unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and proclaimed, “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.” As all eyes were fixed upon him he rolled up the scroll and told this community, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Christ is God incarnate and Christ reveals to the world what the gift of love looks like. Christ in his ministry reveals that love cares for the poor and isolated. Love tends to the sick and broken-hearted. Love calls us to reject and overturn those powers of the world that seek to dominate others. Love seeks justice where there is injustice. Love seeks out the outcast and the suffering. Christ’s ministry served the marginalized and Christ through the gift of baptism has called us as the body of Christ to go and do likewise.
There are so many in our diverse community that are surrounded by suffering and hardship. So many people who are being marginalized because of dominating powers of greed and injustice. May we all remember that as baptized members of Christ’s church we have a calling to imitate Christ’s love and serve a world in need. May we remember our collective calling that if one suffers, we all suffer, if one rejoices we all rejoice with them. As we live out our calling to imitate Christ’s love for the world may we all find our own readiness to lovingly support everybody, readiness to accept help when we are overwhelmed, a readiness to share our unique gifts of love, and readiness to take on this responsibility.
As we continue on this endeavor to serve the common good and serve God’s creation let us not forget these words of good news that Paul proclaimed to that diverse church in Corinth. May we remember that “there are a varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activities all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” May we remember that we “are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.”
During our journey together to tend to and love God’s creation may remember the good news that that faith, hope, and love will abide; “the greatest of these is love.” Let us celebrate and remember together, as the body of Christ, that God’s gift of love is transforming the world in so many diverse and wonderful ways. Alleluia Amen!