Summary: A sermon on the necessity of Christian unity, employing Paul’s "body of Christ" as the primary paradigm.
Sermon for 3 Epiphany Year C, 25/01/2004
Based on 1 Cor 12:12-31a
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church,
& Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“Members Of Christ’s Body”
As a senior citizen was driving down the freeway, his car phone rang. Answering, he heard his wife’s voice urgently warning him, “Herman, I just heard on the news that there’s a car going the wrong way down the highway. Please be careful!” “It’s not just one car,” said Herman. “It’s hundreds of them!”
In today’s second lesson, the apostle Paul speaks of the importance of unity in the Christian Church. Just as one or several cars can create major problems on a one-way highway if they are not going in the same direction; so, too, in the Church, the body of Christ, major problems can occur if one or more members are not living in unity with the other members.
One of the tragedies of our contemporary age is the loss of a sense of community. North Americans have been known for their rugged individualism. That’s why there are over one hundred so-called Christian denominations in North America. Consequently, North Americans have viewed their identity in personal or individualistic terms. However, there is more to our identity than just ourselves. Paul tells us in our second lesson today that we are members of the body of Christ. He describes the Church as similar to the human body. There are many different parts or members of the body. Each part or member has a special function and purpose. Each part or member is connected to the whole body.
If we are members of Christ’s body, then we cannot live as islands by ourselves. A human body is healthy and efficient when each part is functioning properly. The body of Christ is the same way. We are not contributing to the unity and the functioning of Christ’s body if we are jealous of each other, or covet each other’s functions. Or if we think we are so much better than other members. Or if we care only about ourselves and forget about the other members. As members of the body of Christ we need to respect and love each other. We need each other to function properly. It is hence crucial for us to see beyond ourselves to other members in our congregation, in our national Church, and in the whole Christian Church around the world--especially during this week of prayer for Christian unity. For if we as Christians from a plethora of denominational traditions can learn to pray together, maybe sooner than later we can learn to STAY and LIVE together--thereby answering Christ’s prayer that they may all be one THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE. We need each other now, more than ever, to address the pressing issues in the church and in the world. It is important that we share in the joys as well as the sufferings of the members of Christ’s body. The person who fails to see beyond himself or herself has failed to grasp the true unity of the Church.
How then do we function properly as the one true body of Christ? The following story is very instructive for us.
Long ago in Japan there was a small village. To the east of the village was the great ocean; to the west a high mountain. Some of the men made their living by fishing while all the other villagers—men, women, and children—worked in the rice fields that lay on top of the mountain. Each morning the villagers climbed the mountain path to work. Each evening they trudged home to sleep in their huts. Only grandfather, and his grandson, Ti, lived on the mountain, where it was grandfather’s job to keep the fires lit at night to ward off the wild animals.
Early one morning, during the season when the rice fields had turned gold and dry, ready for the harvest, grandfather stirred the fire for the last time. Down below, the villagers began to move about doing their morning chores before they started their trek to the top of the mountain. When the fire roared again, grandfather went to the edge of the mountain to watch the sun rise. The morning, however, he could not see the rising sun. What he saw brought fear to his soul.
Quickly he ran to the hut where Ti was still sleeping. “Ti, get up.”
“Oh, grandfather, let me sleep.”
“Do as I say,” the old man shouted. “Get a burning stick from the fire.”
This time Ti obeyed, for he had never heard grandfather sound so urgent. Without understanding, Ti got up, took a burning stick from the fire, and then went out to join grandfather who was thrusting his burning stick into the dry rice. Grandfather spit out a command, “Burn the rice fields.”