Sermon for January 24, 2010

1 Corinthians 12:12-27 (The 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany—Series C)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

January 24, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text this morning is the Epistle Lesson from 1 Corinthians 12:

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 one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the 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 parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

People were created with a sense of belonging.  God said so Himself, “It is not good that the man should be alone.  I will make a helper fit for him.” (Gen. 2:18)  “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.  And God blessed them.  And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.’” (Gen. 1:27-28)  People were created to belong together.  People were made to be in community.

The Fall into sin, however, brought its destructive effects on our belonging and community.  Look at how people relate to each other.  Look at how family members treat each other.  Best friends have a bitter falling out.  Marriages break down.  Grudges are carried.  We become filled with anger and hatred toward a certain person or a group of people.  Those broken relationships do not foster belonging and community.  Sin leads us to selfishness and aloneness .  We sever ties.  We don’t speak to them.  Instead we talk negatively about them as we freely gossip intending to hurt their reputation.  This brokenness of community and belonging leads to theft, slander, and fighting; it shows itself in bullying and mocking, in the telling of lies and hateful speech and actions.  Taken to the extreme, it leads to murder because someone is hated so much and they are not wanted around anymore.

Our sense of belonging and community isn’t just corrupted in our dealing with other people.  Our own self-belonging or self-worth is also affected.  Because of the brokenness we experience with other people, as a result of the hatred, gossip, or bullying we experience, we struggle within our own selves.  Have you ever asked, “Where do I fit in?”  People want to know where they fit in at home, in school, on the job, and with other people.  No one wants to be the outcast.  We don’t want to be alone.  It’s not in our created nature.  It’s not good for us to be alone.  But we all experience that aloneness at times.  You might be with a group of your closest friends, included in all that they do, yet still feel alone inside, unsure, scared of how you really fit in.  We don’t want a sympathy vote; we want to be loved and liked.  But we might doubt that we are loved by family and friends alike and may struggle with being emotionally, spiritually or mentally alone.  Taken to the extreme, this lack of self-belonging may lead a person to take their own life or at the very least bring some harm to themselves.

Aloneness and lack of self-belonging, being at odds with others and living with hatred and anger and their fruits are symptom of the ultimate in brokenness.  The ultimate in the destruction of belonging and community is in the fact that our sin eternally separates us from God.  We are conceived and born outside the community of God’s grace meriting only His wrath and destruction as enemies of God.  Talk about lack of belongingness and community!  Talk about anger and hatred!  Talk about the ultimate in loneliness!  This is it.  Sin separates us from God.  Paul in Ephesians 2:14 calls it “the dividing wall of hostility.”  We, because of our sinful nature, are hostile to God.  He, because of our sins, has to punish us.  Certainly there is no belonging or community in such a relationship.

But God took the initiative to break down that dividing wall of sin.  God loves His fallen creation so much that He determined from eternity to save us.  He decided that He would restore us to Himself and His community of grace and give us the ultimate in belonging.  So we read in our text “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body . . . and all were made to drink of one Spirit. . . Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

God the Father gave His only begotten Son to become man for us to take upon Himself our sins and so win our forgiveness to restore us in perfect harmony with God.  Jesus was forsaken on the cross by the Father as He bled and died.  There on the cross Jesus suffered the wrath of God and the separation from God for our sins so that we would never experience the ultimate in aloneness—being apart from God in hell forever.  Jesus’ death won our forgiveness and by this gracious act of God restored us to peace with our heavenly Father.  So God in Christ makes us His own.  The Bible tells us in Galatians, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.   For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28)

This is exactly what we are told in our Epistle lesson today.  God has made us His own through Holy Baptism.  Through the saving work of Jesus on the cross, we stand forgiven of our sins at peace with God.  The Lord gives us a place in His community of grace where we are not ever alone.  His Spirit is with us always.  Christ dwells in us and nothing can ever separate us from the love of God which is ours in Jesus Christ.

That means we are the body of Christ!  We are in a community with each other and all believers in Jesus Christ.  It’s called the holy, Christian Church.  It is a place of true belongingness and community with God and with the rest of His baptized children.  The Church is not merely an associated of outward ties and rites but it is an association of faith and of the Holy Spirit in people’s hearts. (Ap. AC VII, VIII)  Christ Himself renews, consecrates, and governs His body, the Church, by the Holy Spirit who He has poured out on us in Baptism.  In this Christian Church the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies us in the one true faith, keeping us in unity with Jesus Christ, richly and daily forgiving us our sins.  As members of Christ’s Body, we then live our lives in His community of saints in the congregation and in the world!

We all have a part in God’s Church.  We are all necessary and essential to the Lord.  Just as the eye, the hand, the ear, and the head are all necessary parts of the physical body, so you and I are all necessary and cherished parts of the body of Christ.  We experience this belonging in local congregations like this one.  You have a place here as a member of the body of Christ.  You have a community here that supports you physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Christ’s body (of which this congregation is a small part) needs you!  Christ’s body, the Church, needs your faithfulness to Him in receiving His Word and Sacrament, your love for Jesus expressed in actions.  Christ’s body needs your voices, your hands, your tears, your hugs, your prayers, your service, and your gifts of time, talent, and treasure.  You have a place in Christ’s church because Jesus loves you, called you to Himself in Baptism, and now lives in you as His temple through the Holy Spirit.

When you and I deal with our moments of feeling alone, our membership in the body of Christ comforts us and strengthens our faith with His never-ending promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5)  “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)  “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)  In Christ Jesus, we are never alone.  We can always depend on His love, help, and grace no matter what.

As we live in this world, our membership in the body of Christ also changes how we act and react to others both in and outside the Church.  In the words of 1 John 4, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. . . . We love because He first loved us. . . . By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey His commandments.”  We act on our faith in the power of the Holy Spirit as the fruits of the Spirit are produced in us so that we deal with other people in love, joy, and peace.  We are enabled by the Spirit to be patient with others, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled.  We are quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. (James 1:19)  Controlled by the Holy Spirit as the body of Christ we help others to improve and protect their possessions and income.  We defend and speak well of others, explaining everything in the kindest way.  You and I also help and support others in every physical need as we live out our lives in Christ.

Since we belong to the body of Christ, we are members of Him and God’s community of grace.  We have a sense of belonging that goes far beyond anything in this world that sin has corrupted.  We are rescued from our sin by our Lord Jesus Christ and are given a new life in Him.  That life in Christ, that belonging, that community of Christ’s body supports us in our personal spiritual and emotional lives and in our interactions with those in our family, neighborhood, and congregation.  In Christ, you are the Lord’s and nothing can separate you from Him and His love.  In Christ, we are one body, one family, one community that is making a difference in the world because we bring Jesus to the world.  How blessed it is to belong to Christ and to one another in HIS name.  Amen.