Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 27, 2019
1 Corinthians 12:21-31a
All the Members Are Necessary
We have seen a number of new words coined in recent decades because of technology. But the social milieu of recent years has brought a few new words of its own. One of those words that has found common use is intersectionality. It refers to the number of disadvantaged groups of society that are prejudiced against by the majorities and how they might intersect in a single individual. These groups include race, age, sexual orientation, nationality, income, etc. Each one by itself can be a target of racisim, but when more than one category intersects in an individual, then the prejudice is compounded. The word can also be used to describe privileged groups, such as, the wealthy, educated, white, male. I won’t argue for or against its use. The use of words, even new words, is a necessary thing in order for us to constantly look at things in new ways and to try to solve problems that are perpetual. But when it comes down to it, there is a simple answer, and that is sin. IF we go to the core of any form of prejudice, it is simply a result of sin.
As an example, I believe that intersectionality falls apart when we talk about the portion of society most marginalized and oppressed. It is not for the intersection of multiple disadvantaged groups, that the millions of children hidden in the womb have been aborted. It is hard to fathom the number 60 million since 1973, but it is more than 44 times the current population of Maine. It cannot be explained away by intersectionality, nor any other social science term. There is a biblical explanation – sin.
Hating or despising others is nothing new. Being prejudiced against some and offering advantage to others on account of status, race, sex, etc. is one of the things St. Paul was addressing in his letter to the Corinthian church. Paul railed against a portion of the church in chapters 10 and 11 over there utter disregard for the less advantaged among them and how they did not wait for them to worship. With such prejudices, thoughts devolve quickly, dividing the church into those that are special and more holy and, perhaps, those that are simply tolerated.
This is another thing that was addressed during the Protestant Reformation. The prejudices of the clergy had elevated their own status in society to the point that they were seen as more holy simply because of their vocation. They lived on an elevated holiness plane, that gave them advantage with God. Today’s reading from 1 Corinthians is one portion of Scripture that refutes any kind of caste structure within the Church. It is true that there is only one divinely appointed office in the Church, that is, that there is one position in a church that must be filled, and that is pastor. But that does not mean that it is the only office allowed, nor that the person holding it is more holy or advantaged in heaven because of it.
The Christian Church is a unique organization in that it does not exclude anybody over race, nationality, gender, occupation, age, wealth, status, etc., but only over faith in Jesus Christ and a life lived along that Christian path. Any segregation or prejudice exercised in the Church apart from Christian doctrine, is a result of man’s sin. It is by a single act of baptism, whether splashed, dunked, or sprinkled, that each of us is brought into the holy family and made equal heirs on account of the one Savior, Jesus Christ. Each of us is given the one Spirit that teaches us and enlightens us unto faith in the one Lord Jesus. We are each grafted in and made part of this one body. Nobody pays his way in. Not a single person earns her way in. All are brought in by the same Spirit that works faith in the one Christ.
Our status is that same. Everyone of us is a sinner washed in the blood of the Lamb and granted a portion in this body by grace through faith. But that does not mean that all of us serve the same function in this body. And none of us has any basis for excluding another whom the Lord has accepted. This means that every prejudice and advantage, whether standing alone or intersectional, that remains after Holy Baptism is not of God, but a result of sin. There is no place for such prejudices within the body of Christ.
We don’t often think of prejudices as being self-excluding, but this is the first kind that Paul addresses in our reading. We cannot think of ourselves as being an unnecessary part of the body. Paul uses the examples of feet and hands, and of eyes and ears. But even if I am a toenail, I am still part of the body and needed by the whole. We cannot say to ourselves that our part in the body is expendable or that what we contribute to the whole is inconsequential and not necessary.
Our insecurities have been washed away in the font. Our value in the body is not dependent upon our status in the world but upon the One with whom we have been united. To exclude ourselves from the body and the life lived together is to deny the glory that is given to each of us even if we find that we serve as a toenail. To paraphrase the Psalmist when he says, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Ps 84:10), I would rather be a toenail in the body of Christ that the brain of wickedness.
As Paul continues, he addresses those that look down with contempt upon other parts of the body. Just as the toenail cannot say to himself that since he is not an eye, he is dispensable, neither can the eye say to the toenail that he has no need of it. Paul goes so far as to say that those portions of the body that seem weakest and less honorable and all the more needed and honorable.
To allow, or worse, to foster such thoughts of prejudice within the body is like a virus. It does not affect only one part, but the whole. It is such unloving and uncharitable thoughts for others in the body that destroys congregations. Every one of you is a necessary part of the body, not simply for what you can do for the rest of us but because you have been bought with a price. You have been made a part of the body at the incalculable cost of Christ’s suffering and death. Neither can one member look at another and declare that it is not needed. That member being looked down upon and despised is just as precious for the sake of Him who redeemed her as every other part of the body.
This is not a utilitarian discussion. Paul is not laying out a plan to get everybody in the congregation working, as if, simply by being busy, we will be better. But, because each is a member of the body, each has a function and something to contribute to the whole. In his closing statement though, he does say to strive towards greater service by desiring what he calls higher gifts. We should be seeking after and fostering in others, a greater understanding of Scripture, a life more devoted to the means of grace, and a more exquisite exercise of the Faith in this world.
We cannot claim disadvantage in this body nor may we show prejudice against another. But there is One that has become the focal point of intersectionality; One who has taken the place of every disadvantaged group and has born the guilt of every privileged class as He bore the wrath of God against these and every other sin in His own flesh. It is He that makes you holy. He that grants every one of you honor and nurtures you in Word and Sacrament that you might fulfill your equal calling of place in His body.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.