25 Feb Fresh Church
Acts 2:42-47 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-31
February 23, 2020
M. Michelle Fincher
Calvary Presbyterian Church
If you have children or grandchildren of a certain age, especially if they are boys, I likely don’t have to explain to you the fascination children have with bodily functions. Perhaps one of your progeny took delight in burping the alphabet song or in outfitting your favorite chair—when you weren’t looking—with a whoopee cushion. Then, of course, there is the old “pull my finger” gag. Should you grant the prankster’s request, he will break wind at the exact moment you tug his finger, as if your pull were the mechanical action that released his flatulent punch line. Any of this sounding familiar? Please tell me my son is not the only one!
Boys will be boys and kids will be kids, which means they are tirelessly curious about their bodies. Rather than fight a losing battle, author Sylvia Branzei capitalized on kids’ fascination with the grosser parts of their anatomy by writing the wildly popular kids’ book, Grossology: The Impolite Science of the Human Body. After its publication in 1992, it was eventually expanded into a traveling exhibit going to children’s museums around the country. Grossology combines humor, colorful visual displays and hands-on learning to give children legitimate scientific education about anatomy.
You can, for example, turn the handle of the “Vomit Center” machine and watch the process of stomach acid regurgitating up the digestive system. Interested in wee-wee trivia? Kids and parents can play “Urine: The Game,” which helps explain how the body rids itself of toxins. Climb into the nostril of the giant nose exhibit to study cilia and boogers up close while learning how the body defends itself against pathogenic invaders. Or try your hand at “Gas Attack” where bacteria pinballs ping around an intestinal game table scoring points as they rebound off of digestible food items. Stomach gurgles and burps earn big bonus points!
In our scripture lesson this morning, we discover that the apostle Paul is also fixated by bodily functions, but in his case, it is the church as the body of Christ that Paul is concerned with. In scripture, we read about two different aspects of the church. One is what we often call the Universal church. That is what Jesus is talking about in Matthew’s gospel when he says to Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (16:18). The Universal Church, or “Big C” church, is made up of all people of all times and places who have put their faith in Jesus Christ. It has nothing to do with denomination or creed. As a follower of Jesus, you are part of the Universal Church. Which also makes you part of Christ’s body.
The Universal Church is comprised of what we call “local churches,” of which we, Calvary, are one. We are a specific, localized gathering within the “Big C” church. Just as no two physical bodies are exactly the same, no two local churches are exactly the same, either. But, just as all physical bodies are meant to function effectively, so, too, all churches are meant to function effectively. Which begs the question, how are we, Calvary, doing in the bodily function department? Is our church a fresh, living example of Christ’s body? To help us explore that, we’re going to look at three “D” words: design, diversity and display.
First, the design of the body. How is the Christian church, the body of Christ, designed? It is important to note, first and foremost, that we have a divine architect. We did not come up with our own blueprint for what a church is or how it should function. We are designed by God. And God created us as a system of interdependence. We cannot escape the reality that, as the church, as members of one body, we belong to one another which means that we cannot function in a healthy way without each other.
On the surface, it may appear that a church is a loose collection of people united in part by geography, perhaps part theology, for some, denominational loyalty. We all show up at roughly the same time on Sundays for worship. We may or may not officially “join.” We may choose to participate in one of the many groups in the church—the choir, Sermon Talk Back, one of the women’s circles, the property team, or the “not so small Small Group.” It can be tempting to think that our involvement stops with these choices. We come and participate in as much, or as little, as we like, and when one church no longer meets our needs, or we disagree with a decision the Session makes or something the pastor says, we simply stop attending. We detach from one body and join another one, if we find a good fit. In our age of spiritual consumerism, this scenario is all too familiar.
I want to invite you to think deeply about the implications of the body metaphor that Paul is using and what it is telling us. Can you imagine treating one of your physical body parts as if it were optional? Would you go on vacation, for example, and think about leaving an arm or your nose or your kidney at home until you return? God designed us in such a way that that is not an option for the physical body, and it’s not supposed to be optional for the Body of Christ, either. To be part of Christ’s body is not a responsibility to be taken lightly. It is different from a book club or a gym membership. We don’t sign up so we can get “frequent worshiper blessings.” We don’t join just to have our needs met. The church is designed to be a place of interdependent relationships and that means that while you are receiving from the Body, you are also giving to the Body. The rest of the body is counting on you to help nurture and encourage and care for others, to help them grow, to ensure that their needs are also met. Perhaps one of the reasons too many of our churches are so anemic is that we’ve lost the courage to speak the truth about what God is asking of us and giving to us. But, if we will take seriously that God designed us to function as a body, we will experience church in fresh and meaningful ways.
The second “D” is diversity of the body. “But as it is,” Paul says in v. 18, “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as [the Lord] chose.” Like the design of the church, our diversity is not something we initiate, but something God does in us for our good and the good of all.
So, the Holy Spirit gives a variety of spiritual gifts to the Church Universal and to each local Body of Christ. Paul speaks about these gifts in several places in the New Testament, and while the lists of gifts differ, the purpose of them does not: each person is to exercise the gift they have been given, in order for the entire Body to function as we’ve been designed to do, to accomplish the specific call and task given to our church.
Here at Calvary we are made up of artists and accountants, teachers and bakers, mechanics and nurses. We have people who are passionate about hospitality and making people feel welcomed and comfortable. We are blessed with people who have the gift of mercy and others who will talk to anybody and invite them to church. God has given us people with great administrative skills and other people who lose sleep at night thinking about ways to make our worship meaningful. We are made up of men and women who love to roll up their sleeves and jump into the nitty-gritty of things and others who wear out the mat in their prayer closets. We don’t need to create diversity; we already have it because God put it here. Our task is to discover and release this amazing variety of spiritual giftedness so that we can minister to people both inside and outside these walls. This is how God designed the Body to function and why God placed so much diversity within our church.
The third “D” is the display of the body. In vs. 22-23, Paul says, “The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable…and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect.” Paul is pointing out to us that there is no order of importance in our church. We are all equally needed and equally valued. Each one of us has a unique place within this body and for the church to be everything it can and should be, each of us needs to find the purpose God has for us here. Make no mistake—God has a purpose for you being here.
Perhaps there is no better display of the Body of Christ functioning in fresh and beautiful ways than what we witness in Acts 2. What we see there is a picture of true community, of a group of people who love God and love each other and that love spills over into the world around them with startling results. What strikes me most about this snapshot of the church is the joy that is so evident. We live in a world, in a time, in a culture in which people are often driven. They are working harder and longer than ever, often neglecting their physical health, time with family and friends, and engagement with the larger community. We are suffering an epidemic of isolation and loneliness with all the predictable side effects—depression, addictions, loss of meaningful relationships. And for all our work and wealth and accumulation, where is the joy? When was the last time you experienced that deep, uncontainable joy that bubbles up and out until you think your heart might absolutely burst with delight?
I know that the word “responsibility” can be a turnoff for a lot of people. We don’t want any more responsibility. We’ve got enough already. But I want you to understand that the word “responsibility” is not a dirty word. In relation to the church, it is the way to greater fulfillment and joy in being part of the Body of Christ. We are a family. We are a community. When one of us cries, we don’t cry alone, because we are supported by an entire body that loves us and is going to pray for us and help us carry whatever burden we are bearing. When one of us has something to celebrate, we’ve got people to share it with who are going to be lifted up by our good news as if it is their own, which multiples the joy.
In the description of the early church, the Greek word for “share” is used in some form four times and sharing is implied throughout the text. The believers share meals. They share money. They share praise. They share worship. They share themselves. They share everything. And joy is the overwhelming result.
There will be times when our responsibility within the Body is to allow the other members of the Body to minister to us; it will be our turn to be receivers of the care, the love, the prayers of the church. And at other times, we’ll have something to give. The most important thing any of us can bring to the Body of Christ is ourselves, yielded to the Spirit of God.
Our human bodies have functions that are gross. Impolite to talk about. Stuff that’s better left unsaid. But the Christ Body, when functioning well in design, diversity and display, is something beautiful to behold. If our bodies are anything other than a whole defined by each part as involved and celebrated, then perhaps we are just a lot of hot air. Paul reminds us that the church will never be all we want it to be until each of us is everything the church needs us to be.
Thanks be to God! Amen.