Living Our Way Into the Body of Christ

The Corinthians were a naughty church.  Paul had founded the congregation on his first missionary tour through Greece.   He spent 18 months living there with two trusted Jewish Christians Aquila and Pricilla, with whom he worked as a tent maker.  The City of Corinth was prosperous, cosmopolitan and open to most any kind of vice.  Many different Asian mystery religions and bizarre cults with unusual worship and even exotic sexual practices flourished there.  Paul’s converts were a very diverse and raucous crowd, sort of like United Church.

After 18 months of missionary work Paul felt he had the Corinthian congregation pretty well established, so he continued on his way to found other churches.  But almost as soon as he left town, his naughty Corinthians began forming factions within the community around various congregational leaders:  “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Cephas,” just three of several cliques that developed within the life of the church.

Writing from Ephesus, Paul admonished his naughty Corinthians.   He told them to get over themselves, put away pride and seek the unity of the Body.  I Corinthians 12: 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.

13  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

14  For the body does not consist of one member but of many.

15  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.

We should remember that becoming the Body of Christ is not easy.  We are human.  We have egos.  Our jealousies and envies get in the way.  We want what we want, and we are reluctant to defer to the needs of others.

They claim there is no fight like a church fight.  One of my friends in seminary, John Stendahl was a Lutheran back in the days before the merger of the Lutheran Church in America and the American Lutheran Church.  The Lutheran Church in America was primarily Swedish and the American Lutherans were a combination of Germans and Norwegians.  One time John asked an old Norwegian church leader, why they had chosen to unite with the Germans, rather than the Swedes.  The Norwegians are fairly puritanical like the Swedes, while the Germans, drink, smoke and gamble.  The Norwegian church leader explained, “The sins of the Germans, we can forgive, the sins of the Swedes, never.” 

I’m also reminded of the story of a man who was rescued from a deserted island, and his rescuers found three huts there.  So they asked him why he had built three huts.  “Well,” he began, “that’s my house, and that’s my church.”

“So what’s the third hut,” he was asked?

“Oh, that’s the church I used to attend.”

Conflict and churches are endemic.  An article in Leadership Journal reports that almost all churches experience conflict, and that fully 20% of all churches at any one time are experiencing conflict.  And despite the old joke about arguing over the color of the church carpet, 85% of all conflicts are about control issues.  And this may surprise you, the smaller the congregation the more likely they are to experience conflict.

One of the issues Paul addressed in his Letter to the Corinthians was the manner in which they were sharing the Lord’s Supper.  In the early days of the church rather than a bread cube and a sip of wine or grape juice, the followers of Jesus remembered their Lord by sharing a potluck supper, where they broke bread and passed the cup, generous portions of food.  The wealthier members of the church in Corinth would assemble at the supper hour bringing their picnic baskets and covered dishes, and they would begin the ritual meal sharing what they had brought.   The less affluent members of the church, the slaves and servants, who had to serve dinner to their masters and then clean up, would come to the Lord’s Table after most of the food was eaten, and they could only share in the crumbs and scraps of the potluck.  A ceremonial piece of bread and a sip of wine would be saved for them, but they were missing out of the larger feast enjoyed by the more affluent members of the community, who could come early.

As followers of Jesus we are called upon to live our way into becoming the Body of Christ.  Following Jesus means embracing our diversity as a source of strength.  Building up the Body of Christ by honoring and sharing gifts.   Romans 12:4  For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function,

5  so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

6  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;

7  if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching;

8  he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Finally, following Jesus means honestly acknowledging conflict and working through our differences.  “Ephesians 4:  25  Therefore, putting away falsehood, let everyone speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

26  Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. 31  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, 32  and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

If it is true that 85% of church conflicts are over issues of power and control, then we all need to hear our scripture and take it to heart:  I Corinthians 13: 4  Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful;

5  it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;

6  it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.

7  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Becoming the Body of Christ is a tall order, and sometimes we’re tempted to cry out, “Jesus you ask too much of us.”  And Jesus says, “sacrifice your self-centered egotistical selves, and I will give you hearts centered in God, centered in love.  And that is why Jesus welcomes us to his banquet table.  Come, take, eat, drink, remember, become my Body through self-sacrificing love.  Follow me by loving others.  At this table we are welcomed and reminded of our call to become the children of God we are meant to be.  No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.

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