Today we are celebrating connections – the ways in which we, as the Body of Christ in this part, connect with each other, care for each other, do life together as God’s people.
In his piece for the Burwood Uniting Church newsletter this week, Steve Bevis wrote
“…if we take the incarnation seriously, and Jesus’ life lived mostly in Nazareth, where we see God in Christ willing to spend ordinary time with people like us, then we should be less focussed on doing and, in particular, doing things for others, and instead begin our life of worship and mission from the place of simply ‘being with’ others.”
He was writing about ‘being with’ those that we serve – being willing to share our lives with those outside of the community of faith, as Jesus was willing to share his life with outsiders – but I think the same applies to our thinking about connecting within the body. That we do best when we focus not on what we can do for one another, but on being with one another.
And, perhaps, on doing with. When I was thinking about all the different ways in which we connect with each other as a community, I was struck by how many of them were, so to speak, ‘functional teams’ – the property team is my go-to example; a group that spends a lot of time ‘doing with’ each other. Or I sat in on the Spark leadership team on Friday night; a group of our young adults ‘doing with’.
Perhaps that’s part of the reason I like the body analogy in this passage from Romans more than the better known one in 1 Corinthians – because it gives some weight to that sense of our calling together, to doing, together.
And the other thing I love about this passage is the way it phrases our inter-belonging:
we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another
Individually we are members one of another. I love the way that holds the two ideas together – that we are all individuals; but we are also at the same time, all members of each other.
Perhaps you noticed that that’s not the wording we use most often – which we take from the Corinthians passage – “you are the Body of Christ and individually members of it”.
Here instead of “you are the body of Christ” he writes “we are one body in Christ”.
“In Christ” is a phrase that crops up a lot of times in Paul’s writings. Just in this one letter he writes that our redemption is in Christ, we have eternal life in Christ, there is no condemnation in Christ, we cannot be separated from the love of God that is in Christ; elsewhere in his letters we are a new creation in Christ, God supplies all our needs in Christ, we have every spiritual blessing in Christ, we will be presented to God perfect in Christ.
And the thing about all of these uses of the phrase is that in every case, it is describing something that God has done (or is doing, or will do) for us, and not something that we do by or for ourselves.
We are one body in Christ.
God has made us one.
Of course, it doesn’t always look like it. Within a congregation, and so much more within the wider Church, we don’t always look like we are one.
And we can read in this a call to be united: but I think that’s to get it the wrong way around. We aren’t called to be one body. We are one body. God did that. Elsewhere in the epistles Paul will appeal to the people to be united – but he does so saying “make every effort to maintain the unity” – maintain, not create.
The image of the body suggests less “you need to find ways to unite, find ways to all agree” and more “you need to stop punching yourself in the face”.
Having stressed our unity, Paul then goes straight on to celebrate our diversity – describing it not as a problem but as a gift from God:
We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
When J was little we had a sort of language ritual; whenever he noticed diversity and asked those amazingly simple but profound questions: “why are some people tall and other people short?” “why are some people brown and others pink?”, I would always ask back “what if everyone was the same?” and he would reply “that would be boring!”.
What if we all had the same gifts in the Church? What if we all believed the same and did the same and served in the same way?
That would be boring.
It would also be incredibly inefficient.
Now we know that our differences – of gifts, of emphasis in faith, of style, of priorities – can divide us and cause us to hurt one another.
But according to Paul, they are also the result of God’s gifting to diverse individuals who are one body in Christ.
In our unity we are gifted with diversity.
And how is it that we can be so different and yet so one – that brings us to Paul’s declaration:
…individually we are members one of another…
What a great phrase that is. It’s one of those things preachers and orators spend hours searching for, a single phrase that can carry so much meaning.
Individually we are members one of another.
Individually. Not collectively, not the uniformity of totalitarianism (of any flavour), but individually.
As ourselves, our unique, characterful, wonderful, and awful selves. Not as clones of some great leader or of our parents; but individually, bringing in those things that make us, us, those quirks of character that inspire and frustrate.
Individually; as the unique people God made us, we are members one of another.
Individuals, but not individualistic.
Unique, but not alone.
Myself, but not for myself.
We are members one of another.
We are not complete without those who are different from us.
Our connections – that we celebrate today – in all their different forms, are at their most powerful when they bring those of us who are different together in the mutuality of the body of Christ.
When we recognise each other as a gift from God.
Because individually, we are members of each other.