Sermon for 3 Epiphany Year C, 25/01/2004
Based on 1 Cor 12:12-31a
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,
pastor of Grace Lutheran Church,
& chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“Members Of Christ’s Body”
As a senior citizen was driving down the freeway, his car phone rang. Answering, he heard his wife’s voice urgently warning him, “Herman, I just heard on the news that there’s a car going the wrong way down the highway. Please be careful!” “It’s not just one car,” said Herman. “It’s hundreds of them!”
In today’s second lesson, the apostle Paul speaks of the importance of unity in the Christian Church. Just as one or several cars can create major problems on a highway if they are not going in the same direction; so, too, in the Church, the body of Christ, major problems can occur if one or more members are not living in unity with the other members.
One of the tragedies of our contemporary age is the loss of a sense of community. North Americans have been known for their rugged individualism. That’s why there are over one hundred so-called Christian denominations in North America. Consequently, North Americans have viewed their identity in personal or individualistic terms. However, there is more to our identity than just ourselves. Paul tells us in our second lesson today that we are members of the body of Christ. He describes the Church as similar to the human body. There are many different parts or members of the body. Each part or member has a special function and purpose. Each part or member is connected to the whole body.
If we are members of Christ’s body, then we cannot live as islands by ourselves. A human body is healthy and efficient when each part if functioning properly. The body of Christ is the same way. We are not contributing to the unity and the functioning of Christ’s body if we are jealous of each other, or covet each other’s functions. Or if we think we are so much better than other members. Of if we care only about ourselves and forget about the other members. As members of the body of Christ we need to respect and love each other. We need each other to function properly. It is hence crucial for us to see beyond ourselves to other members in our congregation, in our national Church, and in the whole Christian Church around the world. It is important that we share in the joys as well as the sufferings of the members of Christ’s body. The person who fails to see beyond himself or herself has failed to grasp the true unity of the Church.
How then do we function properly as the one true body of Christ? The following story is very instructive for us.
Long ago in Japan there was a small village. To the east of the village was the great ocean; to the west a high mountain. Some of the men made their living by fishing while all the other villagers—men, women, and children—worked in the rice fields that lay on top of the mountain. Each morning the villagers climbed the mountain path to work. Each evening they trudged home to sleep in their huts. Only grandfather, and his grandson, Ti, lived on the mountain, where it was grandfather’s job to keep the fires lit at night to ward off the wild animals.
Early one morning, during the season when the rice fields had turned gold and dry, ready for the harvest, grandfather stirred the fire for the last time. Down below, the villagers began to move about doing their morning chores before they started their trek to the top of the mountain. When the fire roared again, grandfather went to the edge of the mountain to watch the sun rise. The morning, however, he could not see the rising sun. What he saw brought fear to his soul.
Quickly he ran to the hut where Ti was still sleeping. “Ti, get up.”
“Oh, grandfather, let me sleep.”
“Do as I say,” the old man shouted. “Get a burning stick from the fire.”
This time Ti obeyed, for he had never heard grandfather sound so urgent. Without understanding, Ti got up, took a burning stick from the fire, and then went out to join grandfather who was thrusting his burning stick into the dry rice. Grandfather spit out a command, “Burn the rice fields.”
“But grandfather, this is our village’s food. Without it we will go hungry!”
“Do as I do,” grandfather shouted over his shoulder.
With tears streaming down his face, Ti took the burning stick and began to set the precious rice fields on fire. Soon smoke from the rice fields billowed up, filling the sky.
Down below the villagers saw the smoke and the priests began to ring the bells to alert the people who were not outside. Soon every man, woman, and child ran up the steep mountain path as quickly as they could. When they finally reached the top all they could see were the flames consuming their precious rice. Everything was destroyed.
“Who set the fire?” the people cried.
Grandfather stepped forward and said, “I did it.”
“You, grandfather? But why?”
“Look,” grandfather said, pointing out to the sea. What they witnessed was a gigantic tidal wave rushing ominously toward shore. When it reached the village it crushed the houses like a giant hand smashing paper cups. Soon a second wave and a third followed, covering the village under tons of water. The villagers looked at their ruined homes and their burnt fields in despair.
“We have nothing left,” one voice cried.
“On the contrary,” an old woman countered. “We have our lives. Everyone has survived.”
“This afternoon we will start over,” the village elder said. “But first, we must thank grandfather for his act of courage and wisdom. His action saved our people.”
All of the people agreed. For the rest of his life the village honoured grandfather for his courage and wisdom. 1
Like the village elder, we are called on to befriend other members of Christ’s body and recognise their special functioning—which is vital and life-giving to the entire community. The other members of Christ’s body are just as important to the whole body as we are—as were, in the story, the villagers. Once we realize this, then we will discover how much we need each member for the whole body to function properly.
Like grandfather and Ti, we need to care for the other members of Christ’s body. When members of Christ’s body are threatened with earthquakes or tidal waves and storms—be they physical or any other kind—we are compelled show our concern for them and, if possible, protect and do what we can to help. We are called to see beyond our own safety and comfort to reach out in sacrificial ways and offer compassionate care for the members of Christ’s body who are in danger.
Jesus is no longer in this world, therefore if he wants a task done within the world, he chooses people to do it. If he wants a child taught, he finds a teacher to teach the child. If he wants a sick person cured, he finds a physician to do his work. If he wants his story told, he finds a person to tell it. Literally, we are the body of Christ, hands to do his work, feet to run his errands, voice to speak for him.
He has no hands but our hands
To do his work today;
He has no feet but our feet
To lead all in his way;
He has no voice but our voice
To tell all how he died;
He has no help but our help
To lead them to his side. 2
May the Holy Spirit breathe upon us the grace of unity in Christ, so that in our multi-coloured diversity of gifts, we shall be able to willingly serve our God and accomplish all of his purposes. Amen.
1 Cited from: Wm. R. White, Stories For The Journey (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988), pp. 88-90.
2Cited from: Wm. Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians (Burlington, ON: G.R. Welch Co. Ltd., 1975), pp. 113-114.