Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sermon for 24 January 2010, Epiphany 3C

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

One Body

The Third Sunday after Epiphany (Life Sunday)

24 January 2010

Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

God gives spiritual gifts to His Christians for the common good of the Church. That is the basic teaching 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 gave us last week: 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. No man is an island. No Christian is, either. We are given to care for one another in the body of Christ. All the spiritual gifts mentioned earlier in chapter 12 and elsewhere in the Bible are not intended to let anyone “blow their own horn.” The Holy Spirit always points to Christ and gives His gifts so that the He can build up the whole Body of Christ.

12For 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. 13For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

All true Christians have the gift of the Holy Spirit. All are equal when it comes to salvation, equally sinners in need of forgiveness. The many are one body. Holy Baptism means inclusion in the body of Christ. Not all are given to serve the same way. That important truth is emphasized later. Here, we are taught about the Holy Spirit’s work. It is as we learn from the Catechism: I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers…

Let no one ever get away with telling you that the Holy Spirit is absent from the Lutheran Church! Remember God’s promises! The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies [makes holy] the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

14For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If 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. 16And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

You are part of the body through Holy Baptism. So are people of all ages, peoples, tribes, nations, languages, and colors, both male and female. Each one of us has strengths and weaknesses. Together, we complement one another. We need hearts to care, ears to hear, and minds to learn the Holy Scriptures. The Lord needs caring hearts andmoving feet to go to those who are lonely, hands serving those in need, knees praying for the pastor, the people, and lips to tell the Good News About Jesus to people in our communities, workplaces, schools, and homes. Where would this congregation be without those who provide funeral meals and coffee & cookies? Where would Immanuel be if hearts and hands and minds had not worked upon this building and Immanuel’s first home on Park Street? Where would you be if someone had not brought or invited you to church for the first time? Where are we going / together / in Christ as one Body, extending our hands to receive the Lord’s gifts, raising our hearts and heads and voices to God in thanksgiving and praise, and carrying the message of unity in Christ, forgiveness of sins in His name, and eternal life?

I know. It’s easier not to say anything about Jesus to others. It’s easier to stay home on Sunday. Or, it’s easier to shake pastor’s hand and head right out the door. It’s easier to sit on our hands in a nice warm sanctuary while millions are dying around the world—and even here—without faith in Christ.

We have God’s very Word. That means something. It changed your life! That means hope for today and tomorrow. It means new life now and in heaven. It means restored relationships with God and man. It means peace and joy inside. And it means a community is created by the Lord around His gifts of Word and Sacrament.

It would be easier—especially for me and the elders—just to write off members we haven’t seen in a while. But we won’t. We won’t! We will take the Word of the Lord to them, and then, after patient pastoral care, see what happens. Yes, there are consequences for rejecting the Lord’s Word and His servant. God’s Word teaches that. Others may give up on us, the Word, and the Lord, but we are given to care about them.

Listen to St. Paul: 21The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

This Life Sunday, we care for all human life, from the unborn to the aged. We must speak out against abortion, suicide, euthanasia, and genocide. We are to speak about the precious life given by our creator, and also the new life given by Christ, our Savior.

The Body of Christ hurts when a part of it hurts. We suffer as a congregation when you are not here. As individual human beings we are each baptized into the community Christ creates. We have been blessed individually so that we may be a blessing to others.

The future of the Church and this congregation lies in the Lord’s Gifts given and received. God creates a community by His Word and Spirit that gathers around Word and Sacrament. People are born, brought, and raised in the faith. Others come as a guest in response to a personal invitation. Still others come because of family connections. The Church continues because the Lord is faithful to His promises. He gathers to Himself a people. The Lord isn’t measuring any kind of numbers. We are not called to be successful. We are to be faithful, faithfully receiving His gifts ourselves, and faithfully bringing others to Jesus.

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. Body. Members. Community. Individuality. Opposites? Not necessarily. Lutherans, whether Swedish, Norwegian, German, or otherwise, have had reputations for great community and interdependence. Americans, and especially Wyoming and Nebraska residents, are known for independence and self-reliance. There can be problems when an individual sees him or herself as a Christian, but is always apart from the community gathered by the Lord at that time and place. A Christian should hunger and thirst for the love of God in His Word and Sacraments.

“But Pastor, I don’t see the point of gathering with those hypocrites! Can’t I read my Bible at home?” Pastors lose track of how many times they hear such things. It’s frustrating to have a wonderful visit with a member family you haven’t seen for a while on Sunday and then, still, nothing happens—they still don’t show up.

Even if a hypocrite is coming between someone and church, who is closer to God? One who cuts him or herself off from the Lord and His gifts, or the one who is there in church where the Word used by the Spirit can bring about repentance, create and renew faith, and bring about positive change, even in a hypocrite?

Yes, there are hypocrites in the visible Church. God, however, is not mocked. He is not fooled. Hypocrites do not belong to the one, holy, Christian Church that remains hidden to our eyes, but is known to the Lord. Your primary reason in coming is not to see people—not even the pastor. The Gospel calls you to receive the Lord’s gifts. The chief service of the Christian Church on Sunday has been called the “Divine Service” since ancient times. The Lord, the Divine One, serves you with His gifts. Then, and only then, do we offer our meager sacrifice of thanks and praise.

Yes, you could stay away and read your Bible at home. Even among those who use that great and common excuse it usually doesn’t happen. Every Sunday and every special service here, the Word of the Lord is read and preached. The Word is taught in Sunday School and Bible Classes. In pastoral care, the Word is applied to your life and very specific situation. These things you would miss out upon, sitting home on a Sunday, or by forgetting to call the pastor in an emergency.

And yes, the Gifts of the Lord are even given out on the day they play the Super Bowl! It is embarrassing that some of the Christian players in the NFL weekly attend Church services but millions of their fans do not.

The Visible Word is also something that a “couch potato Christian” misses. Even such great radio shows as “The Lutheran Hour” and “Issues, Etc.” are unable to provide Holy Communion to their listeners. Every Lord’s Day, the Lord Himself gathers to Himself a people so that He may deliver His gifts. Yes, there are often special circumstances due to illness, military service, or geographical distance, but the Lord does deliver His gifts through pastors and chaplains making visits to shut-ins, the hospitalized, and our beloved military personnel.

Christians who separate themselves from the rest of the congregation miss out on the Christian love, support, advice, and encouragement of their fellow Christians. You know how much that means to you, especially in crisis situations, or when you’ve been away from it for a time. Search the Scriptures! Find me just one example of a solitary Christian. Even Elijah, whining in the wilderness, did not remain by Himself for long. The Lord sent Him back to the faithful remnant of 7,000 that had been- preserved. Christians who cut themselves off from the people and the gifts of the Lord wither as pruned olive branches.

Individual. The body. They go together. Listen to a portion of 1 Corinthians 12:

27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

No, not all people have these amazing spiritual gifts. No, not all serve in these offices of service. Who would listen if all were preachers? We need faithful, Biblically knowledgeable laypeople, too! In Christ, you have every spiritual gift needed to sustain and build up the body of Christ in this place.

Individually, you are all baptized into Christ. You were given your Christian name at your baptism along with that of the Triune God: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Each one of you were taken into Christ. Individually, you are members of the body of Christ.

It’s time for a dumb question. How many bodies of Christ are there? One. The body of Christ. “The” demands to hear “One.” There is not a body of Christ for the Germans, another for the Scandinavians, another for African-Americans, and another for Spanish-speakers. No. There is one body.

There is not a body of Christ for the elderly, another for the baby boomers, another for those who came of age around September 11th, and another for our youngest people. No. There is one body. Lutherans don’t do “children’s church.” Even little Christians can pray the “Our Father” and sing some hymns and parts of the liturgy with the rest of us. Lutherans serious about 1 Corinthians 12 do not give into the pressure of the culture and leave behind what previous generations in the body have handed down to us. Liturgy and hymnody are something to grow into—not grow out of.

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

One body. Many members. Many gifts and vocations. I am personally thankful for you. It is amazing to see the dedication of long-time members of Immanuel and sister LCMS congregations. It is humbling to consider the time spent in service by you and by the congregation’s leaders and volunteers. We rejoice in our newest members by baptism, adult and youth instruction, profession of faith and transfer. We wholeheartedly welcome our visitors.

One body. Many members. Many gifts and vocations. Today’s epistle reading is a wonderful time to talk about membership at Immanuel Lutheran Church. If you or someone you know would like to learn more about the Lutheran confession of the Christian faith, talk to me, or call, email, or drop by this week. (Anytime, really.) We’ll read the entire Gospel of Matthew together and talk about the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Forgiveness, and Communion. And don’t worry. You don’t have to read aloud if you don’t want to! 

If you are a member of a sister congregation in our church body, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, please give us an opportunity to become better acquainted with you and your family. We would appreciate having contact information—phone, address, email, etc.—so we can better serve you here. We would love to have you transfer in when you’re ready and want to provide you the best pastoral care we can for you here even if you are here temporarily.

To our visitors from other Lutheran church bodies who are considering joining Immanuel congregation, please introduce yourself. Let’s make the time to get together and discuss what the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions say about our teaching, practice, and life together. Let us work toward unity in the Word of Christ.

Finally, let me say it all again this way in brief to any visitors, guests, or those who hear this invitation later on through our members. As Christians, the Lord gathers us around His Gifts of Word, Baptism, Forgiveness, and Communion. We would love to find unity with you in God’s Word. I have scheduled some extra time here after Church this morning to set up appointments to meet with individuals and families and schedule new adult and youth instruction classes. We are blessed with so many new opportunities in this new year!

One body. Many members. Many gifts and vocations. No, not all are apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, healers, speakers or interpreters in other languages. Sometimes we really do need to listen to and answer those rhetorical questions. In the rest of verse 31, Paul says, “But eagerly desire the greater gifts.” Now which ones would those be? A professor at the seminary once taught me something very important to do when confronted with such a question. Take a hand, grab your chin, and pull your head down so that you look for the answer in the Bible verses coming up next Sunday. Paul is talking about love. That, too, is a spiritual gift.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Love is the greatest because Jesus loved us first. We have faith and hope in Christ and love because He first loved us, both individually, and together as part of His Body.

Now / you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. Amen.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.