Ministry Intern Stacey Kohl preached at St. Mark’s on Sunday, January 24th. Her practice is to preach without a text, but this time she switched it up and wrote it down. You can read or listen below. Thanks for the wonderful sermon, Stacey!
“Pull Back the Lens”
Sunday, January 24, 2016; Epiphany 3C
Sermon on the text 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
For a visual learner, like myself, who sees and experiences the world, especially the world of Scripture, in vivid images, today’s reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians can be a little bit, well, gross. I remember well growing up and hearing this passage read and being distracted by the pictures in my head. Pictures of a gigantic eye staring unblinking at me on the order of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, or the comical picture of a giant ear fumbling about trying to find its way through the pews of the church or wondering what it looks like to be the spleen of the body of Christ. Sometimes, when you’re a visual learner, metaphors can take a bit of a left turn from what the author intended us to see.
So over the years I’ve developed a habit, admittedly not a very good one, of tuning out a bit as this particular passage is read. Partly to save myself the sometimes humorous and sometimes disturbing bodily imagery that is so easily conjured in my picture-driven brain, but also, to be honest, because I’ve heard it all before.
“Oh, this one again, right….body has many members…we’re not all hands or feet or eyes…don’t forget about the “less glamorous” parts…got it…moving on…” And off I go to a passage or story with less odd visual imagery or one with a seemingly more compelling or more challenging admonition. After all, Paul’s seeming goal in this passage to get us to remember that we’re all different comes across as a bit, well, simplistic, particularly in the context of a culture that often seems to be obsessed, at least on the surface level, with the idea of “uniqueness” and “individuality.”
Yup, we’re all different and have different parts to play—thanks Paul, got it. Oh, and don’t forget to pay attention to the vulnerable and “less respectable” members—good note, thanks again Paul, got it. Moving on!
Except, Paul seems spends quite a bit of time and energy on this particular metaphor. He introduces what seems to be a fairly straight forward idea, “A person has only one body, but it has many parts. Yes, there are many parts, but all those parts are still just one body. Christ is like that too,” but he then goes on to unpack this idea in somewhat graphic detail. Giant eyes and ears walking around…hands and feet telling each other to bugger off…it leaves me wondering, if Paul is willing to spend so much time unpacking this idea, maybe there’s more to it than meets the eye. Maybe it’s not quite as simple a concept to grasp as it initially seems.
What does it really mean to be the body of Christ? What does it really look like to be the eyes, the ears, the hands, or the feet of the body of Christ? What does it mean to be the vulnerable parts of the body, the parts that need more protection and tender care, the heart, the lungs, the skeleton. And perhaps most difficult, what does it mean to be the “less honorable” parts, the ones we clothe in special and intimate ways? Perhaps the key to unraveling this body-bind of a puzzle is to move from the almost microscopic world of individual arms and legs and stomachs and spleens into the bigger picture world of whole bodies…real, whole people living real lives…and see what we find. That is, after all, what I think Paul is trying to do here. Despite what seems a myopic focus on the tiny details of the human body, it seems he’s actually trying to get us to look, instead, at the bigger picture…the WHOLE body of Christ, not just one tiny part of it, and see the ways God is moving in and through all of us together.
This can be a challenging prospect. It’s difficult to stop and zoom out, to take the time to try to see the whole picture, to not miss the forest for the trees. But that is exactly what I’m going to challenge each of us to do in the next few minutes. To take a step back from trying to figure out if I’m an arm or a leg or an eye or an ear, to step back from the minutia and focus instead on macro image.
I invite you to close your eyes, take a deep breath, and call to mind a moment in your life when you felt part of something bigger than yourself. A moment when all the universe seemed to come together, to coalesce into this singular experience, a moment when time itself seemed to stand still. It can be a moment within the context of the church or another ministry, or a moment outside of it, a moment in the “in the world” as it were. It can be a recent experience or a meaningful one from years past. Call to mind this moment—let it form in your memory, see the space around you, indoors or outside, hear the sounds of it, people voices talking or singing, or perhaps even the silence of it, take in the smells of this moment of deep and abiding connection, are they sweet or sour? Pleasant or perhaps less so? Live into this moment…return to it and remember the feeling of being part of something so much bigger, so much greater, than yourself.
Once you have called to mind the moment, have formed it and given it space and shape and breathe—stop and pull back the lens a bit. Who is sitting or standing there with you? What are they doing to be part of this “bigger than any of us” moment? How has their presence shaped this moment?
Now again, pull back a little farther—who are the people who your first examination may have missed? Consider those who helped prepare for this moment in ways you didn’t previously see, giving of their time, their talent, their treasure, so that all could be included? See those who came before you, and are no longer among the living. Those who, through the years, decades, centuries, helped create a moment they would never see.
Again, pull back the lens a bit farther and see those who this moment was prepared for? The vulnerable, the lonely, the outcast; the people intricately tied to it but so often forgotten or dismissed as outside it. See those who are being served, being helped, being loved.
Now consider the ways in which the lives of each of these people, those present and those absent, those serving and those being served, have come together to create a moment larger and greater and more powerful than the sum of its parts.
Now, see God. See the ways in which God is moving in and through each person—calling all together into the full body of Christ. See how each person is integral to this moment—how without them, it would somehow be less, be diminished, unfulfilled.
This is what it means to be the body of Christ, this is what Paul wanted so desperately for us to see. Together we are the body of Christ, together we are part of something bigger than the sum of its parts, together we are the love of God in the world.