Sermon Preached by Rev. Brian Merritt at Renaissance Presbyterian Church 1/24/16 on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
I could stand the pain no longer. I was on my way from a meeting. Getting in and out of the car was almost impossible. My knee was swollen to what looked like the size of a basketball and was emitting heat. This was a deep concern because it was Good Friday and I had a long weekend ahead of me at my church in DC. Easter dresses and egg hunts were to come, but I could barely stand and walking was almost an impossibility. I pulled into the emergency lot at Arlington hospital, painfully limping into the waiting area.
It was a long night. There were x-rays that were extremely painful, morphine and long needles to extract fluid. It was a night where my body betrayed me. As I limped out the next day I had a diagnosis of arthritis and was told that my knee would probably need to be replaced at some point.
This was not the last time my knees flared up, just the worst. There have been many times that I have been hobbled and almost incapacitated by swollen knees and ankles. In the midst of the intense pain I always revert to the same type of thinking.
With my knee elevated, a heating pad warming the area and a bottle of ibuprofen nearby I will tell the same thoughts to anyone who might listen. I take for granted something so simple as walking. I don’t know how important something like mobility is for me until it is limited. I am always shocked that such a small part of my body can wreak such a painful havoc on my body. How can such a small part of my body start something that when changed effects so much of my body?
It is a small thing, a joint that is malfunctioning, but it is essential to the movement of my knee. When my knee is too painful to walk it can shut down the mobility of the entire body.
Paul understood the politics of the church far better than any theologian of his day. Paul understood that the church was like any other type of social institution and would begin to contort itself to the way society attempts to organize.
Paul also knew that communities founded on the Spirit of Christ would look like utter foolishness to those same institutions if the church actually lived out it’s calling. This is why when followers of Christ live into their potential they are seen as both naïve dreamers and a constant threat to the state.
To the church at Corinth Paul lays out a truly revolutionary view of community. It is a view that not only eschews hierarchy and power, but sheds those elements that might gain one respect and authority in a religious community.
It might be easy to get caught in the supernatural controversies that about who is greatest: apostles, prophets, teachers, deeds of power, healing, assistance, leadership or tongues? Yet, this loses the overall point of Paul’s message and subverts it back to the way society would like to organize.
If we get caught up in the list we get into the same political ideas of power that are so toxic to the church as a whole, and alien to Paul’s understanding of the community of Christ.
Most societies, even democracies, believe that it is essential that the head be the most important part of the body. It is the part that must be protected, cultivated and nurtured. To a certain extent the rest of the body is there to serve the head’s authority.
Paul not only turns this notion upside down, but inside out. Paul contends that in any community that follows Jesus Christ the most important part is the part that is the weakest. It is the joint that is malfunctioning that causes the whole body’s mobility to come to a screeching halt. If we take care of the swollen joint then hopefully the entire body will function better.
Charisma, decision making, power, money, charm or authority are humbled at the foot of weakness. Weakness and vulnerability are what Christ displayed for us and in taking up our cross we must see that as the path to salvation.
What has tripped up so many in this text is that Paul appears to create hierarchy of people in the church, listing them from first to last. Still, even that is dissolved by his wish that the church strives for the greater gift.
What is the greater gift? It is something that we too often only relegate to wedding services. If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. Paul hopes that we can see beyond our own cultural, corporate, political or family training of buying into the artificial hierarchies and turn toward each other with an equality of purpose. One that will bring about the salvation of all humanity and usher in the foolish idea that love is stronger than power.