Body Parts – Rev. Henry Brinton (with Audio)
June 8, 2014
1 Corinthians 12:3-13
The apostle Paul points out that the human body “is one and has many members” (1 Corinthians 12:12). And he says that, in similar fashion, the body of Christ is one body with many members.
But does it have spare ribs? Not pork ribs, smothered in barbeque sauce. Those would be delicious.
Human … spare … ribs.
The fact is, a very small percentage of us are born with spare ribs. While most people have 12 sets of ribs, one-half of one percent of us have an extra set near the neck.
As ribs, they are useless. They are truly spare ribs.
But extra bones are not the only oddities in the human body. The magazine mental_floss has a list of “10 Useless Body Parts” (June 2013) that includes:
Tonsils. Ideally, these tissues at the back of the throat act as a filter for bacteria and viruses. But often they get infected and have to be removed from the throats of children.
Wisdom teeth. Because they appear after age 17, these molars are called wisdom teeth. Age 17 is when we max out on wisdom, right? I know I did. But very few of us have room for these teeth, which means that we have to go through oral surgery.
Pinky toes. You know what I’m talking about: Your fifth toe, little toe, baby toe. Apes use all of their toes to grab branches and swing from them. But humans? We don’t do much swinging. Instead, we stand upright using our big toe and the next three. The pinky toe is just for show.
Finally, the appendix. The little worm-like tube at the end of your large intestine might seem completely superfluous — mine got infected and had to be removed. But recent studies suggest that it could be a storage place for beneficial bacteria.
So maybe the appendix is actually useful, not useless.
The apostle Paul is writing to a group of Christians in Corinth who are struggling with divisions in the church. They are quick to dismiss each other as useless appendixes. But Paul grasps, better than most, that there is no such thing as a worthless member of the Christian community.
In the body of Christ, there are no spare ribs.
Paul’s anatomy lesson contains important instructions for us as we celebrate Pentecost, the birthday of the church, and as we receive our Confirmation Class into membership. He begins by reminding us that “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (v. 3) — this is a clear message that the one Holy Spirit is the source of every statement of Christian faith.
In the body of Christ, there will be varieties of gifts, but they are powered by the same Spirit. There will be varieties of services, but they honor the very same Lord. There will be a variety of activities, but the very same God activates them in everyone (vv. 4-6). Whether you are a tonsil, a wisdom tooth, a pinky toe or an appendix in the Christian body, you are given power to play your role by the one Holy Spirit of God. The Book of Acts tells us that this Spirit appeared on Pentecost and gave the apostles the unexpected ability “to speak in other languages” (Acts 2:4).
Not one, but a variety of languages. The Holy Spirit powers a variety of gifts, services, activities, and languages in a variety of body parts.
No one part is useless, because all are Spirit-powered.
A few weeks ago, the members of our Confirmation Class stood before their families and the elders, deacons and trustees of the church. They stated their faith and presented their Confirmation projects. I was struck at that time by how this class so clearly represented the different parts of the Body of Christ: Head, heart, hands, legs, and feet.
Emily Cabrera spoke about how she had been influenced by a number of philosophers and theologians, including Saint Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas wrote extensively about the Body of Christ and the church, and said at one point that “the Head and Members are as One Mystical Person.” In other words, there is always going to be spiritual solidarity between Christ, the head of the church, and all of us who are members of his body.
Faith Wilson spoke passionately about how her faith has helped her, Clark Bowden used his own hands to craft a pencil that he used to write his statement of faith, Serena Thapa talked about her running and her faith, and Kirstyn Soukup actually used her hands and her feet to break boards — this demonstrated how her faith had enabled her to break through a number of obstacles.
A variety of gifts, activities, members, and parts — but one body. As Aquinas says, “One Mystical Person.” There are no spare ribs in the body of Christ.
Paul challenges us to accept the fact that “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Whether our passion is theology, writing, running or martial arts, our gifts can advance the common good. English classes taught by native-born Americans can help immigrants to communicate better and achieve success in the United States. Senior citizens can mentor teenagers, married couples can coach other couples, children can draw pictures for residents of nursing homes. In each of these activities, we see the power of the Holy Spirit, working for the common good.
One of the clearest signs of the presence of the Spirit is variety. God clearly loves to see a diversity of gifts, activities, and people. Paul sees the Holy Spirit in “the utterance of wisdom … the utterance of knowledge … faith … healing … miracles … prophecy … discernment of spirits … various kinds of tongues … interpretation of tongues” (vv. 8-10). Notice that none of these is considered to be any greater than another. And not one of them is useless.
Instead, says Paul, “all these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses” (v. 11). Let me emphasize those last five words: just as the Spirit chooses. If the Spirit chooses to activate a particular gift, service, activity or person, who are we to judge?
The Spirit of God is the activator, not us. The Spirit activates some to sing sacred choral music, as we heard in this morning’s anthem and will hear in this afternoon’s Abendmusik concert. The Spirit activates some to sing contemporary music with the Praise Band. The Spirit activates some to take medicine to Guatemala and some to do construction work in Honduras. The Spirit activates some to meet for small group Bible study, some to gather for book discussions, and some to teach children in Sunday Express classes.
The Spirit activates each of these efforts, in support of the common good.
Almost 2,000 years ago, the Christian church was born on the Day of Pentecost. One of its fundamental characteristics is that it is one body with many diverse members. “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,” concludes Paul, “and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (v. 13).
One Spirit. One body. That’s the nature of the church, from the day of its founding until today. In order to drink of one Spirit and be one body, we need to accept that we are a diverse group of Christians and be willing to be in relationship with each other. And that, I’m afraid, is the tough part.
To be in relationship means that we look at each other and see children of God. It means that we consider newcomers to be useful because of who they are, not because of where they come from or what they do. When we welcome strangers, we don’t immediately ask them about what they can contribute in terms of offerings or volunteer labor. Instead, we trust that they bring the gifts of the Holy Spirit with them, even though these gifts may be unusual to us.
God is leading new people into this congregation every week, and is inviting us to develop relationships with them. As we do, we will discover that they bring new kinds of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing … and maybe even miracles!
Our challenge is to widen our vision of what the Holy Spirit is doing in the church today. The Christians in Corinth had a hard time seeing beyond divisions in their church over wealth and spiritual gifts, and so often we stumble over differences as well. But if we can begin to look for signs of the Holy Spirit in all who come to church, we will begin to see the true unity of the body of Christ. We have an opportunity to do this right here, right now, today — as we welcome the Confirmation Class into the membership of the church.
Remember, says Paul, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (v. 3). No one can pray, sing, study, or serve without being touched by the power of the Spirit. This is not to say that everyone is perfect, without need for guidance and encouragement. Far from it. We all need to be supported and held accountable. But at the same time we can begin to see each other in a new way — as people who carry inside them some of the holiness of God.
In a church with a variety of gifts, services, and activities, the Holy Spirit is always present in a wide range of people. In the one body, there are many members — and no useless body parts. Amen.
Dutton, Judy. “10 Useless Body Parts,” mental_floss, June 2013, 38.