January 23, 2022 ~ Third Sunday after Epiphany ~ Rev. Beckie Sweet
I was somewhat shocked, and decidedly disappointed this week when I heard a story on the news about anchor Michelle Li, of NBC affiliate KSTK in St. Louis. It seems that Michelle Li was on duty on New Year’s Day and in a brief, 30-second spot reported on the foods some people eat on that holiday. She reported that Americans eat greens for wealth, black eyed peas for luck, cornbread for gold, and pork for progress. And then at the end, she said, “I ate dumpling soup. That’s what a lot of Korean people do.”
In response to that, the station received a voicemail from a woman who stated that Michelle Li was being “very Asian” and that she should keep her Korean to herself. The woman also stated that if a white anchor had mentioned what white people eat, they would likely have been fired. Michelle Li commented later that sadly she is used to people criticizing her hair, her clothing, etc., but this caller had attacked her Korean identity and heritage.
Since then, there has been an outcry of support for Michelle Li! She said she has turned that very negative, racist treatment into a positive attitude as she has been so appreciative of all of the resulting support.
In today’s scripture text, Paul calls us to a better way of dealing with our differences. He compares the church to the human body; although it’s made up of many different parts, it forms one body. And so it is with us. Despite our many differences, obvious or not, God calls us to a unity that is not bland uniformity. God calls us to a diversity without division. To three different churches Paul writes similar sentiments, “There is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free, male or female, but Christ is all, and is in all.”
Paul draws some practical conclusions about our unity in diversity. I need you. And you need me. The eye cannot say to the hands, “I don’t need you!” and the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” Every time I read this passage from I Corinthians 12, my mind associates it with the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, and the way that the Spirit blows through to reconnect and give life to that which seemed disconnected, dry, dead.
The Toe bone’s connected to the foot bone
Foot bone’s connected to the heel bone
Heel bone’s connected to the ankle bone
Now hear the word of the Lord!
Ankle bone’s connected to the shin bone
Shin bone’s connected to the knee bone
Knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone
and so on until all are connected and we sing
So hear the Word of the Lord. Dem bones, dem bones, dem – dry bones…
We, the Body of Christ, are created and designed be connected with one another, offering care to one another, because we are bound together by the Love of Christ! Love is the Strength of our Song! And because of that, Paul subverts our normal human tendencies: “Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.” Despite our differences, we should have “equal concern for each other!”
With few exceptions, our human history describes society as prizing conformity and punishing differences. The Japanese have a proverb for this: “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” None of us are immune from, or have been exempted from, these pressures toward conformity. Specific examples could be listed all day: political persuasion, theological polarity, racial privilege or oppression, nationalism, economic disparity, use of language, one’s age, sexual orientation, sexual expression, sexual identity, differing abilities, human mobility, and the list can go on and on.
What is so much more important than this list, which is a prelude to the lists of differences among the human family, is the guiding concept of what unites us in the Body of Christ, in our community, and in our world. Love is the strength of our Song of life!! And the source of that Love is Christ.
I have only shared with a few of you that I love teaching Confirmation Class. Why? Because I love learning from our youth. I love watching them turn doubts and hesitancy into a commitment to Christ and the Church. I love helping youth to discover their God-given gifts and finding opportunities to engage those gifts in acts of service and Christian witness. I love watching their passions in faith develop.
One of the learning experiences I sometimes lead is an exercise for engaging in learning about the parts of the local church. The exercise is to have the confirmands trace the outlines of one another’s bodies on a huge piece of paper. And then, each student is to fill-in pictures or descriptions of the many facets of the local church. Typically, the students add sections for worship, Sunday School, youth group, music, missions, etc… Rarely do the students remember to add Christ to the body. But in one particular class one person added a multi-colored outline which to her was the love of Christ embracing the whole Body. And another student drew a heart with an elaborate cardio-vascular system connecting Christ (the heart) with every part of the body. Awesome!
What so many have missed from the earliest days of the church until now, can be conveyed with simplicity or complexity as we consider Paul’s metaphor of the human body describing the church. In other words, we ask the question, “In what sense is the body one?” And the response, “When Love is the strength of the Song that binds us together.” And, “how does the body maintain its oneness?” “When Christ’s Love is the strength of our song!”