Last week, we talked about how the church — this "body" of Christ — doesn’t always look so "Christ-like," how so often our sinful selfishness gets in the way and members start fighting against themselves, against their own body. This week, I want us to keep looking at 1 Corinthians 12 and how God works with us when we don’t get along, when we aren’t acting like one body.
Because here’s the thing: God had to know what would happen when he put a bunch of us sinners together to work together, didn’t he? 1 Corinthians 12:18: "But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be."
Here’s the key to all this. What we’re talking about today, being members, is the body of Christ. It’s his body. You see, when Jesus walked the earth and healed the sick and fed the hungry, when he was going around touching the lepers and comforting the outcast, when Jesus was here walking on water and teaching the masses, he was how God showed himself to us. Jesus was how the world could see God and live. But now that Jesus has ascended and reclaimed his place on heaven’s throne, he’s given that job to us, the Church. We are the body of Christ. We are how the world around us can see God. And each of us believers is a member in this body.
In fact, without the body, we’re worthless. Last week, I told you about our ulterior motives for our community festival. We want to see everyone we meet as members one day. And I know, I’ve heard it — you don’t have to be a member of Abiding Grace to go to heaven. Of course not. Going to church doesn’t save you.
That’s right. Your eternity is all about your personal relationship with Jesus. All people who trust in Him for their salvation — not themselves, not their church — all those who rely on Jesus’ substitution for us in our punishment we had coming and his substitution with his perfection he lived for us — ALL OF US who trust in him will be saved. And that could happen without being a member of a church. But, the truth is, Jesus says it’s not likely. In fact, he tells us we need a connection to this body.
Recently, I talked about this with the kids in a children’s sermon and showed them a severed hand (thanks to some neighbors’ Halloween decorations). Anyway, I gave a couple commands to that severed hand — and guess what? Nothing happened. Why? Because there was no brain to give the hand commands, no arm to move it, no blood running through its veins, no body to make it all happen.
It goes without saying: A severed limb is pretty worthless. The same is true for us believers, us members of the BODY of Christ. You see, God saved you for a purpose. Without a body, that hand can’t do much. It can’t fulfill its purpose. Without the body of believers, you, a "member" of the body of Christ, can’t really fulfill your purpose.
And that Halloween haunted hand is a good picture of what we were while apart from Christ — worthless. And, be honest. Don’t we sometimes still act like this? That is, "I’m the only one who matters; I’m the only one here." We act like this just by the nature of what we are by nature. We’re selfish, ugly. And being that, who else would want to be around us? By nature, we are that severed limb.
So, here’s the stunning thing. It’s all throughout 1 Corinthians 12. God took us … sinners, us severed limbs … and he made us into HIS body. Verse 13: "baptized by one spirit into one body." He made me a part of this. He made you beautiful. It’s like the surgeon in those hospital TV shows, lifting up the heart that’s being transplanted, that ugly mass of bloody flesh, holding it up like it’s a jewel and looking at it as if it’s the most beautiful thing in the world, because she sees what she is about to do with that heart. She sees how valuable that heart will be when she connects it to the body. That’s how God looks at us as he attaches us to this body. He sees how he has made us beautiful through the forgiveness of our sins. He sees what he can accomplish through us as we are connected. He sees the beauty of it — because he made it beautiful. Just like that transplant, he took us out of the body of death and gave us life in this body. He removed us from what our sins demanded and put us in His living chest.
I know, it seems like something is missing there. It doesn’t seem to add up — but that’s where Jesus comes in. The other part of this transplant was that Jesus gave up his body of life and took on our body of death so we could be a body of life. He left the perfect unity of heaven, the living and breathing of glory and praise, and became that severed limb of humanity — cut off, separated, abandoned by his disciples on the night he was betrayed, denied by his staunchest defender as he was convicted by the court, forsaken even by God. Remember what he shouted from that cross? "Eloi, eloi, lama sabacthani?" That is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
He was completely cut off, even from God, so that we would never have to be, so that he could be with us always, so that we would never be alone. And to help us understand that, not only does he give us a personal relationship with him — but he shows himself to us so clearly in church — this body of Christ, this group of people gathering around to be inspired by what He has done, that we might live more and more like what he has made us — His beautiful body.
The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington.