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November 16, 2016, 1:21 PM

My Highest Allegiance is to Love


"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way."

- Corinthians 12: 12-31a

     Leading up to the passage above, Paul introduced the topic of spiritual gifts. He says: 4”” “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

     Paul wrote this letter because he had heard that there was division in the young church.  Cliques were forming and conflict was erupting over a sort of spiritual competitiveness.  Some people thought that their own gifts – their own contributions to the church – were more important or worthy of greater recognition; and that other people’s gifts were somehow less important or even less valid expressions of faith. 

     So after reminding them that all the gifts are given by the same spirit; he compares the gifts to the parts of a human body.  He says that in our baptism the differences of our physical birth are superseded by our rebirth into one spiritual body.  Whether we were born rich or poor, man or woman, or as Paul says here, Jew or Greek, slave or free, we are now one body and no part of the body can claim more honor or value or privilege than any other part.  Every part of the body, no matter how important the work it does, needs the other parts to thrive.

     When you think about it, Paul’s image has a sense of humor to it.  The idea of different parts of your body talking to each other can conjure up some silly images.  I imagined the time I capsized my little sunfish sailboat.  What if my legs suddenly finding themselves in cold water- just got mad at my hands that had been holding the sail and the tiller. “A moment ago we were warm and comfortable basking in the sun and now due to your incompetence we are all in the soup, and cold soup at that.  Well if you think that we’re going to help you get out of this fix, forget it.  We have no intention of treading water, we came here to relax.  This is your fault and it is your responsibility to get us out of this water and back on the boat.”  It sounds silly and farfetched; but when something goes wrong in most organizations – from a church to a town or a nation – isn’t  the first order of business usually looking for someone to blame?  And don’t we sometimes take a certain pleasure in letting things really fall apart so we can say “I knew it was a bad idea all along.”  If my legs refused to help keep the rest of my body stay afloat, they would drown with the rest of the body.  Paul’s image reminds us that we are all in this together and it takes the efforts of every one of us to keep this body afloat.

     Paul’s imagery is meant to tell us that when we are truly functioning as the Body of Christ, the usual human values and measures of status are not so much reversed as totally irrelevant. 

     We see ourselves as we truly are- gifted with a variety of interests, talents, and abilities which all fit together to meet all the needs of the body.  We are inter-dependent.  We can’t afford the cliquishness and spiritual arrogance that Paul noticed in Corinth.  If a church is to thrive, we have to support and celebrate one another’s gifts and make use of them all to build up the Body.  In recent years this church has been especially good at that. And it warms my heart and gives me hope.

     Paul’s metaphor is also true for the world.  The earth is one body.  And it is more reality than metaphor.  Back in 1816 a volcano eruption in Indonesia spewed ash clouds and sulfur dioxide as high as the stratosphere which caused temperatures to drop across the northern hemisphere.  It was called the year without a summer because In New England there wasn’t a single month without a frost, snow fell in June, lakes had ice in July and a killing frost in August destroyed the crops once again. There was famine in North America and Europe, an outbreak of typhus, and mass migration as people fled the famine.  When you think about it, most of the waves of immigration throughout the history of the world and our own country were caused by natural disasters and famine, or the human made disasters of ethnic or religious persecution or just war happening somewhere in the world.

     Modern communications and travel have truly made the one body a daily reality.  When a conflict happens in any part of the world, it affects the whole world immediately now.    When a new bacteria or virus develops in some remote part of the world – it doesn’t take much more than a week to make it here. 

     As much as we might like to build a wall to partition ourselves off from the rest of this global body of humankind; a wall “wouldn’t make us any less a part of the body” as Paul would say.

     And the same is true within this nation.  We are one body and even if we say “I am not Republican” or “I am not a Democrat” – that doesn’t make us any less a part of the one body.  I remember years ago, bumper stickers that said don’t blame me – I voted for (whoever the other candidate had been).  It might as well have said “Don’t blame me. I am not part of the body.”  If I were to say, “I am not black.  I am not lesbian or transgender.  I am not Muslim. I am not Mexican; therefore I am not part of the body or they are not part of the body;” that would not make us any less a part of the same body.  We need one another.  Like a human body, our nation is an ecosystem.  The diversity of gifts and abilities, the diversity of viewpoints and personality types, the diversity of worldviews and religions, is essential to stimulate new ideas and growth, to create cures for diseases and sustainable ways to power it all. The contrast built into the diversity gives us all something to work on and to work for

     This year’s election was all about pushing against what we don’t want.  I have the sense that everyone voted for what they feared the least.  And it is time now for us to turn and focus on what we do want and work together for something rather than against something.  

     In the wake of the election there has been violence on both sides. There was violent protest and personal attacks. There was copycat harassment and physical attacks popping up, all over the country, on the day after the election. The reports included a Muslim woman having her hijab ripped off on the street, and being told to strangle herself with it. There were reports of boys grabbing little girls' between the legs, as they walked in the hall at school, saying "if the President can do it, so can I."  Swastikas were painted in school bathrooms and on billboards. A Mexican-American middle school student quietly recorded on her phone a scene in the school cafeteria, of a group a students chanting “build that wall,” to intimidate the Latino and Latina students.  There were reports in many different parts of the country, of school students or adults yelling at Latinos to "Go home to Mexico. We're getting that wall now." The N word and gay slurs were shouted hatefully at shocked strangers on the streets around this country.  

There is a movement afoot to invite those who want to be allies of the vulnerable in public places to wear a safety pin clearly and visibly wherever we go.  I plan to do that.  And in the coming year, I plan to lead a class in non-violent communication, and I will be looking for opportunities to use my training in leading structured conversations to get diverse people to talk about our shared dreams and desires. 

I know that God is love.  The opposite of love is not hate.  It is fear.  And fear ran the election this year.  But, as a Christian my highest allegiance is to Love.  So compassion and reconciliation and wellbeing for the whole body that is this nation is what I plan to focus on and work to build in the coming year.  And I hope you will join me.

 

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