Love Your Body

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. For 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.

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If 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. And 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. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The 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.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and 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; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And 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. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

-1 Corinthians 12:12-31

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

-Luke 4:14-21

Is there anything that is as ordinary and extraordinary as the human body? On the one hand, bodies are pretty darn average—every created thing has one, and whether yours is old or young, healthy or faltering, they are pretty—well—familiar. We live in them every day, and so we are usually well acquainted with our strengths and weaknesses, our pains and our pleasures. Our bodies are like old friends, the sort of friend that we are so well acquainted with that rarely do we stop and pause to think about what our bodies are actually doing as we go about our business each day.

In fact, we tend to pay the most attention to our own bodies when they aren’t working as we think they should—when skin chafes and knees throb, bones break and muscles fail, eyes cloud and minds dim. Or we notice other bodies because they are different—they are different colors, or of differing abilities, or we believe either that they are more or less beautiful than our own. Then we are all too aware of bodies and what sets them apart.

And yet, more often than not, our bodies are simply a miracle. Consider your hands—hands that have likely borne you through countless days, held the hands of those you loved, that have borne the brunt of your labors, have held a pencil or typed your thoughts as they spill from your mind. Or your eyes—how many sunsets, how many loved ones, how many snowstorms have these, the only eyes you will ever have—beheld? How faithful have they been to you, whether you noticed or not? How many bones, muscles, sinews, and nerves have labored without your consideration? How many humble body parts—blood cells, lymph nodes, nerve endings—have carried the building blocks of your touch and your sight without our even thinking of it?

Because that’s the thing about bodies. Most of the time, they keep working whether we notice them or not. They keep on working, day in and day out, because that is what bodies do. It’s not that we don’t appreciate them. If you are like me, its more like we are so busy experiencing the world—touching, tasting, beholding—that we are left with little time for reflecting deeply on the gift that being embodied in this world is.

For it is indeed a gift. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle invites us to pause to consider just how amazing the body is. Only Paul has another body in mind, and that is the body of Christ, a motley crew of Gentiles and strangers from this ancient port city who have found their way into community and life in Christ. And to these people Paul reflects that the body of Christ isn’t all that different from our real, physical bodies. In fact, he says, we can learn a lot about being the church by reflecting on the bodies God blessed us with.

“Indeed,” Paul says, “The body does not consist of one member but many. If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it less a part of the body. And 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. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?”

It occurs to me that is not the sort of thing that you write to a church body when all is good and well. This is the kind of thing that you say to a community that is struggling. This is the sort of thing that you say to a community that is failing because it has forgotten that it is a body.

And indeed, Paul is concerned about the church in Corinth. He is concerned because the church has taken to drawing distinctions within itself. Just before this passage, we learn that the church in Corinth celebrates the Lord’s Supper quite strangely—they have one table for the rich and wealthy, and another for the poor. It seems that they have carried their own society’s attitudes about class into the congregation with disastrous results. Now church members are saying that “this person” is useful and “that person” is not. “this person” is right and “that person” is wrong. “This person” is in, and “that person” is out.

In other words, some members in the body have decided that others are not necessary to the well-being of the church, and so they have shut them out of the body, as though they were better off without them.

It’s not as though this is some booming mega-church. Unlike many of Paul’s other letters, the letter to the Corinthians is addressed to the one tiny church that has found a foothold in Corinth. More than likely, the church was no more than a dozen or so families, the kind of church where everyone knows your name. Not all that different from the church that we call home. And yet, they find ways to draw lines separating the handful of Jesus-lovers who have gathered in Christ’s name.

All of this reminds me of a story I recently heard about a neurological disease called Guillian-Barre Syndrome. Doctors aren’t exactly sure what causes it, but what happens is this: sometime, often following an infection, the persons immune system begins to attack its own nerve cells. Within days, the person’s body is locked into nearly complete paralysis. In the most severe cases, people can’t even breathe, and must be put on a ventilator. Eventually, the symptoms begin to reverse, and many experience a full recovery. But those who endure Guillian-Barre describe a harrowing experience of losing complete control of their body as it attacks itself. They describe feeling utterly powerless to do anything.

I wonder whether perhaps this is what Paul is concerned about. Perhaps he is concerned that the church in Corinth has forgotten what a gift this Body of Christ is. And perhaps he knows that when the body attacks itself, it will be utterly paralyzed. Because it will have forgotten that every part, from the head down to the toes and everything in between, is important. From the priests and the scribes to the lepers and the widows. Not just important, but essential. Irreplaceable. Every single part of God’s body belongs.

According to Paul, what makes the Body of Christ extraordinary is that every part of the body is not just accepted, but is honored. In the body of Christ, “the members have the same care for one another, such that if one member suffers, all suffer together with it, and if one member is honored, all are lifted up together with it.” This is the Jesus kind of Body, one in which there is no strong or weak, poor or rich, gentile or jew. Instead there is just the Body, bound together in love, guided by Christ, reaching across divisions of culture or class, race or gender.

It’s the kind of body that Jesus envisions when he preaches “good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Christ has given us a gift as well, of membership in the body. Across time and space, we are joined to the members of the Church in Corinth, who struggled with what it means to love and honor one another as they followed Christ. They remind us that being church together is one of the hardest things we will ever do, because it runs against everything we have been taught by our society—for in church, we are called to set aside our inclinations to group people as “our people” or “not our people,” and instead see all of us as “God’s Children.” Because we are.

And this is important stuff. Because unless we can learn to love our neighbors within the church as the children of God that they are, we have no hope of sharing that love with those beyond the church. Our love for one another IS our witness to the world. Church is both our testimony, and our training ground for life out in the mission field—the world beyond our sanctuary doors. It is, in the words of Paul, the “more excellent way.”

Friends, let us love one another, for we are all children of God.

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Blizzard Church: Worshipping at Home in Bad Weather

Sometimes bad weather makes it unsafe to come to church.  But even if you are stuck inside this weekend, we can still worship together as the body of Christ!  I hope that this order of worship will help you and those you love to take time to give thanks to God and join with the communion of saints, wherever you are.

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WE GATHER TOGETHER

Lighting of the Christ Candle: gather your family together.  Take a moment to light a candle, remembering that Christ, whom we call “the light of the world” is always with us when we gather together.

Call to Worship: choose someone to “lead” and have everyone respond with the bolded words.

Great is the Lord—Exalted among the nations.

Mighty is the Lord—King of heaven and earth.

Holy is the Lord—Beyond our understanding.

Let us worship our God and King!

 Hymn            Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Consider singing along to this familiar hymn, or use the video below as a time of prayerful reflection.

   

Confession: take a moment with your family to remember that God loves us just as we are.  Whatever we have done or been this week, God accepts us.  Prayer the prayer together below, or take time together to name moments this week where you have struggled to do God’s will, and are in need of forgiveness.   

Merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart and mind and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. In your mercy forgive what we have been, help us to amend what we are, and direct what we shall be, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Through Christ our Lord.

Give thanks to the Lord for God is Good and God’s steadfast love endures forever.  Nothing we can do, nothing we have done, can separate us from the Love of God.  In Jesus’ Name, we are forgiven. Amen.

*Response                        Gloria Patri

THE WORD IS PROCLAIMED

Prayer of Illumination Use this prayer to remember that the Scriptures are the one of the most important ways in which we can encounter God and know God’s will for us.

God of goodness and light, as you created the world by your Word and Spirit, breathe new life into us this day; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Scripture Readings: use the readings listed below, or find it together in the Bible.  Take turns reading the verses, or choose one person to read the first lesson, and another to read the second.

            First Lesson:            1 Corinthians 12:12-31

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. For 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.

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If 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. And 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. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The 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.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and 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; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And 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. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

  Gospel Lesson            Luke 4:14-21

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Sermon            “Love Your Body” by Rev. Sarah Weisiger (click here for the full text)   

*Hymn             Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God

WE RESPOND IN FAITH

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Prayers of the People and Lord’s Prayer (opening paragraph written by Moira Laidlaw, and posted at http://www.liturgiesonline.com.au/)

Spirit of the living God, we praise and adore you for empowering us to claim membership of the body of Christ, a gift received through the fullness of your grace. Empower us anew, we pray, with tongues of fire and hearts of love to proclaim the reconciling word among people. Remind us that we are all members of the one body and if one member suffers, we all suffer. May we, as the body of Christ in this place, be the best evidence of your love by declaring and witnessing to this as the year of the Lord’s favour for all people. We give thanks that all of us are Christ’s body, and rejoice in each one being a part of it.

As we gather in church and at home, we pray for the body of our community.  We pray for those who give thanks for snow, and for those who fear its coming. We pray for those who have the luxury to stay indoors, and for our emergency workers–police, firefighters, EMTs, hospital workers, Postal Service employees, Road Crews–whose work calls them into the storm.  We pray for those who have no home from which to escape the cold.  We pray for those who labor to provide a home for the homeless and the vulnerable in the storm.  And we pray for those who are alone this weekend, and have no one with which to share their joy, sorrow, hope, or despair.

For all these and more, O God, we lift up our prayers.  For we are one body, and we rise and fall together.  In the name of our Head, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Offering: Remember that everything we have, and everything we are is a gift from God.  How will you commit yourself to be a gift to God’s world this week?  How will you be a blessing in the one and glorious life you have been given? Take a moment to share together ways in which you can offer your gifts, your time, and your treasure at home, at work, and at school. Consider making an offering together to bring to church next week, or use this weekend as an opportunity to try out our new online giving program through the Presbyterian Mission Exchange (click here to go to the website)

WE ARE SENT OUT

Hymn                                              Blessed Be the Tie That Binds

Passing of the PeaceClose your time of worship together by passing the peace, remembering that wherever you are, God is with you when you gather in God’s name.

The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. And also with you.

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Walking Wet

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But now thus says the Lord,
    he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
    Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
    and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
    nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
    I will bring your offspring from the east,
    and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
    and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
    and my daughters from the end of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”

Isaiah 43:1-7

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

What do you remember about your baptism?

If you are like many presbyterians – that is, if you were baptized as a baby – the answer is probably “no.” Whatever you know of your own baptismal story, it is likely secondhand, filtered down from your parents and those who gathered to mark that day together long ago.

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That’s one happy, baptized baby…

I myself I am not a cradle Presbyterian—I came to the church as a teenager, and so I received my baptism then. But even though I was old enough to be baptized and confirmed at the same time, the truth is that I don’t remember a whole lot about it. I don’t remember much about the classes I was required to attend before the big day, where I was supposed to learn what baptism and church membership meant. Nor can I recall the words that my pastor spoke when he invited my family up to the front of the church. What I do remember is how vulnerable I felt as I stood on the steps of the church with my mother, father, sister and brother. Looking out on a sea of faces that I was only beginning to know and wondering how this identity would shape the person I was becoming. And watching as my childhood pastor sprinkled water over my head as he blessed me, blessed all of us, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

It was both beautiful and ordinary all at the same time. But there were no fireworks on that day not so long ago. No sudden and inexplicable quickening of the pulse, no electric shock of Spiritual energy. Unlike Jesus’ own baptism, there were no doves descending, or thundering voices from on high. No mountaintop moment to report, or startling epiphanies about God, nothing I can pinpoint as an instant that I knew for certain that God chosen me. Nothing more than common water trickling down my forehead and onto my dress and the din of clapping hands welcoming me into this strange new family that we call the church. Nothing more than the question: what does this mean?NoFireworks_forweb.jpg

Now, I bring all of this up in response to one of the keen and vexing contradictions of our present life together in the church, a contradiction made up of two equally true elements. Now, the first truth is this: that we confess that baptism is the pivotal event in the life of a Christian. It is one of only two sacraments that we as Presbyterians celebrate, and it is therefore it must be very important. And the second truth is this: that most of us have little or no memory of our baptism, no clear idea of what it means or why it’s important, and no active sense of how it might shape our daily lives. In fact, I’d be willing to go so far as to say that most of us almost never think about baptism with the exception, perhaps, of when we see a baptism at church or when someone we know and love is having a child baptized. So how can it be, that something so important, so fundamental to our identity as God’s Children, would also be something that we spend so little time thinking about? If baptism is so important to our formation as disciples of Christ, why do we baptize infants who cannot remember it? What is the point of baptism? Have we lost sight of the sacrament’s intent?

In a world where personal initiative means everything, it will of course look strange to baptize a tiny child. How can they possibly know what is being done for them? But that is precisely the point. For in baptizing an infant, we affirm that God has chosen us as God’s own, and loves us first. Moreover, we baptize little babies as a reminder for them and especially for us that nothing we have done or will do earns us that precious grace that God offers in the waters of baptism.

To baptize a child is not unlike an inauguration, for it represents a moment in which those who love us affirm with us and on our behalf that God loves us and chooses us when we are at our most vulnerable, before we are capable of responding back. And it is a promise as well, on the part of our parents and those who have gathered that day, to teach our children and to uphold what it means to follow Christ in this life. It represents an entry way onto the walk of faith that we the gathered faithful hope will be long and deep and broad and wide for the beloved whom we baptize in Christ’s name.start_journey-1728x800_c.jpg

Baptism, then, looks both backward and forward. Backward, at the promise that God has always been making to his beloved people. For since we had words to speak God’s name, God’s people have heard God’s promises, over, and over again: Do not fear. I have called you by name, and you are mine. From the tops of the mountains and into the depths of the valleys of slavery and exile and despair, God has claimed you. And as you have passed through deep waters and walked through the flames, God has been with you. In the Jordan and on the cross, there is God, loving you always. When you were your most vulnerable, at the very beginning of your life, God chose you, from the beginning of time, for ministry in God’s name.

So too baptism looks forward, for it is through our baptism that the Holy Spirit pushes us towards a new life and a new way of being. It is not unlike the experience of a colleague I know, who was from South Africa and described to me what it felt like to be sworn in as an American citizen. For him, it was a sort of communal rebirth, as he and thousands of other immigrants raising their hands to their chests and expressed together their commitment to a new identity that would change their experience of the world forever. The old identity passing, and a new thing being born.

You see, we baptize children and anyone else who is drawn to the promise of Christ because we have faith that this sacrament will be just the beginning of a life-long relationship with God. And it is in the context of that relationship, borne out over our commitment to study and prayer and worship, that we will begin to experience the electrifying rush of the Spirit energizing our work and worship. It is through living out our baptism and making it real that we begin to hear the voice of God that was always there to begin with, and to taste and see that the Lord is truly good.

Like the baptism of Jesus on the river Jordan, baptism is meant to be both an ordinary and extraordinary moment in our life of faith. It is ordinary in that, just like Jesus, we join with every person who gathers to bathe in the same water and to claim our identity as God’s chosen and beloved. And it is extraordinary because it sets us apart from the world and on a path of righteousness and forgiveness.

Now, if you know your Bible, then you know that following God and living your baptism is no walk in the park—there are stones and dark valleys ahead for the gathered faithful. And in a world that has grown increasingly secular, and in which fewer and fewer people identify with even cultural Christian norms, we will be set apart by our faith and our values. We will find that at times that there is a personal cost to following Christ. People might find our practices strange or unusual. It may sometimes feel like we are walking through fire or wading through deep, uncharted waters. And we may wonder sometimes what we are doing, whether the cost is worth it. We may look out on emptier and emptier pews and bank accounts and boarded up Sunday school classes and wonder, “Are the best days of the church behind us? Can we possibly hope to turn this around?”

But when you find yourself in that place—when you are wondering and doubting, I invite you to look to God’s Word for encouragement, to hear the voice of Isaiah who promises, to a people beleaguered and despairing: you are not alone. The promise of baptism is this: that God is in the waters with us. And even better: God will use the water and the flame to proclaim the Glory of God through us. Just as the burning bush proclaimed God’s glory but was not consumed by fire, so too will we reveal the presence and power of the Holy Spirit when we claim our baptism and live into it faithfully. As our baptism takes root within our hearts, we will become instruments of the new thing God is bringing into the world, even when we cannot see it clearly. And we will not be alone as we do, for in baptism we have been grafted into a family beyond our blood that will pray for us and with us and will walk alongside us in the valleys and on the mountaintops as we seek and proclaim the Kingdom of God.

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So let us take this morning to celebrate our baptism. Let us give thanks to those whose faith brought us here. And let us look to Christ, whose own baptism launched a life-giving ministry of mercy and forgiveness in God’s name to a world that desperately needed hope, and in whose name we worship today. And last but not least, let us pray that God might send us opportunities to share our baptismal faith with others who are coming after us. For surely they are coming, from east and west and north and south, to sit with us at the table of God. Amen.

In baptism God claims us, and puts a sign on us to show that we belong to God.

God frees us from sin and death, uniting us with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection.

By water and the Holy Spirit, we are made members of the church, the body of Christ, and joined to Christ’s ministry of love, peace, and justice.

Let us remember and rejoice in our own baptism as we celebrate this sacrament.

To learn more about the theology behind Baptism in the Presbyterian tradition, click here.