One body. One Mission.
First Reading: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 Psalm: Psalm 19 Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a Gospel: Luke 4:14-21
“May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.” Amen.
In the epistle today, Paul introduces the metaphor of the Church as Christ’s One Body. It is a good metaphor, because we understand the different parts of our body performing different functions, yet together all the parts make up our whole body. Every member of the body is important, and makes the body complete and whole. The body does not function perfectly when one part is infected, laying down on the job, or missing. Modern science tests this metaphor when we consider those who live without an appendix, or gall bladder. Due to disease or tragedy, some have lost limbs or sight or have mechanical body parts. Certainly life can continue in these circumstances, but life is different as the body has changed. Even the most seemingly insignificant body parts have a way of making their presence known. A little hot pepper on the tongue launches a chain reaction of facial expressions, sweat on the forehead, and an immediate need for something to drink. We don’t think much about our pinky toe. Typically the most unattractive of the toes, we wonder its purpose. But when you stub that little toe on something in the middle of the night, the whole body comes to attention.Paul talks about the parts of the body, each with their own purpose and varying opinions regarding status and import, and brings us to a clear point. Unity and diversity are not incompatible. The diversity of the human body, as well as the Body of Christ,creates our interdependence. Paul sums up with, “You are both the Body of Christ and individually members of it.”One modern expression of what Paul is talking about is the South African concept of “ubuntu.” Ubuntu expresses a belief in the universal bond of sharing,compassion, and care that binds all of humanity. Ubuntu is often translated, “I am because we are.” God created all of humanity to rely on and care for one another.Bound as the Body of Christ, this is the essence of our oneness, interdependence, and wholeness. But the Body, like its individual members, is not created simply to exist. The Body is called to do something. What could that be?Move 2: The Mission.In the middle of Epiphany, God continues to make manifest the divine presence and purpose among us. The Spirit that descended upon Jesus at conception, birth, and baptism continues at the beginning of his ministry. Jesus remains faithful to Jewish practices, follows the spirit of the Law, and observes synagogue worship on the Sabbath. He is invited to read from the prophetic scroll and comment. This is a risky move on the part of the church leaders. There is already a buzz around town about Jesus. Who knows what he will say? Today we would have different concerns for a guest preacher. Some years ago, one of Martin Luther King’s colleagues in march and ministry was asked to preach at a church. The preacher was well known and revered,but out of respect for local tradition he asks, “How long should the sermon be?” Thee lders of the church say, “Oh pastor, we would never dream of giving you a time limit on proclaiming God’s word. But Sunday lunch starts precisely at noon, so at that time we will be getting up and heading to the parish hall.”Jesus stands up to read scripture, as is the custom. He searches for a specific passage from Isaiah. Jesus knows what he is looking for. In first person, applying scripture to himself, he reads, “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.”Jesus sits down to comment, as is the custom. Imagine the anticipation among the religious leaders and all present. It is a short sermon. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus proclaims the actualization of this prophecy, at that very moment, with all the people present as witnesses. Of course, the hearing of those present does not guarantee acceptance. It is a powerful statement that does not fit popular expectation. The congregation does not feel different. Rome has not been defeated. Where is the mighty Messiah King? But Jesus was not proclaiming that all has been accomplished. At the beginning of his formal ministry, Jesus is proclaiming the mission.It is a powerful, prophetic mission. There is much work to do. The poor who need good news are not only the financially challenged, but all those marginalized, outcast, or excluded from human fellowship. The captives are not just the occupied nation of Israel,or limited to those in prison, but all who are captive to sin, slaves to debt or service,servants to temptation, and those lost without God. The oppressed who long for freedom are all subject to the human condition estranged from God. The promise is a time of restoration and jubilee.This proclamation frames the nature of Jesus’ ministry. It is also OUR ministry.We are both the poor, captive, and oppressed, AND those called to join in the mission.This is why our identification and understanding of ourselves as the Body of Christ is so important. If we are going to study, interpret, and follow the gospel as a community of faith, we must return to this text often to measure our work. We must read, re-read, and inwardly digest, emphasizing the 1st person. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, because he has anointed us.”Move 3: Our Mission.Tom Harvey, a Presbyterian missionary in Singapore, states, “Mission catches you up in the life and vitality of God, for it is God who relentlessly draws men and women to God’s self in love and compassion. Moreover, when we step away from mission, there is a corresponding depletion of life and vitality in the Church.”Too often, we step away from the core of mission, and turn our attention to what color to paint a Sunday School room, how often another attends worship, or who gives how much to our fund raising. There is an error in the bulletin. My ministry team is the most important. Who is sitting in my pew? Why don’t we have more children in the parish? Why don’t those parents quiet their child in worship? If we cannot put the mission into practice about the small things, how can we expect to achieve the big things? The mission is all encompassing and all inclusive.It is not the buildings, budgets, staff, or ministries that make us the Church. It is the people who are empowered by the Spirit to be one with God and one another. It is our determination to coordinate this diverse, sometimes clumsy Body, to move in the same direction, the mission of Jesus. This includes feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, clothing the naked, and visiting the prisoner. It also includes our internal care for one another ... being agreeable even when we disagree, abiding with one another when it is most inconvenient or uncomfortable, including and respecting every member of the Body.This is the nature of our Oneness. It is expressed in the Eucharist. We are one because we eat the same bread and drink from the same cup, the body and blood of Christ. The world will recognize us as the Body of Christ by our oneness ... how we invite, include, and treat all others ... how we are One Body.We are each called to the Body in our own way. If we look in the mirror with painful honesty, perhaps we see an arm, a heart, maybe a little toe. Whatever you see,you are the Body of Christ. You have value, you have a place, you have a function, and something to offer. And belonging means participating. The Body is not complete without all its members. None are left on the sidelines. All are in the game.Jesus has proclaimed our mission. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon US, because he has anointed US to bring good news to the poor. He has sent US 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.” “We are both the Body of Christ and individually members of it.” With God’s grace and help, let US be the Body. Amen.