Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
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 one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of his sermon one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should 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 should 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 be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 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 parts, 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 parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 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 miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and 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 with tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Corinthians 12:12–31a, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Ben Franklin once said, "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately." Certainly the kind of unity that Ben Franklin was advocating is not exactly the same as what St. Paul is talking about here, but there is unity that Paul is speaking of here just the same. He uses the analogy of the body to speak about the unity of Christians. Just like all the parts of the body make the body function properly, Christians bring varied gifts and abilities that make the Christian church function properly. It is our sinful human nature that wants to divide the body as useful parts and less useful parts. It is our sinful nature that looks with envy on other parts of the body of Christ for what they have, and think of ourselves as less. Or to look down on parts of the body of Christ that seem in our eyes to be less important, and think that we have no need of them. This was a very important discussion for the recipients of this letter of St. Paul. The Corinthian church was in disunity. They were divided among teachers and teachings. They were divided by social strata. They were not living in the unity that was theirs in their Savior. St. Paul calls them to account. But he doesn't base this unity out of thin air. He bases it on one single truth that is true for all Christians. It is not something they have done, rather something that God has done to them. It's not something they earned by their living rightly or doing rightly, but something gifted to them. It's how the second sentence begins. It is the word for.
For (because) in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body...
What he is saying is that our unity in Christ, in the church, begins in Holy Baptism. We have unity with one another because we have unity in Christ through the water and the Word that was placed on us by the Holy Spirit in baptism. He says it again in his letter to the Romans chapter 6.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3–4, ESV)
"all of us" he says. That's all of us together collectively. When we are baptized we are baptized into Christ Jesus. We are baptized into his death. We are baptized into his resurrection. We are promised a resurrection from the dead. When I speak to the preschool kids about baptism I call it a "special bath". A bath that washes away your sins. A bath where God makes promises to you. In holy baptism God makes true for you Jesus life and saving death on the cross. He takes your sin and punishment to the cross. He has punished for your sin there. In baptism Jesus death and punishment is yours. And his new life is poured over you with the water poured over your head in God's name. Although Franklin would never say it this way we can use his quote to think about it. In Christ we hang together on the cross. Jesus bears the burden of all of our sin and punishment. Or we hang separately, without faith in Christ, when we die in our sin we must receive our own punishment. That punishment is eternal hell. Holy Baptism is God's mark on you that says you hung to death with Jesus and are promised new life, that is no hell for you. We Christians are united together by this promise.
All of this unity goes against our American mentality. We think we are the rugged individual. We want to think we don't need anyone. We look at our faith as "me and Jesus". St. Paul puts us in a family of forgiven sinners all. And that forgiveness comes to us by God's gift. There is nothing in us that God looks at and says "I see something good in that one so I'm going to save him." We are all only sinners deserving hell. God saves us by no merit or worthiness on our part but by grace. The definition of grace is God's undeserved love. The baptism of babies and young children is the perfect picture of this. They do nothing but lay there in their mother's arms while God uses human hands to pour water and speak his name and give all the gifts of Holy Baptism. Baptism is not something we do, but something that God does to us. Baptism is our collective connection to the cross of Jesus Christ and all that it brings. And the fact that faith is a gift of God's grace not based on anything in us or anything we do is the great equalizer. God saves us purely by grace and therefore we are all the same. There are no lesser parts and greater parts. We are a family with different abilities but all are needed and called by God equally to do what we are given to do. This is our common salvation in our common Savior. We are in this together. As Franklin said "we all hang together."
St. Paul's analogy of the body goes even further. Not only are we all the same but we need each other. If every part of the body were an eye there would be nothing but seeing and the body couldn't function. So the eyes should look at the ear and rejoice that there is an ear for hearing. For without hearing the body could not function as a complete and whole body. And the eye looks at the foot and rejoices because without the foot there would be no movement in the eye would not be able to see the wonders of the created world. The Christian church is this way also. We are called to rejoice in our varied gifts. Some are good at teaching. Some are good at caring. Some are good at meditation and prayer. These are all gifts that strengthen the body as a whole and make it function as a whole body. But we can apply this more broadly also. Congregations are different. They have different strengths and abilities. Some are large, some are small. Some are given many resources some are given few. But because of our unity in Christ large congregations are not more important than small ones, nor are small ones more important than large ones. We all hang together in Christ. God places congregations in specific locations to accomplish the tasks that he calls them to do with the abilities he has given them. And so we rejoice in the variation of God's calling. Our congregations need each other. What some lack can be found in others that do not. And we will function as the body of Christ more completely when we see this unity. St. Paul says this by speaking about how when some suffer all suffer and when some are honored all are honored.
And so is Christians united together in Christ we confess our faith to the world. We speak about the Jesus who lived died and rose again for the whole world. And we call people to faith in his saving work. We do it with a gifts and abilities that he has given us and in the places where he has placed us. And we do it is the body of Christ. Or as Franklin said "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."
The Christian religion, though scattered and abroad will in the end gather itself together at the foot of the cross. (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German poet)
Never think that you are kneeling or standing alone, rather think that the whole of Christendom, all devout Christians, are standing there beside you and you are standing among them in a common, united petition, which God cannot disdain. Luther, AE 43:198
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.