August 27, 2019 To A More Excellent Way-1 Corinthians 12:12-31

thebodyofchrist-u

(The apostle Paul writes:) 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 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? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

And I will show you a still more excellent way. 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (ESV) 
The apostle Paul advocated the value of the individual believer based upon the worth we are given as children of God in Christ. In a world where value is found in a person’s financial worth or in what a person can do, our value in the body of Christ comes from the fact that Jesus loved us enough to come to earth- to live with us, and to give Himself as a sacrifice for us, to pay the penalty for our sins that we cannot pay, and that we neither earn or deserve.

Just as we have social strata today – the wealthy vs. the poor, the educated vs. the unlearned, the privileged vs. the disadvantaged, and so on, there were definite social stations in Paul’s times. Many people were slaves and didn’t even own their own bodies. Women were considered little more than livestock. Yet in Christ, each believer is a valued child of God and an integral part of the Body of Christ, both in Paul’s day and today. When Jesus died on the cross His sacrifice was given for every person who ever lived, no matter how we would look at them or their contribution to society.

Each person has been created by God with certain gifts and abilities with which to serve each other. Some have much to offer in material gifts. Some are great encouragers. Others are artistically gifted or have musical talent. Still others serve in the background with organizational skills or an ability to do building maintenance. Some have a heart for meeting the needs of children.

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…

Paul reminds us that it is important to take special care of the weak- those who are elderly or infirm who may not appear to be “gifted” or to bring much to the community on the surface, but who bring us the great gift of the opportunity to serve and share with them.

There is a disturbing tendency in human nature (both in Paul’s day and today) to value people with a view to their “usefulness.”

How do we value the child with Down’s Syndrome who may have limited cognitive function and may never be able to live independently? Is he or she just as much a child of God, for whom Jesus died to save, as the child with the standard number of chromosomes?

How do we value the elderly man with dementia who can remember storming the beach at Normandy in 1944 as if it were happening now, but who is also bedridden, incontinent, and can’t remember his wife’s name? Is he just as much a loved child of God as the paramedic or the preschool teacher who bakes cookies and teaches Sunday School?

In today’s society we can see the devaluing of human life in many ways- through abortion on demand, where a perfectly healthy child can be killed and thrown away like just a piece of medical waste simply for being “inconvenient” or “unwanted.” In some countries and even in some places in the United States assisted suicide is permissible- and often encouraged as an option for the chronically ill and the dying.

What kind of value do we place on the most vulnerable among us- the unborn, the disabled, the dying?

How can we help someone in a crisis pregnancy choose life? How can we bring joy to the disabled? How can we comfort the dying? They too are those for whom Jesus bled and died.

The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. We are not called to be comfortable, but to bring comfort to others in the name of Christ. In this world there will be sorrow and suffering. We are called to endure sorrow and suffering because we have the great promise and hope of life in Christ. We are called to share the hope we have in Christ as we embrace those who are weak and hold them up. Some of us are strong in some areas but weak in others, but each of us is a part of the Body of Christ.

There is a place in the church for everyone- weak, strong, young, or old. Each of us brings unique gifts and strengths. We have life in Christ not because of anything we can do, earn or deserve, but because we have been named and claimed and marked with the cross of Christ in baptism. Our value and our worth is given to us as a gift of God. Each of us is made in the image of God. Every person is someone of value, someone for whom our Lord bled and died to save.

May we as Jesus’ church cherish and defend the weaker members of our body, and by the grace of God come to appreciate each other and all of our varied weaknesses as well as our gifts.

September 22, 2017 Liar, Liar Pants on Fire, and Be Happy With What You Have- Exodus 20:16-17

falsewitnessYou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

commandments 9 and 10

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Exodus 20:16-17

The Eighth Commandment is one that addresses our integrity. We are commanded to tell the truth about others, and not to say or do things that would wrongly incriminate them or damage their reputation.

Gossip has always been a juicy temptation for humanity. It is easy to get engrossed in (and embellish upon) the drama of other people’s lives. What we fail to realize is that gossip, especially when it is exaggerated and involving sensitive issues, can be highly destructive and damaging.  God commands us to stay out of the rumor mill.  He commands us to refrain from assassinating another’s character or incriminating an innocent person by spreading lies about him or her.

Those, then, are called slanderers who are not content with knowing a thing, but proceed to assume jurisdiction, and when they know a slight offense of another, carry it into every corner, and are delighted and tickled that they can stir up another’s displeasure [baseness], as swine roll themselves in the dirt and root in it with the snout. This is nothing else than meddling with the judgment and office of God, and pronouncing sentence and punishment with the most severe verdict. For no judge can punish to a higher degree nor go farther than to say: “He is a thief, a murderer, a traitor,” etc. Therefore, whoever presumes to say the same of his neighbor goes just as far as the emperor and all governments. For although you do not wield the sword, you employ your poisonous tongue to the shame and hurt of your neighbor…

For we ought never to deprive any one of his honor or good name unless it be first taken away from him publicly.

False witness, then, is everything which cannot be properly proved. Therefore, what is not manifest upon sufficient evidence no one shall make public or declare for truth; and in short, whatever is secret should be allowed to remain secret, or, at any rate, should be secretly reproved, as we shall hear. Therefore, if you encounter an idle tongue which betrays and slanders someone, contradict such a one promptly to his face, that he may blush thus many a one will hold his tongue who else would bring some poor man into bad repute from which he would not easily extricate himself. For honor and a good name are easily taken away, but not easily restored. – explanation of the Eighth Commandment from Luther’s Large Catechism

As Luther explains, there is more to the Eighth Commandment. It implies that we should avoid presenting others in a negative light and dragging their dirty laundry out for all to see, whether the rumors are true or not.  We should assume the best of those around us, and we should actively work to avoid causing injury to others by our words.

Luther’s explanation of the Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Commandment can be found here. The Ninth and Tenth Commandments address the desires of our hearts.

The Ninth and Tenth Commandments are pretty straightforward also. Don’t have a desire for someone else’s spouse.  Don’t be obsessed with having other people’s stuff.

Those two Commandments can best be expressed as, “Be happy with what you have.” It’s not necessarily bad to admire someone else’s spouse- he or she might have qualities you would treasure in your own spouse, or to admire someone else’s car, because you aspire to a better model than you already have.  Our friend’s kitchen cabinets might inspire our own kitchen remodel for instance.   But covetousness becomes destructive when it becomes an overwhelming desire to have something or someone who is owned or bound to another.  God commands us to be thankful that those around us have good gifts, as well as for us to be thankful for the gifts He has given us.

Therefore we allow these commandments to remain in their ordinary meaning, that it is commanded, first, that we do not desire our neighbor’s damage, nor even assist, nor give occasion for it, but gladly wish and leave him what he has, and, besides, advance and preserve for him what may be for his profit and service, as we should wish to be treated. Thus these commandments are especially directed against envy and miserable avarice, God wishing to remove all causes and sources whence arises everything by which we do injury to our neighbor, and therefore He expresses it in plain words: Thou shalt not covet, etc. For He would especially have the heart pure, although we shall never attain to that as long as we live here; so that this commandment will remain, like all the rest, one that will constantly accuse us and show how godly we are in the sight of God! –explanation of the Ninth and Tenth Commandments from Luther’s Large Catechism

The purpose of the Law is to hold up a mirror to our face, so that we can see how much we sin and fail.  Jesus knows we sin and fail.  The good news of the Gospel is that He came to earth and died on the Cross to save us from our sins.  It is only in Christ that we can look to God and obey His commandments- God’s own rules given to us for our protection and well being.