3rd Sunday after Epiphany
January 27, 2013
1 Corinthians 12:12-31
Ella Bartch was kind of quiet, but she had a mind and a ministry of her own. Her husband was the Sunday School Superintendent and often had a lot to say about a lot of things. In my mind’s eye, I see Ella dressed in a black skirt and white blouse with a fancy white apron on, running the kitchen for a funeral dinner. She is cool and collected in the midst of chaos, sending out beautiful plates of food to a crowd gathered around a grieving family. Even in that tacky old church kitchen, she could make food that created an event. That kitchen WAS Ella Bartch’s ministry. Whenever food was necessary, Ella made wonderful thinks happen.
I always think of Ella when I read this section of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth in Greece. Hang in there with me, I’m going to take you on a little trip…..
Corinth was a big urban church in a major seaport, so it had it’s own set of unique problems. There was a big division between rich and poor, as both successful business owners and transient workers were part of it. There were lots of different races and religions gathered there, since the port connected with cultures far and wide. It was a fractious place, with swindlers and government offices and all sorts of legal and commercial enterprises. The congregation reflected all the craziness of the community, and keeping a sense of unity within it was the hardest work of all. So the New Testament contains two long letters to the congregation at Corinth, and Biblical scholars believe that there were some letters that didn’t make it into the Bible or got condensed into the letters we have. In these letters, Paul addresses both the questions which have been asked directly of him regarding issues that have caused contention in the community, and also issues which he and his assigned pastors have observed among the Corinthians.
Forging a sense of being one blessed community is the issue at the heart of all the controversies, and that is what Paul addresses in today’s reading. The image of community as a body is so helpful, it’s almost like a children’s sermon itself. Think about what it means to be a body, to have a body. Anyone here have pain somewhere? What does a toothache do to your thinking process? What does back pain do to your ability to fix dinner? And how about those most private parts of your body that no one talks about….can they run your life? Does having diarrhea affect your ability to have lunch with your friends or pay attention in a business meeting? You get the picture.
If one part of your body is suffering, the rest of your body suffers with it, Paul says, and we know it’s true. So in our congregation, we pray for each other for health and healing. We bring food when people come home from the hospital or have suffered a great loss and are so distracted and suffering. We help with toothpaste and toilet paper when needed. We make it possible for kids to go to camp because we want them to have the experience of building their faith and celebrating creation. We provide Sunday School for kids who aren’t ours, because they are our part of our faith community.
But Paul spends a lot of time talking about the different parts that make a body function. An eye, an ear, and hand, a foot – they are all necessary and so obviously needed to make a body work. But what about a gall bladder – ever had one of those malfunction? Or a pancreas? No one wants to be a pancreas in the Body of Christ, until a pancreas is exactly what the body needs to function perfectly, and someone says, “Well, OK, I guess I can do that,” and finds that this is their ministry, something that makes everything run smoothly and gives them joy to do it.
And so we come back to Ella Bartch. If you asked Ella what she did to make First Lutheran Church of Venice function as the body of Christ, she would tell you that she didn’t do anything important. But I know differently. She made every occasion special. She made it all run smoothly. She was the key to our community’s life together. When that tacky old kitchen was remodeled into a serious commercial kitchen it was named in memory of her with a big plaque on the wall: Ella Bartch Memorial Kitchen. It commemorates a ministry that people wanted to remember as holy and blessed to be a blessing to the whole community.
What’s your part? What is the part of being part of us and of God’s people that gives you joy? Or have you not found it yet? Want to be our mustache? Our dancing shoes? Our brain or heart? It’s important to remember what calls us together and makes us a body: our call to be God’s people here in this place right now today. You are a special part just by being here. By adding your voice and your attention and your connection to God’s Spirit in this place, you are already an active part of this community. Not one of us has come here on our own. We have been invited by God to be part of something big and important. So even if you can’t see what’s so important about your presence here, God knows, and God is shaping you as part of us at the same time that God is shaping us around you.
Jesus was unafraid in his lifetime of touching people who were sick, dead, bleeding, crazy, and otherwise un-invitable in polite society. Jesus’ death on the cross was a humiliation to the Jews and a scandal to the Greeks. But Jesus was never afraid to be where people needed most to know that God loved them. And that has not changed. Jesus still invites hypocrites, gossipers, lazy people, mean people, addicts of all kinds, self-righteous people, even people who think they are good enough already and don’t need God. We come here to be with God and hear that all our failings are made right by God’s love for us. We come to hear that God forgives us and calls us to something new and then walks with us as we become it. And we come to add our meager selves to be part of the body that is taking shape here – Jesus’s body in this place.
Today we will make decisions about what will be some further steps into our future together as Jesus’ body. Each of you has a part in building that body up and keeping it healthy and strong and vital, even if you just come to hear what is going on, and pray with us to be faithful to the ministry entrusted to us here. Like dear Ella, who is probably baking a ham in some kitchen in heaven, you may think that what you bring is not important or special, but you are wrong. What you bring is a necessary part of making a ministry that reflects God’s dreams for you and for the world. Amen.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.