On Being the Body of Christ
April 2, 2017
by Rev. Bill Jennings
First Reading: I Corinthians 11.23-32
Second Reading: I Corinthians 12.13-27
Introduction: Often when a Pastor leaves a Congregation, there is a reaction among the congregation that somehow this loss to the church has put the church into a crisis. But we need to remember that a change in pastoral leadership is a normal and usually healthy process. And, in our case, it is indeed something we need not worry about if we still believe that Jesus Christ is still the Head of the Church. Alan’s retirement was normal and expected – no moral scandal or hard feelings involved, and we need to praise the Lord for that. But there is something we need to remember: and that is that while Shepherds come and Shepherds go, but the Flock, the Congregation remains! And now we have before us a unique challenge to rise to the occasion to be the kind of congregation that the Supreme Shepherd, the Good Shepherd desires! Rather than thinking of our change of Pastors as a crisis, I would like to submit this to ourselves as a challenge – to Be the body of Christ.
In the O.T., we find at least one case in which the LORD, speaking through the Prophet Jeremiah, said this about Israel: “The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and the people love it this way….” (Jer. 5.30-31a). Here we see that the LORD recognized that the spiritual leadership of Israel was rotten, and indeed deserved this stern criticism, but that did not excuse the people of God from committing immorality and apostasy themselves.
In the N.T. we find a similar situation in the church in Berea, located in Macedonia. Luke tells us this in Acts 17.11 what the believers in Berea did when they heard the gospel from the Apostle Paul: “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness, and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Here, again we see a responsibility beyond that of a church leader to verify if he was telling the truth! The “noble” believers in Berea exercised their responsibility of calling to account their leaders!
That is why, in the Presbyterian Church, we call our Pastors “Teaching Elders” and the other Elders “RulingElders”. The Congregation elects these Ruling Elders to be their representatives to rule the congregation. The Pastor has his responsibility to teach the congregation. So, the N.T. is fully aware of the fact that while church leaders may come and go, the Congregation Stays! Leaders come and go, but the Congregation, the Deciders Stay!
A.Now, I want to return to this morning’s Communion service. In the words of the Institution of the Lord’s Supper, we find the words, “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (And that “himself” includes all the “herselves” out there too).
Clearly in this service of remembrance of the death of our Lord, “the body of the Lord refers primarily to the death of Jesus on the cross, and how that death tortured and destroyed that body, and the blood that spilled out of that body drained the life from it and so inaugurated the New Covenant which we celebrate in the Lord’s Supper.
And as the writer of the letter to the Hebrews wrote, without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin (Heb.9.22). God says that the wages of sin is death, and that is true. However, Jesus was sinless, innocent. He was the only human being who never deserved to die, for he never sinned! So in His death, he has infinite collateral with God for the forgiveness of our sins. That is why the shed blood – the death of the sinless One provides infinite forgiveness for us all.
1.But also, in the very next chapter of I Cor. Paul tells us that the church is (also!) the Body of Christ and each member an essential, useful and important member of that Body (I Cor. 12.13 & 27). Now, going back to I Cor. 12.13-27, what does it mean to be the body of Christ? Paul makes it clear that we all should fit together as very different kinds of members, like hands, and eyes, feet and ears. Some members are more presentable than others, but all are equally useful.
Each member is different, displaying different gifts. Oh! Oh! There is that dangerous politically correct word: “different” or diversity! Unfortunately in our Politically Correct world, “diversity” more often than not communicates to us conflict. But Paul’s vision of different does not mean conflict or competition. It means cooperation. Listen to his words: (Read again I Cor. 12.14-27 pausing on v.18: “but in fact, God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” Not a good idea to mess with God’s plan!). Emphasize vs. 25-27 as to how this should work out in the church: “so that there should be no division in the body, that its parts should have equal concern for each other, If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ.”
Now the body of Christ as an illustration for how the church should behave is a great one, one we should never forget as a goal that we need to strive for, but there is still another ideal goal that Jesus himself presented to his disciples on the very night that he celebrated his last Passover Meal with them, on what we call Maundy Thursday. Frequently people ask what does “Maundy Thursday mean? The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word, mandate which means “commandment”, and it refers to John 13.34-35 when Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” A little later that same evening, He said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15.12-13)
The critical point here is that if the church is able to show this mutual love between its members: that in itself is an evangelistic tool! The outside world will recognize that we belong to Jesus. The love and mutual concern for one another will draw the world to us and provoke the question that Peter talks about in I Peter 3.15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, but with gentleness and respect.”
But there is even one step more than members of the Body of Christ loving one another, and we find that in Jesus’ final prayer of intercession for us on the very same night in which he celebrated the Passover and Last Supper with His disciples. It is found in John 17.20-23. Listen to what he prayed. Jesus, the Son to his Father: (in the words of The Message:
“I am praying not only for them (the Disciples). But also for those who will believe in me because of them and their witness about me. The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind – Just as you, Father are in me and I in you, so they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you in fact, sent me…..And give the Godless world evidence that You’ve sent me and loved them as You’ve love me.”
So, we have three things we need to pray for as we approach the Table of the Lord: First, as we try to discern, understand and embrace what Jesus did through his Body and blood on the cross for us.
Secondly, discern and understand what we need to do and who we need to be to be the body of Christ, loving one another, being concerned for one another, and suffering with the others within the Body of Christ.
And finally, cultivating our unity of heart and mind with both Jesus and our Father in Heaven.
Then, as Jesus prayed, we may provide this Godless world evidence that the Father has indeed sent Jesus and He loves us in the very same way He loved his Son.