Do me a favor—raise your right hand right now. Look at it for a second and imagine rejecting it. Declaring that it’s not part of you. Then imagine your right hand agreeing, and having it act independently from you. You don’t control it, it’s not part of your body. Your right hand is not part of your body.
Ridiculous, right? Flex your fingers for a second. Make a fist and relax it. Of course it’s part of your body. It couldn’t not be. Actually, if it wasn’t, the rest of you would really have to work to make up for it.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians points out that this is exactly how it works in the Body of Christ as well. We’re all part of it, and whatever part we play is beyond just important—it’s the only way it works.
Every time I read this passage, I’ve tried to think about what part of the body I am. Now that I’ve said that, some of you might be thinking about what part you are, too. That’s good. It’s a good way to start getting into that self-awareness about our faith lives.
Actually, if you haven’t been thinking about it, do that now.
What part of the body of Christ might you be?
Some of us might be eyes and ears that gather information and transmit it to the rest of the body. Some of us might be the legs or feet that propel the body where it needs to go. Some might be the stomach or lungs—hidden parts that supply the body with what sustains it. Some might be the hands arms that reach out to serve.
Some might feel like the foot that fell asleep. I admit, the last time I read through this letter to the Corinthians, I sort of felt like that foot. Anyone ever have that happen? A foot fall asleep? At the time, I thought that what I needed was for the rest of the body to shake me awake. At that time, it is what I needed, but what I didn’t ask was why the body had sat still long enough for a foot to fall asleep.
That’s the question I should’ve asked. Why was the body so still, so complacent, so sedentary, as to let a foot fall asleep? More to the point, why was I so complacent and still as to do that?
If you’ve ever had a foot completely asleep, you know two things:
1. It will hurt a little to wake up.
2. You’re likely to fall flat on your face until it does.
We’re part of the body of Christ. This is a body of mutual care between all the parts. When we remain still, complacent, not using ourselves for what we’re supposed to, we hurt ourselves and endanger the body. We’re responsible to ourselves and to one another. When we try to destroy or undermine a part, we do the same thing.
If the muscles didn’t work with the eyes, we’d run ourselves into walls. If the nerves didn’t work with the limbs, we’d do all sorts of damage to ourselves.
So we kind of get what happens when we’re destructive to ourselves, what happens when we try to lift each other up? Just reverse all of that. When the muscles work with the eyes, the limbs, the nerves, the ears, we can really go places. We can run races, we can climb mountains, we can cook and serve amazing meals, we can put together furniture, we can smell spring flowers, we can create, go and do.
Seems like a pretty common sense analogy. When we work together, we can do more. When we as a group listen to all the parts, we’ll go further. If we try to disconnect ourselves from the body, we destroy ourselves even as we hurt the body. Remember your hand? A hand without an arm, nervous system, muscles, bones, can’t do much. An eye without an optical nerve and body to communicate with is pretty useless, too. A body without an eye will have to compensate to survive, and won’t have the same capacity it did with the eye.
We need all the parts of our body. Each one enriches the whole and enables something that wouldn’t be as possible without it.
The catch is, when we think of our own body, it’s automatic. Breathing, getting from here to there, sitting down, standing up, watching a sunset, all that just happens and we can scarcely imagine it any other way.
When we think of the body of Christ, it’s not automatic. When the different parts are different people, things get trickier to envision. All of us here, part of the body of Christ. All of the people out there—worshipping elsewhere this morning, sitting at home, wherever—part of the body of Christ. Dividing ourselves into us and them doesn’t change the reality that we are all one. Inextricably tied to one another, tied into a need to mutually care for one another. To play our part as part of the whole.
That takes a little thinking—it’s tough to see that the person in front of or behind me or the one who brings my breakfast at the diner is inextricably tied to me, and I am to them. That diversity enriches the body, and oversimilarity hinders it. That’s probably part of Paul’s point—it’s not automatic, and it should be. It should be automatic, but we don’t see it. There’s a gap in what the body of Christ actually is (a whole), and what we think it is.
And it can’t just end there—in a mental exercise. If this faith life thing is important, and we'll guess it is or we wouldn’t be here, since this is important, we don’t just say so and do nothing about it.
If a foot falls asleep we wake it up—which might be painful for us and the foot. If we are that foot, we have to be prepared to wake up, which might be painful. We don’t sit still, either, doing nothing or just doing the same thing over and over. We move together, work together, and try new ways to reach the world together. We rejoice in the accomplishments and contributions of one another. If there’s something to do, we do it—hands and feet and eyes and ears.
What we do matters. In a few minutes, we will have the opportunity to meet as one group and hear from one another—to get a picture of the whole from all of the parts. It matters if we stay or go; it matters if we work together or try to dislocate ourselves or try to strengthen one another.
Where is the good news in this? Right now it sounds like a lot of work, I suppose. It is. The good news is in the potential. Look again at your hand. Rather than imagine it being removed from the body, look at it as it is—as a part of the body. Notice the wrist, which allows movement for better function, the arm that connects it to the torso, the muscles that allow it to lift heavy objects.
Now see the hand as the person next to you. Remember what part you were.
What’s your job in this Body of Christ? How does it connect to theirs?