Monday, September 26, 2005

Unity in Christ

This message was written for a combined service for both of the churches that I serve and preached on Sunday September 25, 2005. I'm including the Scripture and referencing a movie clip in the text.

1 Corinthians 12:12-27 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.

Unity in Christ
- Unity in Christ! Sounds nice doesn’t it? Everybody all together, believing the same thing, planning for the same thing, hoping the same thing. Almost sounds like utopia doesn’t it?
Question is, is it realistic and how do we make it happen?
You may remember a few years ago when Snoopy, the lovable beagle in the Peanuts cartoon, had his left leg broken. Hundreds of people wrote letters to Snoopy or sent sympathy cards. Snoopy himself philosophized about his plight one day while perched on top of his doghouse and looking at the huge white cast on his leg. "My body blames my foot for not being able to go places. My foot says it was my head’s fault, and my head blamed my eyes.... My eyes say my feet are clumsy, and my right foot says not to blame him for what my left foot did...." Snoopy looks out at his audience and confesses, "I don’t say anything because I don’t want to get involved."
Corinth was an ideal place for a congregation: its lanes were heavily lined with merchandizing booths. In fact, it was like one big mall. It was an old city made new (Rome had destroyed and rebuilt it), it was centrally located, considered a commercial haven by people from every nation of the Roman Empire. It was a big, busy city. In our society, it might be seen as the ideal place for a church.
BUT... the church at Corinth was not living up to its potential. In fact, it had some distinct, troublesome problems.
Ever hear the saying, "Beauty is skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone?"
The Church of Jesus Christ in Corinth was an ugly place - ugly clean to the bone.
I Corinthians 3:1-4 tells us about jealousy and division in the church. I Corinthians 4:18 talks about arrogant men in the church. And I Corinthians 5:1-2 speaks of the sin of pride being held up in the church. But there’s more! I Corinthians 9:1-6 tells of the church’s tendency to be backbiters of Paul’s ministry. I Corinthians 11:17-22 tells of potluck suppers that turned into spiritual food fights. Chapter 12 talks about the conflict between those who had the gift of tongues vs. those with other gifts. Then of course, there was chapters 15 & 16. These talked about a bad doctrine concerning the resurrection that had leaked into the congregation.
I don’t know about you folks, but if I had lived in Corinth, I’d go to another church. I’d walk several miles to go to another church. Corinth was a congregation on a downhill slide and someone had greased the chute. Frankly, this church didn’t measure up.
So how come Paul didn’t give up on Corinth? He wrote two letters to them: I & II Corinthians.
That’s a total of 21 pages in my Bible. The only other church to receive that many letters was Thessalonica and those two letters only get 5 pages in my Bible. I & II Timothy = 7 pages. I & II Peter = 7 pages. I, II & III John = 6 pages. In other words, Paul went to great lengths to reach out to this fractured, disobedient church.
And, not only had Paul not given up on Corinth, God hadn’t either. They still had their gifts.
If I had been God Corinth would have experienced something like a bad Christmas. The kid’s been a brat... load up his presents, put them in the trunk and slam the lid shut! But, God is in the business of mending broken things.
Why didn’t Paul and God give up on Corinth? Because the church had the potential to change.One example of this is found in II Corinthians 2:5ff. Paul had rebuked the church for looking the other way when one of their members had been sleeping with his father’s wife. But by the 2nd letter, the church’s discipline of the sinner seemed to be working. The man was apparently showing signs of repentance, and Paul was telling them to now let him back in.
God is merciful, but He expects us to fix what is broken and yield to Him in obedience. He expects us to realize that this is Christ’s body - not ours.
Now when I’m talking about Christ’s body, I’m talking about this church. Not the building. Because the building could be obliterated from the planet tomorrow and the church would go on.
I’m talking about the people. And not just the people of one church. We’ve got two churches here this morning worshiping together. That is a true demonstration of the unity to be found in the body of Christ.
Has anyone here, the adults now, seen the movie “Ice Age?” It’s a prehistoric animated film about some animals who come across a human baby and what they do with him. After some discussion about leaving him to die and about eating him, they decide that he should be returned to his tribe, or as they say, his herd. Now this eclectic little group consists of a wooly mammoth named Manny, a sloth named Sid, and a saber-toothed tiger named Diego.
Now Diego is with the group on a ruse. He’s not really there to help, he’s trying to find the humans’ camp so the other tigers can hunt them.
Now, our heroes go through the standard variety of perils and hijinx, but this one clip is one that you need to see.
(Play clip starting with scene 14 on the DVD and ending when Sid say “weirdest herd I’ve ever seen.”)
“We are the weirdest herd I’ve ever seen.” Take a look around. Were truer words ever spoken? We are one weird herd.
But don’t forget what Manny said here. When Diego asked why Manny put his own life in peril to rescue him, Manny said, “Because that’s what you do when you’re part of a herd. You look out for each other.”
We may be a weird herd, but we are a herd. One herd, part of an even bigger herd.
We’re a family. The family of God. We take care of each other and we look out for each other. At least that’s what we’re supposed to do.
The question is, are we doing a very good job of it? Are we really taking care of each other, or are we fostering infighting and back-biting and gossip? Because if we can’t even take care of each other, and all of us are Christians, how in God’s name will we ever turn our concern outwards to the rest of the world?
So for the sake of the unity of the Body of Jesus Christ, let’s lay aside our differences and our jealousies and our indignations. And let’s live like that weird herd we saw on the screen this morning, traveling together, one purpose, taking care of each other on this great, mysterious journey that we call the walk of faith.
Maybe we can find utopia.
We certainly can’t go wrong by trying.

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