The Text: 1 Corinthians 12:28
The movie Coach Carter is the true story of Ken Carter, a successful sporting goods store owner, who in 1999 became head basketball coach for a high school in a poorer city suburb. The first thing he noticed was the attitude of the players he was about to coach and their extremely dismal performance on the court. So Carter sets out to change this by imposing some strict conditions including: respectful behaviour, dress code, and good academic results as a prerequisite for participation in the team.
One player, Timo, thought that all this was just over the top and quit the team, only to return later with a desire to be reinstated. Timo asked Coach Carter what he must do to play. Carter deliberately sets him an impossible task – he must complete 2,500 push-ups and 1,000 suicide drills by Friday.
By Friday, Timo had tried but hadn’t completed the tasks the coach had set him. Although impressed by the effort, Carter asked him to leave the gym. Timo has failed.
Unexpectedly, another player, Jason, who previously had a personality conflict with Timo, stepped forward. “I’ll do push-ups for him,” he tells the coach. “You said we’re a team. One person struggles, we all struggle. One player triumphs, we all triumph. Right?”
Coach Carter watched Jason drop to the floor and begin doing push-ups. One by one the entire team joined to help Timo reach his goal. They had been acting only as individuals, but now they were working together as a team.
Nature provides us with a multitude of examples of the teamwork of animals and birds. Geese fly in a “V” formation and take it in turns flying up front where the going is harder. When the lead bird gets tired it falls to the back where the updraught caused by the birds in front make flying easier. When penguins experience extremely cold weather they huddle together and as the penguins on the outside get cold they are moved further into the centre and keep on rotating so that they all keep warm. It would be a disaster for them to be selfish. When those outside died from the cold there would be none left to keep those in the centre warm.
The Bible reading from 1 Corinthians which we heard earlier makes some important points about being together.
First of all, it says that we are Christ’s body. Note that it doesn’t say, “we are like Christ’s body”, but “we are Christ’s body”. We are a group of people linked to Christ: that’s what we have in common.
It’s true that we are individuals and that Jesus has saved us as individuals, but we have been joined together in baptism with Jesus. We have been called together into God’s family as brothers and sisters – together we are God’s own people (1 Peter 2:9, Col 3:12).
Secondly, we all have the same Spirit who links us to each other. We have all received the same Holy Spirit who calls us to worship the one Saviour, believe in the one true God who supports and comforts all of us in our times of need.
Our “oneness” is in God our heavenly Father who created us and loves each of us with such intensity that He freed us from our sin and adopted us as His own children. Our oneness in Christ our Saviour and the Holy Spirit, who calls us into God’s Church, breaks down barriers and division
One of the most revolutionary things about Christianity in its early history was the way it broke down barriers. It turned the world of its time on its head.
For the first time: master and slave met in the same building for the same purpose, shared the same meals, stood or knelt side by side in worship.
For the first time male and female were able to worship without the marked divisions which Jewish worship demanded.
For the first time Jew and Gentile were able to meet together as equals before the one God whom they worshipped.
The reality was that the church broke down barriers which society put up and practised. The church was at the forefront of change. It refused to follow the ways of the world, but set a different standard which eventually the world partially adopted for itself. The church did that because it was linked to Christ as one body.
The third thing this passage emphasises is that while each of us has separate, individual gifts, we all belong to each other, need each other., We, all together, make up what we call church. Paul used the picture of the body to help us grasp the reality of the church.
There are two points to Paul’s picture of the church as a body.
One: we are all of value and all have a role to play in the church. And two: we can’t do without each other. Just as a hand can’t decide to live in isolation from the rest of the body – if it does it’s either a disconnected hand or it’s not a hand at all – so we can’t live in isolation from each other. There’s no such thing as a Christian who lives in isolation from everybody else. To be a Christian means that we exist in relation to others – we need others just as they need us.
Paul summarised this new “oneness” which people shared when he said, “All of you are Christ’s body” (1 Cor 12:27). Now remember to whom Paul was writing these words. Here was a congregation of very gifted people who:
- couldn’t get on,
- showed little care for certain sections of the congregation,
- big-noted themselves and thought of themselves as more important and more spiritual than the rest,
- took one another to court,
- had all kinds of problems when it came to worship and agreeing on how things were to be done.
And yet, in spite of all of this, Paul opens his letter by calling them the saints at Corinth and then says, “Each one of you is part of the body of Christ.”
He doesn’t say to them, “Now listen here, you guys, this is what it should be like and I know that you will never achieve this”. Instead he deliberately and firmly says, “You are the church, the fellowship of believers, in fact, the body of Christ, and this is how it is”.
It’s not like life out there in the world. You can’t use worldly ways when it comes to the body of Christ. Out there people use one another, unfairly and rudely criticise one other, run others down to promote themselves. Out there people get all huffy and abusive if they don’t get their own way, are jealous of those who get more attention or given greater status, or who use their skills and time selfishly for personal gain only.
- In the church things are different. Here our function and purpose is for the good of each other.
- If one is sad, then we all share that sadness.
- If one is disadvantaged, we all feel that disadvantage.
- If one is sick then we long for them to be well.
- If one is separated, we want for them to have a sense of belonging.
- If one is struggling to cope, we sense that struggle.
- And conversely, if one gets a promotion we’re glad for their success.
If a person deserves praise, we’re liberal in giving them some praise.
We encourage each other to use their respective gifts to the fullest. We look around and recognise that some don’t seem to have a particular outstanding talent but we honour them too, so that there is no discord, no bitterness and no ill-feeling in the body of Christ.
In the church, in the Christian fellowship, there’s a different set of values from those of the world which should affect the way we operate. This doesn’t happen naturally. This only happens, and can only happen, when individuals are linked to Christ. And, then it follows that the stronger the link to Christ, the more the God pleasing interaction and togetherness becomes a reality.
This is a key issue – how can we expect to be the body of Christ when we don’t know Christ and His will is for us? It is through reading the Scriptures, studying them, learning from them, receiving Holy Communion, asking Jesus in prayer for His guidance and help, and allowing the love of God in Jesus to really affect our daily lives that we know Christ and see our place within His body, the church. The church is just another group of people or club if we don’t know and follow the Saviour and recognise that He is always calling us together to be His people to bring his blessing to this community.
There is plenty of room for repentance and change. There is plenty of room to do a stocktake of what Jesus and His church means to each of us. There is plenty of room to acknowledge that we have often adopted the attitude of “what can I get out of the church” rather than “what can I give to Christ through the church”.
Some of us may have to admit that we have preferred to sit back and let everyone else do things rather than offering to work with our fellow members of the body of Christ. It is very easy to not be involved in the life of the church – after all, we do have our lives to live!
There is little doubt that there are many things which we don’t like about the human side of the church.
The church is church only because of Jesus. We are called into the church to be with Christ and with those whom Christ has saved (and for those He is yet to save). We are here because of the love which Christ has for us and the forgiveness He has won for us on the Cross. This is what makes the church different to every other organisation in the world. We are motivated by the love of Christ to be like Christ to others – welcoming the outcast, accepting the sinner, comforting a little child, welcoming the cheat, encouraging the depressed.
In many ways we do reflect the concept of the body of Christ in this church. There is a sense of caring for each other, of showing concern, of building up and encouraging and helping when it’s most needed.
But we can improve. We can be more diligent: at building up rather than tearing down, at strengthening rather than weakening, at thinking as a body, rather than individually. We can commit ourselves to be an organism, a living body which works, and so benefit each other. In our own small way, we as “church” and as individual members of the church can shape the community in which we live.
How do we see the church and our place in it?
As this year gets under way we are challenged to think about what this congregation means to us. We can continue to develop a sense of belonging here. Don’t just talk about this church as “(name of local congregation inserted here)” but as my church or our church (we all know it is really God’s church).
Here we try to help each other on Sunday mornings focus in the one direction as we:
- focus on the God we believe in,
- show each other that He’s important to us by our presence here,
- receive strength for the days in-between worship,
- receive a sense of being part of a big family which is important to us, which we can count on, to which we can give what we are able to give and we can be a body which functions the way God intends it to function.
Why bother with this? Because it is here amongst the people of God that we find Jesus and His love for us and the world. We tell each other through words and practical ways that God loves us and is ready to do whatever is necessary to help us be the Christians God wants us to be in this place. It is this love of God which has called us together – as different as we might all be – to be part of his church.
Paul says to us, “Together you are the body of Christ”.
And we respond, “We are the body of Christ! Amen!