One with Christ
The Rev. Joseph Winston August 2, 2009
Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 The human body is a wonderful thing. Our ﬁve senses provide us with keen insight into the world all around us. We can carefully caress the skin of a newborn infant. We are able to taste the delectable mixture of bitter and sweet in a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. We have the power to pick out the smallest hint of rain in the warm afternoon breeze. Our eyes can take in every minute detail of a dramatic red sunset found at the end of a hard day of work. Our ears with their amazing ability to hear both extremely quiet and load sounds bring to us music that invokes deeply felt emotions like either joy or sadness. The same body that normally works so well can fail us. Every one of our senses can break down in many different and sometimes strange ways. Some peoRomans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3.
ple cannot feel the warmth of a hot cup of coffee in their hands. A good steak tastes just the same as any other food for those individuals who lack the ability to tell what they are eating. The inability to smell makes it difﬁcult to appreciate a bouquet of fresh cut ﬂowers from the ﬁelds. Without sight, you cannot see your loved one walking in the door after a long absence. When you cannot hear, sounds of joy never reach you. We also have all those ever so ordinary ways that our bodies let us down. Of course, it hurts when we cut ourselves. No matter what age, broken hearts are painful. So is arthritis that makes it difﬁcult, if not impossible, to do all those things, which we used to enjoy. Sore throats and the common cold bother us during the colder times of the year but cancer, heart attacks, and strokes kill us year round. Death is something that we all must face one day. You cannot escape this fact. You will die. Because we are so intimately familiar with every one of our weaknesses and the many problems of our own bodies, what comes next might completely surprise you. We are the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). That is exactly how the author of the letter to the church in Ephesus describes everyone who is a follower of Christ. We are the Body of Christ. Before going any further with today’s sermon, one point must be made perfectly clear. When you hear the statement that we are the Body of Christ, I am simply restating an accepted truth that has been passed down through the ages to us. The Apostle Paul clearly describes the Church as Christ’s body (1 Corinthi-
ans 12:27; Romans 7:4; Ephesians 4:12).2 The same explanation that the Church is Christ’s Body is repeated not once but twice by Philipp Melanchthon in the Lutheran Confessions.3 All of these examples say that we are literally Christ’s Body.4 . In other words, the phrase that we are Christ’s Body is not a metaphor. It is a fact. In the same way, every use that you can ﬁnd in the Bible that describes the Church as Christ’s Body, you will never ﬁnd an illustration that only just compares the believers to Christ’s Body. That mean this is not a simile. It is true. We are Christ’s Body. Down at this font or one just like it, you were baptized.5 The pastor poured water over your head and said for the entire world to hear, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In the water and the Word, God came to you and made you a part of Christ’s Body (I Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 4:4-6).6 That is what the Holy Trinity does for you. God brings you into Christ’s Body. You are One with Christ. As a member of Christ’s Body, you fully participate in everything that Jesus
Current scholarship does not consider Ephesians to be written by Paul. Charles B. Cousar; Idem, editor, The Letters of Paul, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), Interpreting Biblical Texts, p. 18. If this is correct, then it does not decrease Paul’s inﬂuence in any way since the author of the Epistle follows Paul’s theology in stating that the Church is Christ’s Body. 3 Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Articles VII and VIII, T HE C HURCH; n. 12, n. 29.; Theodore G. Tappert et al., editors, The Book of Concord, (Fortress Press, 1959), pp. 170, 173. 4 Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology: The Triune God, Volume 1, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 204. 5 Baptism is a calling into a “life-long growth into Christ.” William H.Lazareth and Nikos Nissiotis, editors, Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry: Faith and Order Paper No.111, (World Council of Churches, 1982), p. 4 . This lifelong calling must be used by the Church, if the Church desires to attract and maintain its members. We cannot continue to ignore this “opportunity for making Christians.” Mons A.Teig; Thomas H.Schattauer, editor, Chap. Holy Baptism: Promise Big Enough for the World In ‘Inside Out’, (Fortress Press, 1999), p. 50. 6 H.Lazareth and Nissiotis, Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry, pp. 2, 3, 5.
does.7 You eat when the Body eats. You drink when the Body drinks. That is why it is so important for us to be fed here at Christ’s Table. We do not want the Body to be hungry. An empty stomach makes it difﬁcult to go out and do everything that is needed for life. When the Body is hurt, you suffer. When the Body dies, you die. When the Body is raised from the dead, you live. All of these facts give you a sure hope. You already know what has happened to the Body. Jesus was put to death on the cross and three days later, a miracle occurred. A dead Body was given never ending life. This your gift too since you are joined with the Body. You live because the Body lives. The inverse is also true. The entire Church, including Jesus, is with you through your life. Practically, this means you never are alone.8 Even when it seems that the entire world has abandoned you, the Body of Christ is still with you. Then there are all those things that we would rather not talk about. When you do not live up to your full potential, the entire Body suffers. If a member leaves the Body, the Body is dismembered.9 For far too long, we have accepted the pain of people simply walking away from the Church. This must stop. It is not just a matter of numbers. It is actually about real suffering for the one that left and for the Body. Without the Body, one
Paul’s letters only make sense if we assert that followers of Christ do everything that Christ does (Romans 6:5-10). John A. T. Robinson, The Body: A Study in Pauline Theology, (Chicago, IL: Henry Regnery Company, 1952), p. 47. 8 When looking at Romans 12:3-6, Kart Barth writes in The Epistle to the Romans that despite what the church teaches, Paul does not support the idea of “individual human personality.” in the body of Christ.Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, (London, England: Oxford University Press, 1933), p. 441. 9 Robinson, The Body, p. 51.
cannot eat. For a while, it might seem as if everything is OK. Sooner or later, the lack of food will catch up to the one individual that went their own way and that person will die. The Body will carry on, but we will always carry the permanent scar of the one that left. Our unused font tells another story. Apparently, we ﬁrmly believe that the Body has no more room for anyone else. That is sad. Think of all the work that the Body could do with one new hand. Imagine the possibilities that might occur if the Body had just a bit more energy. Tell me where the Body could go with one more person pitching in. Contrast our feelings about the Body of Christ that is the Church to what is actually happening out in the world. We do not to have to go very far to see what the Body is doing. Right here among us, our synod now has a director for mission development. Pastor Kerry Nelson has ﬁlled this role since April 16. He is out in the Body of Christ looking for those people who are excited about bringing in new members. Tell me who would like to work on helping bring new people into the Body of Christ. For the ﬁrst time in our existence as a synod, we are preparing to help the Body of Christ when it suffers loss during disasters. Just this month, Pastor Glenn Hohlt joined the synod staff as the Director of Disaster Preparation and Recovery. His two year call is to work with leaders before a disaster strikes. The goals of this project are simple. We need to have plans and resources in place before they are needed. If a catastrophe occurs, Pastor Hohlt will then help coordinate the response. Would someone like to be responsible for our preparations? 5
On Friday August 28 and Saturday August 29, the synod will be hosting a leadership summit. There we will have a chance to learn how to reach out to those people who do not know the beneﬁts of being One in the Body. I am planning to attend. Let me know if you would like to go. On a slightly larger scale, the ELCA just ﬁnished the largest servant project ever held in New Orleans. Thirty seven thousand youth and adults spent four days hearing the Word of God and being the Body of Christ in New Orleans. When one part of the Body is in need, the Church responds. These Lutheran volunteers helped to host a health fair, they planted grass in the wetlands, they cleaned up a cemetery, they gave books to children, and they repaired houses, schools, and buildings throughout New Orleans. Our synod was responsible for the scheduling of every one of these events. Right here I’ve seen how you take care of one another. That is what the Body does. Where there is need, the Church steps in. Before worship, you make sure that everyone is here. Afterwards, you take the time to talk with one another. I am sure you know how to be a fully functioning member of Christ’s Body. I have seen you do it. God willing, this role will grow. All of these different examples show us the diversity of gifts the Holy Spirit has given the body of Christ in our synod. We have people who engage the world in the work of spreading the Good News, in other words we have evangelists. In churches both in Louisiana and in Texas, pastors preach the Word. Teachers bring the gifts of education to students of every age. The previously described work builds up the Body of Christ. However, none 6
of this labor is possible without the work of the Trinity. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit empower the Body. That is the Good News today. God is here with us. That is one of the names given to Jesus, Emmanuel: God with us. Emmanuel not only saves us from our sin but Jesus also frees us from the inhumanity that we force onto others. Our bodies, so wonderfully designed by God, are gifts to each of us. So is the Church. It supports us. It feeds us. It gives us life. Share this life. “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”10
A.Teig, Mons; H.Schattauer, Thomas, editor, Chap. Holy Baptism: Promise Big Enough for the World In ‘Inside Out’, (Fortress Press, 1999), pp. 39–58. Barth, Karl, The Epistle to the Romans, (London, England: Oxford University Press, 1933), Translated from the sixth edition by Edwyn C. Hoskyns. Cousar, Charles B.; Idem, editor, The Letters of Paul, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), Interpreting Biblical Texts. H.Lazareth, William and Nissiotis, Nikos, editors, Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry: Faith and Order Paper No.111, (World Council of Churches, 1982).
Jenson, Robert W., Systematic Theology: The Triune God, Volume 1, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1997). Robinson, John A. T., The Body: A Study in Pauline Theology, (Chicago, IL: Henry Regnery Company, 1952). Tappert, Theodore G., editors, The Book of Concord, (Fortress Press, 1959).