Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Anatomy of a Church

1 Corinthians 12: 12-26
One thing that you probably don’t know about me is that I’m a watercolorist. I take classes whenever I can so that I make time to paint.  When I signed up for the Bird painting class through the Connecticut Natural Science Illustrators I was deeply disappointed, at first, to discover that we had to learn about bird anatomy before drawing and then painting a bird.

‘Why do we have to learn about the inside structure of a bird on order to paint it?’ That’s what I wanted to know and the teacher just sort of said, ‘Well you need to know what’s going on in the inside of a bird in order to make the form of the bird correct’. You need to understand how the skeletal structure connects with the structure of a wing. How the feathers are so delicately designed and laid out are as essential to your painting just as the color variations.

Well, of course she was right. Once I understood the anatomy of a bird my paintings and drawing were much more realistic.  What I grasped on a deeper level is that a bird wing is nothing short of a miracle intricately designed by a loving and creating God and it is essential that all of the feathers are aligned and working together.  This is how a bird can soar the heights with unlimited possibility.
Tufted Titmouse by Suzanne E. Wagner
Anatomy is the science of the shape and structure of organisms and it not only extends to birds and mammals but to organizations and dare I even say churches also.  The Apostle Paul knew that, he knew all to well that if the anatomy of the early church were off, there would be problems.

Paul writes his letter to the people at Corinth, a bustling urban community that was ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse. Corinth was the heart of Roman Imperial culture in Greece and it is more than likely that this small fledgling church population mirrored the larger community.  So you can imagine that there were clashes because of this diversity and also because of Rome. 

At this point he is writing as a mediator between the members.  Hear the words of the Apostle Paul in the 12th chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to 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 were to 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 the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
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 members, 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 members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this.
But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
As only Paul can do, he illustrates his point in many ways.  In fact he just hammers that point in over and over again like a jackhammer on stone.  This passage sounds like Church Anatomy 101 doesn’t it?  The church body at Corinth was not working out so well, so he uses the metaphor of the body to illustrate how the body of Christ really should work.  They were a fractured church community and Paul tries very hard to bolster their confidence and remind them what being the body of Christ is all about especially when the culture around them was less than decent and who worshipped Greek gods.

Each foot, each hand, each eye, each ear is essential.  Not one part is superfluous.  One body, one spirit.  They all work in harmony with one another yet each maintains its special function within the body.  Every member is significant and every member is responsible for the workings of the church.  Every member has responsibility to tell his or her story of God’s love in their life.  Every member is dependent upon the other.  Every member brings gifts and resources that the body needs to be about the work of Christ.  A bird can’t fly without its wing and a church can’t be a worshipping community without each person and the gifts they bring.

And what binds this conglomeration of people together?  For Paul it is critical for the people to know that their baptism in Christ binds them together, it is their shared story of love and pain, joy and sorrow, laughter and tears that they hold in common.  And yet they are free to express their unique and diverse gifts for the good of the common weal.  I don’t think it gets any better than that.  'Unity and diversity are not incompatible; they are interdependent on one another'.[i]    

We, as a congregation, are embarking on a path that will take us over many types of terrain.  We will pose questions for discussion and see what ‘aha’ moments there will be.  We will reach a consensus that utilizes unique gifts and that ultimately will strengthen this church. 

Each board and committee has its area of expertise, its special interests and individuals bring their distinctive gifts and talents to each group, and that’s good.  We are all responsible together for the growth that will occur if we remember our baptismal ties in Christ and that we are all gifted by the same God. When Christ is the focus of all we do then we experience grace, acceptance, and love.  Then we can make decisions that are fiscally responsible, mutually nurturing, and Gospel focused.

The church exists for the world, not vice versa.  And it can because each one of us, with our quirks and our affinities, brings to the take a wealth of unsurpassed talent.  Talent that can be utilized for the good of the whole.

I am much more attuned to birds now than I have ever been; their beauty, their little habits, their unique color gradations, their feistiness, and their gracefulness.  But I mostly marvel at their wings.  There are so many feathers and each one has a purpose, not one is dispensable.
Blue Jay

[i] 'Rethinking Interim Ministry', Anthony B. Robinson.  Congregations Issue 4, 2012.

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