“We Are The Church”
September 18, 2022
Rev. Brent Gundlah

I realize you would never know this by looking at me now but I was once a reasonably serious runner. I was never terribly fast and didn’t go very far but I was fairly disciplined about actually getting out there and doing it regularly. And given my history of vulnerability to the fourth deadly sin (that is to say “sloth”) this was no mean feat.

But one morning back in 2011 everything suddenly changed for me. As I got out of bed and put weight on my right leg, the excruciating pain I felt in my knee was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I’d run a few miles just the afternoon prior but now I could barely stand up, let alone walk up or down the stairs.

After a few days of hobbling around in agony, I went to see an orthopedic surgeon; given the level of pain I had, I figured I must be headed for the operating room. The doctor watched me walk to and fro in my sneakers and in my bare feet; he took a bunch of x-rays of my knee; he examined my right leg from my hip right down to my big toe. And when he had finished doing all of this, he looked me in the eye and said something that surprised me — the underlying problem wasn’t actually my right knee, it was my right foot.

Now this was hard to believe because my foot felt completely fine; it was my knee that was throbbing at the moment. But the doctor could see the what was going on in a way that I, with my limited perspective (and really sore knew), could not.

He explained that my foot was collapsing inward when it struck the ground as I ran, putting incredible repetitive stress on the inside of my knee — and this was what was causing my discomfort. If we could address the issue with my foot then the pain in my knee would eventually subside. Thankfully, I didn’t need surgery — just a whole lot of physical therapy and some insoles for my running shoes. Sure enough, within a few weeks my knee pain went away.

Suffice it to say, I gained a whole new appreciation for the interconnectedness of the human body as a result of that experience. It made me realize how coordinated so many different parts must be in order for us to do much of anything — including seemingly simple things like walking or running that we tend to take for granted.

Paul’s point in our reading for today (drawn from his first letter to the Corinthians) is that the church is similar to the human body in this way. It takes the ongoing coordination of many different parts, each contributing in unique and specific ways to something that is greater than any one of them, in order to make it all work.

And this seemed like an especially appropriate passage for us to consider this morning — as we celebrate our Homecoming to church; as Sunday School and a new program year begin; as we initiate anticipate our upcoming Month for Mission; as we continue to live into our potential as a church community.

As a preacher, I’m really grateful that this text aligns so well with this moment in the life of the church. On the other hand, when it aligns so well it can be kind of hard to decide what to say about it. To put it in sports terms, it’s like an eighty mile an hour fastball right down the middle of the plate; or an uncontested lay up; or a one-foot putt for birdie; or the last ten yards of a marathon.

But, to milk this string of sports metaphors for all that it’s worth, you still need to swing at the pitch; you’ve actually have to make the shot or the putt; you need to run the whole race. You must, as a football coach of some renown once said, “Do your job,” whatever that job might happen to be.

It sounds so simple but, of course, it really isn’t — we all know this. Think about all that has to happen in order to actually hit that pitch, or to make that putt. And think about all that has to happen in order to be a church, to be the body of Christ in this world.

Of course, all of the various aspects of these efforts matter and they need be acknowledged and appreciated. But if we focus on them too much, if we get too mired in and overwhelmed by specific details, we can’t actually accomplish much of anything. Success in all complex endeavors is about finding that proper balance between the individual and the whole, the forest and the trees. And this requires ongoing discernment and a whole lot of work.

“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 the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit,” says Paul in our reading for today.

This passage from First Corinthians comes up in the Lectionary around the time that the story of Jesus’s baptism does — and this is no accident. Something really special and significant happened to Jesus there in the Jordan River. It’s hard to say for certain what that something was, but there’s no denying that, when Jesus emerges from the waters and the dove appears and the voice rings out from the heavens, everything seems to change. Miracles start happening; the story really gets going; Jesus’s ministry among the people truly begins.

We start to get a better, more complete understanding of who Jesus really was — from all four gospel writers — when Jesus orients his life towards others, towards the world, towards God, towards something bigger than himself. 

And so what if it all changes for us when we enter into covenant with God, with the church and with each other? What if it all changes when we actually choose to become a part of the body of Christ in this world?

We belong here, we matter here, we are accepted for who we are here, and these are real gifts of the Spirit. But there’s a bit more to it.

Because, as far as Paul is concerned, you can’t truly belong to the church without also participating in the church, without bringing the unique gifts you possess (and, to be clear, we all have gifts) to bear here, for the benefit of all.

In other words, belonging and responsibility are two sides of the same coin in the life of the body of the church, just as they are in the human body.

The foot is, as we all know, a part of the body. But if your foot happens to stop doing what a foot needs to do, then your knee is negatively affected. And if your knee can’t do what it needs to do, then your back hurts. And so on and so forth. Pretty soon, your whole body doesn’t function as it should. And it’s the exact same thing with church.

We all need to do our part here in order to make this work. It sounds so simple in theory, but not so much in practice. What if we don’t understand what our gifts are? What if we think that other people don’t see our gifts as being essential? What if we don’t even see our own gifts as being essential? What if my gift clashes with someone else’s gift? These are all very real issues and concerns, because whenever people are involved, things can get challenging.

But none of this changes the fact that we are called to be Christ’s body in this world. So we simply can’t allow all of those other things — those very human things — to distract us from that task; we can’t permit tendencies such as self-doubt, worry, laziness, or conflict to paralyze us. We can’t just sit there with the bat on our shoulder, we’ve actually gotta take a swing at some point — even if that means we’ll strike out sometimes.

It seems kind of complicated and counterintuitive, but it is precisely when we’re willing to put aside our own priorities for the benefit of others — to work for the common good — that we manage to shine the brightest.

But it’s also pretty simple. We all belong here, we all have things to do here. So let’s figure out what those things are and get to work.