Body Language

1 Corinthians 12:12-13:8a
Ordinary Time
Elizabeth M. Deibert

It’s been a tough couple of weeks. Hasn’t it? Though we are not there, we have scenes of earthquake victims in our heads and on our hearts. Every time we turn on the television or go online or open the paper, there’s more bad news. On top of that, as if that were not enough, we still have friends and family members struggling with illness. We have broken or difficult relationships, wounding deeply. And financial strain.

But when we remember Haiti and we know it’s not so bad. We’re not buried under rubble. We haven’t lost house and friends and family and job and city all at once. We have clean water, a comfortable bed, plenty of food and reasonable access to medical care.

Deborah Sontag of the New York Times found the Rev. Joseph Lejeune preaching last Sunday:

"Think of our new village here as the home of Jesus Christ, not the scene of a disaster," he called out over a loudspeaker. "Life is not a disaster. Life is joy! You don't have food? Nourish yourself with the Lord. You don't have water? Drink in the spirit." (Images of Haiti praying, crucifix still standing in demolished church)

And drink they did, singing, swaying, chanting and holding their noses to block out the terrible stench of the bodies in a collapsed school nearby.

So as we worship on this Sunday, our first worship service since this tragedy, as we think about what it means to be the body of Christ, we do it, knowing that part of the body is suffering deeply. And as we discussed at our session meeting on Tuesday night, we may not have all the answers to questions of God’s power and God’s love in the face of such tragedies, but we hold tightly to our faith, seeing how the Haitians are holding to theirs, even while hope of finding friends and family members under concrete is gone, even while medical supplies are insufficient to take care of the injured, even while food, drink, and shelter are all uncertain, even while burying the dead with dignity is not a possibility. But we affirm with scripture that God is our light in the darkness. We say with Paul that “We know that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Those are the Apostle Paul’s words to the Romans.

But to the Corinthians, who were embattled with one another, who were using their various gifts and strengths against one another, instead of for one another, Paul had different words. To the Corinthians, who from the top of the world, where they could look down on everyone below, Paul has some challenging words about unity, not uniformity, but unity amidst diversity. Paul uses body language to help the Corinthians appreciate how each part is essential to the effective functioning of the body. He then makes it clear that no part should think itself more important than the other. He is especially concerned that the weaker members of the body receive greater attention and honor. He concludes by reminding us that no gift, nothing we do as part of the body is of any value unless it is full of love. Love is the language which makes the body whole.

Hear the word of the Lord from 1 Corinthians.

We were not supposed to read chapter 13 today, according to the lectionary, the set readings. Only the second half of chapter 12. We were supposed to stop with these words: “And I will show you a still more excellent way.” But why? Just because some scholars in the 1500s divided it here. Everything in chapter 12 about the caring for every single part of the body leads to the love chapter. When chapter 12 talks about suffering together and rejoicing together, it is referring to love, as described in chapter 13.

When Paul says in chapter 12 that God has appointed all these varied gifts and he says with a rhetorical question that nobody has the same gifts and nobody has all the gifts needed, he then speaks of the very same gifts in 13 and says, “Those gifts are nothing without love. You are nothing without love. I am nothing without love.”

It doesn’t matter how much you know. You can be the most intelligent person in the world. You can be the wealthiest person in the world. You can be the most popular person in the world. You can be the most generous person in the world. You can be the most powerful person in the world. But if you don’t have love to go with that success, those smarts, that generosity, then you’re really useless.

You’ve experienced this. Some time in your life, I bet you’ve had a teacher or professor or coach who was really smart or talented, but you could tell that that teacher or coach did not really care about you as a person, so the information was just that, information with little value. But another teacher or coach, maybe less intelligent, cared enough to impart knowledge with some love, and it made a tremendous difference in your life.

A friend. I bet you’ve had a friend at some point in your life. One whom you thought you could trust, whom you thought you respected, but then in the blink of an eye, that friend tossed you away like an unwanted body part. Chop. Or perhaps you’ve been a friend who used others only for what gain they could be. Maybe you’ve treated those who could move you to higher places with greater dignity, but all for selfish gain.

Preachers – some of them are eloquent. Some of them have you hanging on every word. Beautiful quotes, just the right intonation. But if there’s no relationship to go with that preaching, it’s not much more than entertainment. If when you’re dying, the pastor at your bedside doesn’t know something of your life and family, then all that eloquence begins to fade.

Generous givers. If we give away some phenomenal amount of money to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance for Haiti and we are well on our way with $3500 from a church this size, it will be of little value if we’re not praying for the Haitians, suffering with them, doing what we can in concrete ways, even from this distance. Our partnership with Beth-El is all the more meaningful because we have a relationship. We are there every Thursday, giving our hearts as well as our money and our time.

This sermon was originally intended to be a challenge to everyone to get involved in the ministries of the church. Do your part as member of the body. Step on up. Come, be a hand. Be a foot. Be an ear. But after watching earthquake victims in Haiti for ten days, all I really want to say is this: Live the body language of love. That’s all that matters. Love people. Love people. Love people more than you love yourself.

Set aside all the striving to be right, to be better than someone else, to get things done your way. There’s way too much competition in this world...striving for good grades...striving to get ahead at work...striving for attractive, sexy bodies.... striving to make it financially...striving to impress people...striving to create the perfect life. The Corinthians were striving, competing for all these things. And it doesn’t exist. There is no perfection. There is only love. Really, love is all that matters. And who shows us that best but Christ – who had it all power, intelligence, popularity and he gave it up for the sake of love.

Love is patient and kind, not envious, boastful or rude. Master patience and kindness and you’ve accomplished something really amazing. No envy, boasting, or rudeness. That takes constant prayer. Constant prayer. Love does not insist on its own way. That is really tough when your way is clearly the best way. Love is not irritable. More and more I learn that I must sleep more, slow down, keep tabs on my mental health, and stay in touch with God’s affirmation of love to be capable of loving others. Love is not resentful, and always rejoices in the good, not in the wrong, especially not in someone else being wrong.

It does not matter whether you are right. Even if you have the right answer, the loving thing to do is to care about someone else’s answer. It does not matter whether your needs get met. What matters is that you put your needs second to someone else’s. It does not matter whether you have made tremendous contributions to this church or any other organization (contributions of time, talent, or resources). What matters is that you cared about the people here – even those who were able to make fewer contributions.

If you die tonight, will people say, “Wow, he really loved people. Wow, nobody cared for others like her.” Be the body bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. That’s the language of love, and that is how a body becomes truly beautiful, glorious, divine.