January 24, 2016: 3rd Sunday after Epiphany

Let us pray: Dear Savior, our old Adam or Eve, our original sin is probably best revealed by our self-love. And our self-love ultimately limits or even destroys those around us whom we love. That’s because we constantly try to remake those people in our own image. Lord, give us the Godly insight necessary to shape and mold our lives more into Your image, to appreciate the gifts You give to others, to learn from them, and thus to grow beyond the confines of our flesh. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH

TEXT: I Cor. 12: 12-21, 26,27

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

The Germans have a word for it: doppelganger. It means a twin, a counterpart, a double who looks and acts exactly like you. I suppose the closest equivalent in our language would be a clone. If the world was filled with clones of you, what would that be like? Well, I suppose you’d literally see yourself “coming and going!” All kidding aside, it would be a very limiting world, wouldn’t it? The problem is: all of us attempt to create clones because we love ourselves more than anything else.

I went to school with a fellow who was very opinionated and thought he was always right. He wasn’t very tactful, either. When he got out of seminary and was assigned to his first church, he didn’t last long. He alienated key parishioners with his hard-edged, blunt speech. I recall him telling me that he had a council member who volunteered for everything and always tried to control events in the congregation. One day he told him: “Don’t try to hog the show!” Tact was not this fellow’s strong suit. Needless to say, that pastor soon left that church and today I believe he’s totally out of the ministry! But, his point mirrors what St. Paul is getting at in our lesson. The parishioner tried to turn everyone into his own clone to push his weight around. Unfortunately, that pastor tried to do the same. It’s a universal problem.

I

Most of us know this lesson from St. Paul quite well. God’s Church is one. It is made up of diverse people who form one body with Jesus Christ as the Head. Through baptism we are all given the same Spirit, Who re-births us and instills faith into our hearts. We all feed our faith on the same spiritual food—the means of God’s grace. “Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many” as Paul says. So, all Christians should possess the same goal: heaven. And all of us should seek after having the same moral character and the same Godly values born of God’s grace. And yet, God has made us distinctive with varying gifts and abilities. We’re not all clones of each other. Or, in Paul’s language: some are feet, some are hands, some are eyes, some are ears, etc. We all look different and act in distinct ways, and yet, we all have unity in the Spirit. That’s a really good thing, too. For it makes us all stronger. Feet need eyes to guide them. Hands need ears to give them directions over what to pick up and what to avoid. If you hear water bubbling on a stove and smell something burning, it’s best not to grab it, right? Likewise, all these unique component parts are joined together in one body and protect and build up the whole for the betterment of each part.

II

Every parent here knows that their children are all different. Some like music, others like sports, and still others are computer-centric. Some kids are introverts and others are extroverts. Some are naturally kind, others have to be taught and molded so as to not be aggressive or pushy. Of course, the job of the parent, or the pastor on a larger scale, is to recognize the Godly gifts given to each person and to mold those gifts into something useful without wiping out the individual’s personality.

All parents, all people, are infected with self-love. All are tempted to try to create little clones of themselves whether the other person wants this or not. In the case of parents it always ends up in disaster as the child later rebels. In the case of friends, similar outcomes occur. And in the case of parishioners, the strength of the many gets reduced to the strength of the one and congregations can collapse. That’s what Paul is getting at in our lesson.

III

Think back to when you fell in love and got married. You were attracted to that special person. You accepted them as they were and they you. But over time you both tried to re-make, to re-engineer each other. You tried to make them into a clone of what and who you know best—YOU! And ultimately, you ended up eroding the attraction that brought you together in the first place! This is an ongoing problem for all of us. And no, I’m not talking about each other’s sins. Pointing those out is part of your Christian duty. After all, Christ is the head of our body and our lives. What I’m talking about and Paul is talking about is our self-love, our pushy arrogance that we’re always right and everyone should be, and think and act just like we do. Or as the apostle says: we then all become ears, feet, eyes, or hands. We became self-limiting.

Listen to the closing words: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” You and I are Christ’s hands, His feet, His eyes, His ears, His all on this earth. We need Him, since He is the brain of this operation we call: life. But, He also needs us to carry out His will. His will is that “all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” He achieved such salvation for us on the cross. The Head died so that the Body might live! I know that sounds impossible to our ears, but that’s the truth of Christianity. And in His infinite wisdom, our Head sent the Spirit to quicken us, making us alive in Him, so that we could physically mold and shape ourselves and others in His holy image and live forever, too. So…..try to recognize your skill set and put it to Godly use. Try to recognize the skills and gifts others have—children, teens, young adults, middle-agers, and oldsters—and value their Godly gifts. Incorporate all of that into God’s mix, into His Body. Be open to other’s opinions. Don’t image that you have a corner on the Godly gifts market. “Be kind and forgiving, as the Lord has forgiven you.” And you know what? When God’s people operate in this fashion, the longing for making self-limiting doppelgangers will get flushed away by the flood of the Holy Spirit’s ever-enlarging gifts in the form of appreciative souls who actually are much like you. Amen