The Body and the Tree: Excerpts From a Sermon

Blogged by special request from a member at Warren United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh.

Title: The Weakest Link?

Scripture: I Corinthians 12:22 (NIV): On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.

Fellowship Day, Warren United Methodist Church, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Sunday, May 16, 2010

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Do you remember the game show “The Weakest Link”? Let’s go down memory lane. “The Weakest Link” has been on British television for the longest with variations of the show all around the word. The game crossed the pond and was on prime time television for less than a year back in 2001 initially to high ratings in the United States.

Visualize the stage brightly lit with multi-colored strobes lights flashing as the contestants stand in the half round behind podiums blinking as they face the cameras. In the center stands the stern frightening game show host with a British accent. She says, “Let’s play the weakest link.” She peers at the contestants over her reading glasses asking questions and making quips. Each contestant strives to answer as many questions consecutively for ever-increasing dollar amounts. At the end of each round, the contestants vote on the weakest link based on how poorly each contestant answered the questions. Or how threatening a competitor might be in blocking other players from winning the game. When someone is voted out by the majority, the host says, “You are the weakest link, goodbye! The weakest link steps away from the podium taking “The Walk of Shame.” The goal to end the show as the last contestant standing winning the pot of money collected by the winner.

Why has the show been so popular, particularly in Britain? I think in part the show reflects the tendency of our modern global society to deal ruthlessly marginalizing the weakest people or groups often made invisible in our midst.

On Fellowship Day, here at Warren, let us consider how the Apostle Paul admonished the ancient Corinthians function as a community and treat one another as equals in fellowship. I Corinthians 6:15 says, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” In being parts of the body or church—a finger, liver, skin, brain, heart that’s all of us, me, you, and you—through Paul, God has given us a holy mandate of equality. Jouette M. Bassler describes the connection between Christ and the body: “This spiritual union makes the deeds (I emphasize DEEDs) of the body more—not less—important, for what is done with the physical body is mapped onto the body of Christ.” Such deeds include advocating for equality; when we treat people unjustly as inferior or conversely as our equals, our deeds are mapped onto the holy body of Christ our Lord, that’s the Church, the body of Christ is the church. As African Americans who have experienced or learned about the Civil Rights Movement, we are well aware of the disparity caused by racism, segregation and violence. With such experience and knowledge, can we live with ourselves if someone in the body of Christ is being treated as the weakest link? We are equals.

Let’s go back to I Corinthians 12:22, our core scripture, which is part of a longer passage from verse 12 to 25 (NIV). Please follow along in your bulletin or bible as I read. In the passage, the apostle Paul is letting the church of Corinth have it concerning inequity.  Is there inequality in the modern church? You decide.

In Paul’s letters, he admonished the church of Corinth for some bad behavior including elevating themselves. But first a backdrop to Paul’s reprimand. He founded this congregation in 51 CE in the ancient capital city of the Roman province of Achaia  in what is now Western Greece. Much like cities here in the Northeastern US, Achaia was an urban center that was ethnically, religiously, and culturally diverse. Paul responded to the people in the church of Corinth in the city who struggled with personal relationships. Some congregants at Corinth thought they were better than other members!n Hard to believe. Can you imagine? People in United Methodist Church like those in so many other modern denominations and churches are guilty of doing the same thing. Just goes to show you that bias and inequity remains timeless across the centuries.

So Paul built on the metaphor of the body of Christ to make his point. The body is made of parts. They all are meant to function together. There is no defecting. Sounds draconian no? Thefoot cannot and does not detach itself, leave and pitch a tent on its own. In verse  15, “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.” Taking the metaphor even further, one part is not better than the other. And we cannot do without a part, no matter how insignificant it might SEEM. Verse 22 says, “On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”

And so it is with those of us in the church. We are members of the church. We are called to work and serve with one another. This is a life-long commitment so no cutting and running from the church when things get rough. We cannot do without one another; we need that fellowship for spiritual health like we need water, air and food for our bodies to survive. And I cannot emphasize this enough: we are all equals; you are not better that anyone in the church; no one is the weakest link;  we all play equal and important role. That means that Pastor Emma Smith is no more or no less than you; the same is true for though I stand here physically elevated before you. The church mother who willingly and happily makes sure the bathroom stays tidy before, during, and after service is equal to the member who meticulously and ably chairs the church finance committee.

Paul had his metaphors and so do I. Consider an old oak tree. Its bark and branches brown, its leaves green, and the roots sunk deep in the earth. Without the leaves photosynthesis—the process of using the energy of the sun to transform carbon dioxide or CO2 into oxygen or O2 to fuel the tree—would never happen. Without the branches the energy drawn from CO2 pulled by the leaves would not travel to sustain the trunk and roots. Without the water and nutrients drawn by the roots the energy created by the sun and CO2 would be useless. So you see ALL the parts of tree work in tandem. One part cannot do without the other. The leaf is not better than roots. Not one part is the weakest link.

All sermons must come to an end as was true of all of Paul’s letters in the New Testament. We are called to love one another as members of the church,at  this congregation called Warren United Methodist Church.We must break bread at same table, drink the same fruit punch in this low Original Hot Dog Shop, otherwise known as Dirty O’s or O’s of life.  I ask each of you to treat one another as equals in fellowship, rejecting how the world measures people as the weakest link often setting people like the handicapped and elderly adrift. We are called by God to be better than that. Let us accept the call, always remembering the “parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”

This mandate extends from one another in this church to those in the Methodist church around the world to the rest of the world. Prayerfully through our efforts we can transform the world. We join together with each other to be the church. Go even further by joining with those across the street, across town, across the state, across the country, and around the world!

PHOTOS BY DIANNE GLAVE

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3 responses

  1. Missed the opportunity to meet you, presently in seminary, these past few weeks have been a “bear.” Your message is timely!

    I, too, believe that no one is the weakest link and we are as strong as the eldest member or the youngest child. Warren has been my home church for my whole life (65). You are welcome here in Pittsburgh in a time when “new life” is sorely needed.

    Judy Tobias

  2. Pingback: Warren United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh « Being Ephesus

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