Many Gifts, One Body

3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

12 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. 13 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.

~ 1 Corinthians 12:3-13

You are needed. Every one of you.

That’s not the prevailing attitude of the folks in First Church of Corinth, unfortunately. If we read through this long letter from Paul to the Corinthians, we find that they are at odds over many things, and at this point, Paul is responding to a very specific allegation: the allegation of spiritual superiority. “All animals are equal,” wrote George Orwell in Animal Farm, his brilliant takedown of fascism. “But some animals are more equal than others.” That seems to sum up what some of the Corinthians are about as they vie for position in their congregation. They—some of them—have decided that, while all spiritual gifts are wonderful, some are more wonderful than others.

Paul is having none of it. You are needed, he says. Every one of you.

Paul explains: The Spirit of God has been given to us—in fact, none of us could even open our mouths in praise or prayer without it.

I’m going to pause here, and say that this is one of the core beliefs of our particular stream of Protestantism, the Reformed tradition. All we have, spiritually speaking, every gift, is from God, even the one that enables us to open our mouths to recite the Lord’s prayer or sing a hymn or say “I’m a Christian.” We have the ability to do that because God has given it to us.

And then, Paul notes, a manifestation, or demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7).

You are needed. Every one of you. God has given you something that shows the Spirit to the world, and whatever that is, it is something we all need to see.

You are needed, because the Spirit has given you a word of wisdom for us.

You are needed, because the Spirit has given you some particular knowledge we wouldn’t have otherwise.

You are needed, because the Spirit has given you faith that builds ours up when it is crumbling, and that encourages us when we think we can’t go on.

You are needed. Every one of you.

You are needed, because the Spirit has given you a healing touch, or a healing word, or a healing presence, voice, smile.

You are needed, because our God is a God of miracles still, and the Spirit has placed that particular gift on you. God help you.

You are needed, because the prophets of old are among us in your ability to speak the truth, even when it isn’t popular, even when it isn’t welcome, but always because it is the Spirit’s gift, to us, through you.

You are needed, because sometimes, there are things that look like faith and devotion, but which can really be quite demonic or self-serving, and the Spirit has given you the gift of knowing, one from the other.

You are needed. You, and you, and you.

You are needed, because one of the Spirit’s gifts is the gift of ecstatic communication with God, and we need to remember, God’s ways are not our ways, and God’s gifts can come tumbling out of our mouths unbidden, mysterious, and glorious; and you are needed, because they can also come like a lamp kindled in a darkened room, giving both comfort and illumination.

You are needed, even if you are tuned into this station from another realm, even if you have fought the good fight, finished your race, and kept the faith until that moment when you laid your body down and were received into God’s eternal embrace. You too have gifts of the Spirit that you share with us, by your memory, by your inspiration, by your example of courage.

You too are needed, you who went to your Maker impossibly young or at a ripe old age, full of years.  You are needed, you who fell into God’s arms from heart attack or from enemy fire. You are needed, you who hover over us from a distance of millennia or of mere moments, you, who with us, are a part of this blest communion, this fellowship divine, you who watch while we feebly struggle, and you in glory shine: for we are all one in Jesus Christ. All one. You are needed still.

We live in a culture that like to emphasize individuality, and that lauds and exalts the lone wolf, the cowboy who rides out alone onto the range, and I’ve seen that John Wayne movie, too, and I absolutely loved it. But, to quote an ancient monastic, “Whose feet will you wash?” We have been gifted with a faith that, without exception and without apology, calls us, not to lone wolf-dom, but to community. Not just to community, but communion, emphasis on the “union.” All the gifts given to us by the Spirit are given to the community through the individual. They are given to you, and you, and you, and you, and me. But they are not for you or me. They are for us.

And Paul, in his letter, is building to just this moment. Don't think of yourselves as individuals, he says, think of yourselves as members of a body—and the body is Christ. We are all members… 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. (1 cor. 12).

This is both the good news and the bad news, simultaneously. Surely, those who were lording their spiritual gifts over others in the Corinthian community had to hear this as bad news. If we are one body, we are more connected than people who simply sign a membership roster. We are intimately connected. We need each other. We are a part of each other.

No one knows this kind of connection more intimately than members of a military unit—a squad, a platoon. I remember my dad telling me that, when he was a paratrooper in the army in World War II, each member of his unit was trained to do one particular medical procedure. This memory came roaring back to me the other night as I watched an old episode of “Call the Midwife,” and watched kindly Dr. Turner perform my dad’s procedure: a tracheotomy. And you can bet that my dad’s unit considered every one irreplaceable, for many reasons, not just this one. They did not all return home, of course. Tomorrow is the day we in this nation set aside to remember our war dead—those who gave their lives in service of our country. They needed one another, and we needed them. We still do—to remind us of our highest ideals, our best selves, the true nobility that is at the heart of the kind of person who is willing to serve, not just with their time, or their talent, but with their whole lives, even to the point of laying them down.

You are needed. The one Spirit of God has given us so many gifts, spread out among us like the fibers and blood cells and veins and arteries and organs and appendages that, together, make us whole, wholly, beautifully human. You are needed for the true beauty of this human and divine creation that is Christ’s church to be made known: the fullness of God’s blessings, God’s love, God’s gifts, poured out for all of us, through each of us.

You are needed, whether you have just finished seventh grade or you have just finished a forty year career.

You are needed, whether your gift is a smile or the offer to climb on a back that’s strong.

You are needed, whether you can give at 60 miles an hour or at a leisurely stroll.

You are needed, whether you are a sixty-year member, or you will be joining us at the front of this church in just a few moments.

You are needed, for your wit, or your wonder, or your wisdom.

You are needed, for your prayers, or your silence, or your roar.

You are needed. Every one of you. You are needed by this glorious, ever-growing, never-finished body of Christ, to which we each, without exception, and with great joy, belong.

You are needed.

Thanks be to God. Amen.