“Everybody is Somebody

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

October 5, 2003

          If you go east out of Atlanta on Hwy 78, about 30 miles down the road you will pass through a town called Snellville.  It’s a suburban town with a population of about 17,500 people.  The town has no discernable downtown area, no city center, and no discernable landmarks to let you know that you are even in Snellville…except for one.  On the side of the road, just past the Chick-Fil-A, between the Maaco Paint and Body Shop and the Snellville RV Sales and Service Dealership, is an inconspicuous, weathered sign that reads, “Everybody is Somebody in Snellville.” 

          The philosophy behind this city motto is pretty straightforward.  It doesn’t matter where you come from, what you do, or who you are, in Snellville, you’re somebody.  You matter to the town, you’re important to the health and vitality of Snellville.  You’re not just some unknown face in crowd, not just another person in the sea of humanity that constitutes the millions of people who live in Metropolitan Atlanta; you’re a resident of Snellville, GA.  And yet, this city motto says something else as well.  It says that each person who makes Snellville his or her home is not a stranger, but a neighbor, an important neighbor that has something in common with everyone else, an important neighbor that is one part of the whole, an important neighbor that plays a role in the well-being of not only the town, but of each other as well. 

          Is this a pie-in-the-sky philosophy?  A utopian ideal?  Well, maybe.  We certainly know that living in a town, regardless of it’s size, doesn’t always seem as warm and fuzzy as we would like to think it is, and not everybody does great work or holds high offices.  City managers, government officials, and certain economic, business, and religious leaders have a lot more say in what goes on in a town than your average run of the mill citizen.  In any town or city, there are always those with more power and prestige, more authority and clout, more influence and more of a reputation than the average person.  The church is no exception. 

          Paul knew full well that churches, if they’re not careful, can take on the life and pecking order of the town in which it is located.  A church draws its membership from the community at large, from a people who come from different backgrounds with different beliefs, different economic and social status, and different political ideologies.  Paul knew that such diversity in a church, if it’s not grounded and tempered with unity, can lead to problems, such as hierarchal mentalities, spiritual superiority, and power struggles.  This was especially the case in Corinth.  

          Corinth was an extraordinary place, a first century New York City, Las Vegas, and Washington D.C. all wrapped up into one.  It was a major port city with an urban center of commerce and Hellenistic culture, but it also had its darker side with rampant prostitution, crime, and corruption.  Corinth had both a a sophisticated citizenry schooled in philosophy and rhetoric, as well as those who found themselves outside the sophiscated and schooled elite, on the fringes of society.

The congregation that made up the Corinthian church was a cross section of all of this, rich and poor, sophisticated and simple, most with humble if not questionable beginnings before becoming Christian.  And yet, the church was full of gifted people, people who were given the fruits of the Spirit – wisdom, knowledge, faith, powers of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, and, do I dare say, the mystical, ecstatic speech known as “tongues.”

In our text for this morning, Paul is addressing an argument about who was more important, the one with the most spiritual gifts or the one with the least amount of spiritual gifts.  For the Corinthian church, this was not a theoretical question, but a real life question, because certain people were vying for the preeminent place within the congregation.  The result was not just hurt feelings, but alienation.  Those whose gifts did not equip them for the higher ranks of power were not only getting lost in the struggle, they were being demeaned, and treated as though they were not important.  It is to this argument that Paul gives us his famous metaphor of the body.  But for Paul, this was no metaphor, but a very special, and even mystical, reality. 

For Paul, the members of the body need one another, because each person plays an important role in the church, each person is one part of the whole, each person’s gifts is as important to the church as another’s.  Just like the members of our body cannot function without the other members of the body, neither can the church.  The church needs everyone, regardless of a person’s perceived importance, in order for it to be effective in its faith and life, in its ministry and service.  Even those people who are often thought of by others, or by themselves, as less important, are to be treated with the utmost respect, because they too are absolutely indispensable to health and future of the church.  Even the smallest acts of mutual service rank the hightest with God.

There is a story told about a Scottish minister who was well known for his preaching.  One day he told his congregation about one his dreams.  He had dreamed that he died, and naturally had presented himself at the gates of heaven.  But to his dismay, Peter denied him admission unitl he presented his credentials. 

The man told of the great sermons he had preached, but Peter said that no one had heard them in heaven.  The man spoke about his service to his city and of his pastoral work, a work that had made him beloved by many people.  But, even that was unknown in heaven.  The man began to turn away in despair when Peter said, “Stay a moment and tell me this.  Are you the man who fed the sparrows?”  “Yes,” the man replied, “but what does that have to do with it?”  “Come in,” said Peter, “the Master of the sparrows wants to thank you.”

Great services may reflect our gifts, talents, and abilities, but small services reflect the depth and range of not only our faithfulness, but our holiness as well.  One does not have to do dramatic works or hold prominent offices to be important to the overall mission and ministry of the church, in fact, they are critical to the fulfillment of our calling as the church, because we are the body of Christ.

It is one of the greatest mysteries of faith that we are in reality no less than Christ himself.  We are more than just a body of people who happen to come together on Sunday morning.  We are more than a collection of spiritual gifts, more than a group of volunteers, we are the living Lord who speaks his message of love, redemption, and peace through us.  We are Christ, when we touch the weak to give them strength, when we lay hands on the sick to make them whole, when we use our minds to make wise use of our gifts and resources, when we use our knowledge to make the gospel accessible and understandable to others.  But we can only be the body of Christ, when all of our members are united together as a whole. 

A fire that does not have glowing embers underneath will soon lose its heat and the flame and will slowly die out.  Even the smallest of embers, when combined with the whole, keep the flame of the fire going, as they pulsate in unision with their radiant heat.  Separate the embers from the fire, and soon even the embers will turn cold and grey.  So it is with the church as well, for it is only when all of the members working together, pulsating with the radiant heat of the fire of the Spirit of Christ, that we can keep the fire going, and re-incarnate the one who resides in us for all the world to see. 

In just a few moments, we will join together at the table, but we do not join together at the table alone.  We come together with all of those in every time and in every place, in every nation and in every land, and from every walk of life to every diverse culture and people.  We all come together not just as many members, but as the very body of Christ.  It is in our unity and our common ministry that we bring vitality and effective witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ as Christ’s faithful servants, as we suffer together and rejoice together, one for another, for where the members of the body of Christ are lifted up and honored for their importance, so there Christ himself will be as well, burning brightly, at work, and fulfilling through us God’s mission of salvation in the world. 

If you go east out of Atlanta on Hwy 78, about 30 miles down the road you will pass by an inconspicuous, weathered sign that reads, “Everybody is Somebody in Snellville.”  The promise of the gospel is that Christ welcomes all of us where we are and as who we are, and the riches of Christ is that he gives his love to all who ask and truly seek to live out of his love for us, for Christ’s love is the blood of the chruch, the blood which courses through the arteries and veins of the body, giving life and power to its members, enabling us to do what Christ has called us to do, and making the church the place where everybody is truly somebody.   Amen.