Third Sunday After Epiphany-Year C
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
It’s an understatement to say that the Corinthian church had some problems in Paul’s
day. They were a very dysfunctional family filled with, infighting , controversies,
embarrassing scandals –
And it appears they found themselves often in heated disputes over issues that
ultimately had more to do with power and prestige than the Gospel itself.
Sadly it feels all too relevant, doesn’t it? Especially in our hyper charged scandal-of the-day climate
Disfunction? Infighting? Embarrassing scandals? Constant adventures in missing the
point… Unfortunately, the church today may be more acquainted with these same
practices and postures than we’d like to admit.
For Paul, though, there was one issue at the root of all of these problems, poisoning
the well, so to speak.
And today’s passage picks up right in the middle of Paul’s argument concerning this
So, what was the root of the issue for Paul and for the Corinthian church? What was
the great danger that Paul claimed was destroying the Corinthian church?
To put it in a word – Inequality.
Inequality and it’s many reverberations was the poison that was spoiling the church
community and its greater mission
There was spiritual inequality as well as material inequality. Some (as we heard last
week) thought they were more righteous because they belonged in the camp of Peter
or Paul or Christ, and this was creating division and dissension in the church
As for material inequality – there was a great division between the wealthiest and
poorest in the community.
The Corinthian church was quite wealthy, for there was a lot of wealth to be had in
Corinth in this time.
But with this wealth, there was also great disparity between the richest members of
the community and the poorest. And the wealthiest members of the community had
mistaken their great sums of wealth for importance,
and they thought that just because they were rich that made them fit to serve as
leaders in the church.
Not only that, they thought that their wealth gave them greater access to God and to
the blessings therein
This manifested itself in the weekly Eucharistic feasts during worship.
The prominent and wealthy would sit in prominent seats when they would gather for
worship, and the wealthy had first pick of whatever was offered for the Eucharist
These wealthy members were so into the fiction that they were somehow more
important to God and to the Church that they thought it fine to take the lion’s share
of the Eucharist meal, leaving little to nothing behind for the poorest members of the
So that often when it came time for the poorest members of the community to take
part in the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, there was no bread or wine
left for them,
they were literally left with no bread or wine to consume because the wealthy among
them had so thoroughly gorged themselves on the body and blood of Christ,
The very body and blood broken and given to all… But in this community there was
not enough to go around.
Actually, there was more than enough to around, it’s just that the appetites of the
wealthy prevented this from occurring. And this was the great sin at the heart of the
This inequality that led to entitlement – and Paul notes this entitlement bled into the
other areas of the life of the church.
The rich feasted while the poor starved in worship, and resulted in the very real
consequences of starvation, disease and death. And Paul firmly states this is
But you can imagine the response of these wealthy members of the church in Corinth,
“Well why shouldn’t we take the lion’s share? We provide the lion’s share of the work
and resources for this church anyway, so why shouldn’t we get to celebrate in this
manner eating and drinking our fill of what we have provided to the community.”
“We don’t want to encourage hangers-on. We don’t what these poorsies to get it in
their head that they can just come here and take, take, take from the church without
first putting something in. They need to learn how to contribute to society and this
church, and then they can take part. We can’t just offer handouts to anyone and
everyone who comes along.”
Sound familiar? Sound like anything we often hear today? This isn’t a new problem
for the world or for the Church. This is the logic of a world where resources often
appear scarce or limited at face value
This is the kind of logic that keeps afloat many of the institutions of our nation and of
the ideologies imbedded in the psyche of our nation –
There is not enough to go around, so take what you can and enjoy it, because you
earned it. And don’t feel bad – your conspicuous consumption is something to be
desired and coveted.
It is an aspiration for the poor masses to strive for and fight for no matter the cost. It
is dog-eat-dog out there, so get what you can, when you can, and by God, enjoy it
once you’ve gotten it.
This was the logic running beneath the surface of the Church in Corinth, and it was
poisoning the roots of the tree that was the Church
People were being excluded and were dying because of this logic.
So, in today’s passage from I Corinthians Paul offers a reminder to the church of the
actual reality of things. That this inequality isn’t just affecting individuals, but the
whole of the church touching each and every member of the community.
This physical arrangement of wealth inequality duped the wealthy into seeing the
world incompletely and incorrectly. Their wealth had insulated them from the deeper
realities of the church and creation.
Their wealth and comfort tricked them into thinking that they were somehow,
separated from and different than the rest of the church.
That they were somehow better, and that the well-being of others in the church had
no bearing on their own spiritual health or intimacy with God.
That the condition of the church as a whole had no bearing on their own vitality and
influence in the Kingdom of God and the world at large,
But in chapter 12 of Corinthians Paul firmly states that these wealthy individuals
couldn’t be more wrong.
Rather than solitary individuals with their wealth standing before God on their own,
they were just a part of the greater whole
members of a larger body —
They can be no more separated from the body and they are no more or less vital to
this body than any other member, no matter the size of their bank accounts or the
valuation of their stock portfolios.
Or the prominence they hold in the wider community.
Their spiritual health is intimately connected with the health of the rest of the
community, and visa versa.
The well-being of the most fragile member of the community is tied directly to their
own spiritual health.
In the same way that the health of one’s eye’s or heart set the horizons of what is
possible in an individual body.
So the actions of the wealthy do not occur in a vacuum, but have ramifications across
the entire church.
And what’s more important in this body no member is more valuable nor no closer
to God than another member.
Each and every individual stands on equal footing before God, and that each membe
of this body is loved
and valued just as much as the other.
No one has greater access to the divine than any other, and they certainly don’t
because of something so shallow as the size of their wealth or their respect and
influence in polite society.
And here’s the greatest scandal here –
If it’s true that we are all members of the same body and our actions affect the health
of this entire body, and we can’t function in this life alone…
Then that means we (the wealthy Corinthians) “richies” might actually need the
“poorsies” over there. Their health and their flourishing is not only tied up in my
health and flourishing, but the wealthy and the prominent members of the church
actually need the poor and forgotten in order to fully live into the reality of Christ.
We can’t live the life of faith alone. We cannot access true eternal life by ourselves.
We need one another for the journey.
The scandal of the Gospel is that those in society who are forgotten and tossed aside
because of the various ways we can label people as unnecessary or inconvenient —
These are actually the people who in God’s Kingdom and Christ’s Body are most vital
for life and flourishing.
This is not a new concept. This is a theme that we can trace through the entire
Scriptural witness. Time and again in the Old Testament God judges the Kingdom of
Israel for how they treat the poorest and most forgotten among them.
It’s almost as if God actually cares for the poor. Almost as if the health of a society
can be measured by how the most fragile among them are cared for a treated.
And it’s simply because of the reality that we are all connected. That we need each
other to fully know and experience abundant life.
The state of my soul is tied up with the state of yours. Our capacity for life and love
is multiplied when we are connected with one another in community –
When everyone is accounted for cared for and valued.
We cannot walk this life of faith alone. We need each other for the journey. Plain
and simple — We need each other.
Now, it’s no accident that Paul uses the language of the body in this chapter. This is no simple metaphor or illustration.
Paul is trying to reveal to us the entanglements that are very real in the life of Christ.
And quite possibly he is trying to tie up the life and mission of the church with the
greater vision and mission God had for humanity hearkening all the way back to the
beginning in Genesis with Adam and Eve
Way back in the beginning God gives these first humans dominion over the entire
earth to care for it, watch it, guide it and direct so that this creation might reach its
potential with our guidance.
In Christ, the new man – the new Adam — this vision is fulfilled and re-doubled. As
the church, as the Body of Christ, the Messiah
We participate in this life-giving work of care for creation and the various lives found
in it, and the many entanglements found in the very fabric of Creation.
We now have the great blessing and responsibility of participating with God in
creation to care for this world and see it reach it’s fulfillment in history as a place ever
growing in goodness, grace and love…
But this work cannot be done in isolation or by ourselves. We need each other to
participate in this holy work. This work sacred. It is good. And it invades all places
in reality and society
But it also invades to the deepest places in our hearts — eradicating all that is dark and
evil and selfish…
These realities are things we need to be reminded of all the more today
These twin realities — the fact of our contingency in the world and our membership in
the Body of Christ
and the second – our work and mission in the world as a healing force for good.
Because I think the past two years of the pandemic have, at least for me, caused me to
forget these deeper truths and their power for transformation.
I think the last two years have brought into greater focus some of the less than
desirable aspects of the Church. The warts and boils of the Church have come into
just as the many weaknesses and ugly features of the systems and structures of the
wider world have been highlighted.
Things that could have been previously forgotten, or overlooked, or swept under the
rug have come right into focus.
and many people, both on the inside and outside of the church have taken a look at
what Christianity has to offer in the late first quarter of the 21st Century and they
have NOT liked what they’ve seen.
And sadly… many people have walked away from the church because of it. Sadder
still, I think many of the folks walking away from the church today, were once deeply
committed members of the Body of Christ…
The people who served on committees, cooked food, served the poor, taught the
young, served in the various ministries of the church. For a whole variety of reasons
people have found themselves disillusioned, burned out, and unsettled by what the
church has to offer our present world, and whether or not it is effective at offering
something good or better.
For a lot of organizations and traditions, the past two years the pandemic has acted as
a sort of pressure cooker pushing all of latent issues and weaknesses in society to the
center, and we as a nation and world have been forced to re-asses the status quo and
decided if it still works or not.
Things that were assumed as de facto or just the way it is, have now been re-assessed
in light of the pressures and stressors of a world changed by COVID-19, and many of
these structures and organizations have been found wanting.
Many people especially of my generation and younger are wondering if maybe they are
better off without the commitments and entanglements of the church. Maybe life is
simpler and easier without all of the ties that bind us to the church.
It might be simpler. It might even be easier, but it’s not better. It’s not truer. And it
does not result in greater and truer and more fulfilling life.
At best, trying to strike out on our own in the religious life creates in us a disillusionment of ascendency, that we have somehow risen above our need for the
All this results in is a kind of navel-gazing arrogance (not unlike the arrogance that
Paul accuses the Corinthians of in chapter 5)
And this arrogance only leaves us smaller, shallower, and more selfish and self centered than before.
It might be easier to leave the church behind and try to strike out on our own, but it
isn’t better. It just leaves us divided, disempowered and frustrated.
And what is relevant for us today – To walk away from the church is really a kind of
privilege that marks us not so very different from the wealthy in Corinth.
For one to say I don’t need the church. I am better off doing this life on my own is to
believe the very same lie that the wealthy in Corinth did — that we don’t need one
another to flourish, that our actions occur in a vacuum and have no bearing on the
rest of the community or the world at large.
And this kind of disillusioned thinking — that we can walk this road alone can only
occur in a world where everyone lives at a certain income level with the certain
modern conveniences at their disposal. It is to walk in a kind of disillusioned
arrogance that Paul warns against in his letters to the Corinthians.
But the truth of the matter is far more humbling and life-giving.
We need each other. We are only whole when the other members of our community
are whole. We flourish when everyone flourishes. We all have a part to play, and we
are all necessary to the story that God is telling in this world today in our very midst.
So let’s lean in… Let’s find the part we are to play, and let’s unmask the lies we tell
ourselves about our own independence and individual capability.
May we find ourselves resting in the truth that we don’t have to do this all on our
own, that we can rely on each other , and in the rest that comes from this truth there
is enough grace and mercy and goodness to go around.