A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 12:12-21, 26-27
Sunday, January 27, 2013 – Epiphany 4C
In the 2009 blockbuster hit, Avatar, James Cameron won three Oscars and grossed over $2.7 billion dollars. I'm sure many of you here have seen the movie, but for those of you who haven't, here's the basic story: A paraplegic Marine, Jake Sully, is invited to be a part of a project that controls genetically-bred robots of sorts, called avatars. When he enters the remote control chamber it's like a video game come to life as he controls a 10-foot tall space alien/robot.
In Avatar the humans want to visit the planet Pandora to mine the power source beneath their world's crust. But they need to visit the planet through the use of these avatars because the atmosphere there is poisonous to human lungs. If they visit on their own, they will die. (If you haven't seen the movie, by the way, go rent it. It's a lot cooler than I make it sound.) J
Now, have you ever wondered why God doesn't step in to this world of hate and sin and do something about it? Well, he can't just come as he is because of the poison of sin. To do so wouldn't mean death to him, but death to us sinners who couldn't stand in the presence of God himself and live. But God did step in to human history by becoming one of us, not to mine our earth of its resources, but to save us from it. And he does step in to human history still, working through us, his body, controlled remotely, if you will, by his Holy Spirit. Through Christ, and through us, God rescues sinners from this doomed planet. In a sense, we are God's avatar.
Listen now to 1 Corinthians 12:12-21, 26-27…
12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 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. 16 And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" … 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
I. Incarnation in Christ
What happens when you touch a hot stove with your hand? Of course, you get burned, right? But what happens in the body? The nerves in your hand start the synapses firing and within a second, the message travels to your brain which registers the pain. But what then? Then the arm reacts pulling the hand away. The heart reacts quickening it's beat. The eyes react looking for cool water. The feet react walking quickly to that source. The other hand reacts to quickly bandage the burn. In other words, the whole body immediately comes to the aid of the one hurting part. The brain, the eyes, the heart, the feet don't say, "It's not my problem. You deal with it hand." But all work together to serve the hurting part.
Or what happens when a young woman gets a compliment on her hair from a young man she admires. Does her nose get jealous? Do her toes complain that he never notices them? Do her elbows refuse to bend until they too are acknowledged for all the hard work they do every day to make that hair look good? Do her hands object that the hair just sits around all day while they do most of the work? Of course not! The whole girl is thrilled at the compliment, the whole body rejoices at the notice and the praise.
But is that how it is in the church? Is that how it is at Grace? When one member hurts, either physically or spiritually, do all the others come running to their aid? Do you ache to know how your fellow members are suffering? Do you even know how they hurt? Do you even care? Or when one member gets a job, resolves a conflict, gets a new insight into God's Word, do you too rejoice? Do you even know their joys? Do you even care?
"If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it." Is that how it is here at Grace? There are many times when it is! But aren't there also many times when it's not? Who do you notice missing today? Do you suffer by their absence? Who do you notice here this morning? Do you rejoice in their presence? Or are you apathetic?
Sadly, too often our own selfishness sets in and we think, "They're not my problem." And we appear like the paraplegic whose legs won't work, where one part of the body doesn't react or respond. Or we act like we're in a convulsion with body parts each doing their own thing, refusing to get along. We don't have anything close to the unity that our physical bodies show every day unnoticed.
It reminds me of the scene in Avatar when Jake first tries out his new 10ft. tall avatar. He can't control it the way he wants to. He's not used to the size or the strength. He's never had a tail. It takes getting used to. And without control of the body, he does damage. He needs to be controlled, even sedated.
And likewise, when we don't do what our head, Christ, tells us, his body, to do, when we don't have that unity working together, suffering with each other, rejoicing with each other, we do damage. We do damage to ourselves within the church, and we do damage to those outside the church, who see the hypocrisy and want nothing to do with Christ. For our rebellion against our head, for our lack of unity, for our petty fights, we deserve to be more than sedated. We deserve to be disposed of… forever in hell.
But the scientists in Avatar didn't want to scrap the expensive genetically-grown robot just because its handler was now dead. They found a way to rescue the project because his brother, Jake Sully, was a close enough genetic match, that he could take his place.
Likewise, God didn't want to just scrap humanity in spite of the way we rebelled and refused to work together, refused to work for him. Instead he had a plan to fix it. He would send our brother, Jesus, to become our perfect match, to take our place…
Did you know that in Hinduism, the word avatar is used to describe the descent of a deity (like Vishnu) to earth? Avatar is translated into English as "appearance," "manifestation," or even "incarnation."
But God did more than appear or manifest himself. He was incarnate. God took on human flesh, and became a human avatar, if you will. But more than that, he didn't just possess or remote control a human robot. He became one of us, just like us in every way (much like Jake Sully did at the end of the movie. Sorry, I should have said, "Spoiler alert" first. J). And as one of us, flesh and blood, bone and sinew, with a real human body and soul, he lived a perfect life in our place. He died an innocent death in our place. And he rescued us from the poison of our sin and from this doomed planet. And one day, he will take us out of this world to be with him forever in heaven. We are saved thanks to Jesus, God incarnate, God in the flesh, God's avatar.
II. Incarnation in Us
But do you remember what the word incarnation literally means? If you've ever had chili con carne, or remember what a carnivore is, it's easy to remember. Chili con carne is chili with meat. A carnivore is a meat eater. In-carnate is literally "in meat." Jesus is God incarnate, or God in meat, just like you and me.
But that's not the only incarnation that God has done. God is present not only in the flesh and blood of Jesus, but in the flesh and blood of you and me. "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body…" Paul says, "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." You are, in a certain sense, God incarnate. You are God's hands and God's feet, controlled by the Holy Spirit as his avatar.
Have you ever wondered why God doesn't step in to this world of hate and sin and do something about it? He does! He does it through you and me and through every Christian who are his body, his hands and feet… and his elbows, and his knees, and his pancreas and his fingernails and his tonsils (those less glamorous, but nevertheless very important, parts).
And because we love our Savior, because we long to live for him and serve our head, we also do our very best to get along with one another, striving for perfect unity, so the body of Christ isn't paraplegic, where some parts do nothing, so the body of Christ isn't spastic, where the parts work, but not together. We live to serve one another in love out of love for our Savior, so we don't do damage to the body, or to those outside the body.
And we're not jealous of the different parts of the body or of the gifts that seem greater or more noticeable. "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. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body." 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
What a monstrosity the body would be if we were all an eye or an ear. But God in his wisdom gave us all different roles to play. And in thanks to Jesus, we're not jealous of each other, but are all eager to do our own part—whatever it might be—carrying out the role the Holy Spirit has given to each of us, to build each other up. The teeth don't have a glamorous job. But where would you be without them? The stomach or intestines don't have a fun job, but without them you'd be dead. You might be able to live without fingernails, tonsils, or your hair, but your body is much better off with them there. (No comments on the hair, please.) J
We need musicians in the church, we need Sunday school teachers, we need pastors and church cleaners and landscapers. We need Christian wives encouraging their husbands and Christian husbands loving their wives. We need fathers and mothers faithfully teaching their children the Word at home. We need all the parts of the body working together for the common good if we're to be the healthy body of Christ.
And we need to keep eating right and working out and exercising our faith. So let's worship together to build each other up. Let's study the Word together to grow in our faith. Let's use all of our gifts to God's glory. Let's lovingly go after those who aren't here today to encourage them and build them up. Let's help those who are hurting physically or spiritually. Let's serve the helpless to show Christ's love. And let's do it even if it means hurting with them when they hurt so that we can rejoice with them when they rejoice.
And let's rejoice together! At a baptism or confirmation or funeral. Let's rejoice together at the absolution and hymns of praise and as we walk back from the Lord's Supper. Let's rejoice together in potluck meals, in church events, and in each other's homes. Let's build each other up with the Word in person, on the phone, and by technology.
And let's help each other for the sake of Christ, God made flesh to rescue us from our sin. Let's help each other as the body of Christ, God's hands and feet, the Holy Spirit's avatar. And as we help each other, we really help ourselves too, because we're all one body with our many various parts. "Now you are the body of Christ," [his avatar] "and each one of you is a part of it." Go, live to serve the body, as you live to serve the head in thanks for your salvation. In his name, dear friends, amen.