1 Corinthians 12:14-27
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
After the terrorist bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people and injured 680 others, Joni Eareckson Tada – a Christian speaker who is a quadriplegic and confined to a wheelchair – was invited to join a counseling team to help the victims.
When Joni wheeled into the Red Cross staging area, a woman wearing a white lab coat and carrying a clipboard noticed her and rushed over to exclaim: “O, are we glad to see you!” Intrigued by the exuberant greeting, Joni asked with a smile, “Why?” The woman replied, “When people…see you handle your personal crisis with that smile of yours, it speaks volumes to them. It assures them that they can handle their crisis too. We need people like you!”
Joni reminisces, “Immediately, I got this picture in my mind. Wouldn’t it be great, on any given Sunday morning, to see people with white canes, wheelchairs, or walkers come through the door of our sanctuaries…[and everyone in the pews rush up to them and exclaim, “O, are we glad to see you! We need people like you!”
Wouldn’t it be something if we exuded such humble appreciation for whoever comes through our door: whether they be disabled or able-bodied, the beautiful or the not-so-beautiful, the accomplished or the under-achieving, the admired or the marginalized? Wouldn’t it be something if we welcomed everyone as a gift, as someone who really matters to us – and to God?
In the Corinthian church there were a number of people who thought they mattered most of all and dismissed others as those who mattered not at all.
Paul was aghast that some of the brightest and best-educated in the congregation could be so foolish and miss the obvious fact that, in the kind of community Christ creates, the whole is always enhanced by the contribution of each part He puts into it – regardless of the part’s size, power, visibility or prestige.
To help us understand the kind of community Christ creates, the Bible likens the church to a physical body.
A body is made up of many members (eyes, legs, heart, etc.), with each member possessing a unique nature and function by which to serve the life of the whole body together.
While some members of a body matter more than others in the sense that they are essential to its continued existence – if I lose my liver or brain, I die; but if I lose a hand or an ear, I am just impaired – every member matters vitally in the sense that it is essential for the body to function at maximum capacity. So, while a body can lose some members and still survive, there is no member it can lose without some diminishment of its ability to thrive. Only when every member is present and functioning, does the body overall function best.
The Bible teaches that – once Jesus, including the body by which He was incarnated, ascended to heaven – the only body Jesus has on earth any more is the body the church is. We now are His legs by which He travels to seek and save the lost. We now are His mouth by which He shares the good news and gives people hope and inspiration. We now are His hands by which He lifts up the downcast and breaks the chains of the oppressed.
While there is no more uniformity among the members of the church body than among the members of a physical body, there is just as much unity within the diversity. All members belong together, thrive together and serve together the same life.
That means that, in our mutual dependence and shared service to a cause bigger than any of us individually, we all matter, and it is incumbent upon us to show one another how much we value and appreciate each other – as Hall of Fame running back LaDamian Tomlinson did when he set his greatest NFL rushing record.
Ten seasons ago in a December game between the Denver Broncos and his San Diego Chargers, Tomlinson sprinted seven yards around two defenders, barrelled into the end zone and broke the record for TD’s scored in a season.
As impressive as his athletic accomplishment was, Tomlinson’s selfless behavior afterward stole the show. Instead of pounding his chest in self-congratulation, as do so many players, Tomlinson gestured for his offensive line – those inconspicuous behemoths who blocked for him and cleared his running lanes – to stand with him and share the adulation of 67,000 wildly cheering fans.
In his post-game interview as well, Tomlinson cast the record as a team accomplishment, always speaking of it with plural pronouns to include the others. He said, “When we are old and can’t play anymore, these are the moments we are going to remember. … We made history today.”
LaDamian Tomlinson is a follower of Jesus, and we’d do well to follow his biblical example. Christians make no more than they should of any one person’s contribution, but highlight and honor the contribution of everyone, especially those whose contribution might be as easily overlooked as that of linemen in the trenches. Christians recognize that, when everyone does what God has appointed them to do, and does it with one heart and purpose, everyone’s contribution is worthy of honor.
Pediatrician David Cerqueira tells of how one Sunday at their church his wife taught some small children how honorable it is to be useful. She told them that everyone can be useful by serving God. The kids scrunched up their faces in thought about that, and one little girl named Sarah raised her hand to ask, “What can I do? I don’t know anything useful to do.” Mrs. C quickly looked around and spotted an empty flower vase on the windowsill. “Sarah, you could bring in a flower and put it in the vase. That would be useful, and it would bless all of us.”
The next Sunday Sarah brought in a dandelion and placed it in the vase. Then she did it again the following Sunday, and the one after that. Soon, every week, that little girl was, without reminder or help, filling the vase with a bright yellow flower. When the pastor heard about Sarah’s faithfulness, he moved her vase into the sanctuary next to the pulpit. The first Sunday it was there, he gave a sermon on the honor of serving others, and used Sarah’s vase as an example.
The month that happened, Dr. C got some horrific test results back from the lab: Little Sarah had leukemia.
Sarah kept filling the vase as long as she could. When it got so that she could only sometimes come to church, others covered for her – but sometimes people forgot and there was no dandelion in the vase.
Near the end of her short life, Sarah came to church one last time. That Sunday, the vase was again missing a dandelion. Sarah’s parents brought forward their little girl, bundled in a blanket, with a dandelion in her hand. She put in the flower and place an envelope by the vase.
Later in his study, the pastor opened the envelope, unfolded the paper inside, and read what Sarah had written in pink crayon: “Dear Jesus, thank you. This has been the biggest honor of my life. Love, Sarah.”
Everyone matters. Everyone has something useful to contribute. Everyone is to be honored. After all, that’s what Jesus does. Let us pray.