Rev. Melissa Cooper

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The Church that Could Be, Pt. 2: The Body of Christ

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As we enter a new year, many of us take this opportunity to re-evaluate or re-center our lives and our ministries. Ministry leaders, I want to challenge you to take this opportunity seriously. As our churches move into this new era of what church is being and becoming, it's important that we don't get so lost in the day to day struggles that we forget to dream. 

Over the next few days, I want to invite you to look at your church. To look at where it has come from, to look at where it is now, and, most importantly, to dream about what it could beYou can catch the first installment of this series here.

In the first post in this series, I talked about the importance of reconnecting with our call. If i’m going to look at my call, I have to go back to camp.

Most of my formation in life and ministry happened at camp - Caitlin was there for some pretty significant moments in that. At camp we encountered God in the woods, on boats, walking through water in creeks, and looking up at the stars, through worship and community and scripture. 

And because I’m a good lifelong Methodist, I couldn’t tell you where many things are specifically in the Bible, but one passage that has stuck with me for nearly 2 decades now is 1 Corinthians 12. It’s a passage that we focused on at camp often, because what 1 Corinthians as a whole book is about, and specifically this passage today, is what it means to be community. 

Now, one of the things that’s important to do when reading any of scripture, but particularly Paul’s letters - 1 Corinthians was written by a guy named Paul, as were a lot of the other letters we find in the New Testament - for Paul’s letters it’s important to know what context in which he was writing, because, I’ll just say it - he’s nicer in some places than others. 

1 Corinthians, while having some of many people’s favorite passages in it, like this one, also contains a lot of admonishment and some problematic passages. This is a community Paul knows well. He’s spent time with them, he’s broken bread with them, he’s connected with them. Then, after leaving the community to go connect with others, he gets word that this community is not living up to the ideals he knows they espouse. 

He’s heard there’s been some competition, infighting, and power grabs happening in this community - nothing like anything we ever see in the modern church, of course - and this letter is his way of reminding them of what COULD BE. 

So this part of the passage is really about the importance of working together and recognizing what everyone brings to the table, and compares the community to a human body, 

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. 1 Corinthians 12:14-26 (NRSV)

I find that this is Paul’s way of, when things are getting tough for this community, bringing them back to their call. Paul is reminding them of what it means to be community, and specifically a community following the way of Jesus. 

This particular passage, and this reminder of call to community, is also closely connected with my call, and not just because it’s my “camp scripture,” and not just in the way that it describes what COULD BE in a general sense, but more specifically. 

Most of my work over the last 6 years or so has been studying and researching everything related to intergenerational ministry. As a result of that work, the concept and core practice of intergenerational community has become a huge part of what I have been called to remind churches of. 

As I look at what was, and what is, this idea of a community that not only welcomes all and includes all, but connects all to the work God is inviting them to in the world -  I think that’s the community that could be, and that’s the community that lives up to the ideals of what the church is really supposed to embody.

We hear it here as Paul reminds the Corinthians that all parts of the community are important, and the ones that we often hide away, the ones we often shield from the world, the ones that appear to be the least important now, might be the most important, the most vital. 

The idea of marginalized communities in the church is not new, and in many churches, the most marginalized are children. Are they honored? Absolutely! Are they acknowledged? Often! But over there, in their wing, in their space.

Too often, children are welcomed into a community, only to be relegated to a separate space, a church within a church. When in reality, they not only have something to contribute to the community, but also need the other members of the community to live into their own call, their own flourishing. 

Young people ask some pretty deep questions, and the key questions of adolescence especially are of identity, purpose and belonging:

"Who am I?" "What should I do?" "Where do I belong?"

Unsurprisingly, we each continue to ask these questions throughout life, and who better to help young people wrestle with these questions than those of us who have experience wrestling with them, and who continue to wrestle alongside of them?

How does a young person know what COULD BE if they don’t see it in the broader community?

The next installment of this series will post Friday, and I'll explore the answer to the question of how we help young people find their place in our church bodies.

Be sure you're subscribed for updates to ensure you don't miss future installments! This series is adapted from a sermon originally preached in May 2017 at Collective in DeLand, FL. 

Melissa CooperComment