Transformed, together, into the living, loving, generous, compassionate, faith-filled, diligent body of Christ through the grace of the Spirit, no evil or hate or oppression or violence can prevail against such bodily love.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 21, year A
Texts: Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
These days, sometimes we just want a place to hide.
With news 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we can’t keep up. With the wickedness sweeping through our world, some days we don’t want to catch up. We know the litany – racism, oppression, ecological devastation, sexism, starvation, poverty, war, greed, homelessness, systemic prejudice, broken governing bodies – we know the litany, and that it’s much longer than that. Only one of these would be a huge challenge to correct. Together, they seem insurmountable.
Then we open the Scriptures and we still can’t hide. The Triune God who made all things apparently cares about the healing of all things, including the end of all things on that litany. Everywhere in Scripture we find that God desires justice, peace, non-violence, love, the end of racial, gender, ethnic, class or any other dividing walls between people. We read that God passionately cares that the hungry are fed, the homeless find shelter, the lost are found.
We come here for peace, and we can’t hide in worship, either – those same Scriptures speak here, our hymns call us to love what God loves, our fellow members lead us in prayer that calls us out of our hiding place. Even the pastor won’t ignore these problems, and reminds us of what the Scriptures say about God’s priorities and our lives in this broken world.
We know we can’t have integrity as God’s children and hide. But today God’s Word gives us powerful hope that the things on that litany have an expiration date, they can’t survive. Hope that when we come out of hiding, we’ll find God’s life in us, healing the world. But to see this hope, we need to change two ways we’ve dealt with these readings.
First, we seriously undervalue the meaning of the body of Christ, making it nearly irrelevant to our faith.
We’ve dipped our toe into the waters, but haven’t dived in and swum. In First Corinthians, Paul talks about the various body parts, comparing us to eyes, ears, hands, feet. We’ve gone this far and recognized the individuality of members of Christ’s body. The toe can’t say it’s not important, all parts are important.
But Paul’s point is the body, not the parts. To the Romans today he says, “individually we are members one of another.” Salvation is in the connection, not the difference. We know the toe can’t function on its own. But the toe’s connection to the body means there is no separation in the body. No barriers between the toe and the eye. The same blood flows between them, the same air gives oxygen to them. If the toe gets hit by a hammer, the eye weeps.
So it is with Christ’s body. We know we belong to Christ. But Paul says we also all belong to each other. We cannot exist apart from each other. Our individual egos, needs, desires, are less critical to our lives than our connection with Christ’s body. There is no barrier between God, and us, and neighbor. The blood that flows between us is God’s love and the breath we take together is the Spirit’s life. “We” is more important to our salvation than “I”.
Look at what Paul says here: “Be transformed.” But he’s talking to the whole body.
English doesn’t show the plural as Greek does. But Paul is encouraging the transformation of the entire body of believers. God intends to save the world by bringing all people together in one body, and transforming us, together, into God’s healing, life-giving love.
The gifts Paul talks about are the way the Spirit empowers the whole body to move and work in the world. It isn’t a body conformed to the world’s way: self-interest, greed, and all the things that have led to the pain the world is in today. A body could conform that way, we’ve seen it. We’ve seen Christian groups become embedded in the world’s ways and become unrecognizable as Christian. We’ve seen a nation with great ideals become ever more hateful to the most vulnerable, ever more self-centered. When more and more start shifting a body toward the ways of the world, it becomes easier and easier to give in.
But the transformed body of Christ is shaped by God’s Spirit, transformed into Christ. It has gifts, Paul says, of faithful prophetic word speaking God’s concerns to the rest. It has gifts of generous giving, so all share in the bounty of the creation. It has gifts of diligent leadership, so people are constantly lifted up who help the body move to where it is called to move. It has gifts of cheerful compassion, so no one is left behind, all are joined into this love of Christ. Most of all, it’s a life of sacrificial living and loving, where all lose themselves so others can be found.
That’s what Paul says is Christ’s vision of salvation. Salvation is living in this transformed body, where all belong, all are needed, and all are changed into Christ, together, for the sake of the world.
Second, Christ promises that the gates of Hades won’t prevail against this transformed body, this church.
But Jesus isn’t describing a gated community. Too often we’ve envisioned Christ’s body on the wrong side of the gates, inside, sheltered, where no one can hurt us.
It’s the exact opposite. We’re called out of the world to become Christ’s body, and sent back into the world to live as that transformed body. And nothing can prevail against such love. We are sent out as one body to break down the gates that keep people in, loose the bonds that grip them, break the chains that enslave them, Jesus says today.
That whole depressing litany stands no chance against such a transformed body of Christ. Walls of hate, walls of violence, walls of greed, walls of ignorance, this body shaped in love will break those walls with love. When any walls keep us from others, this body will break them down and welcome those others in, to share the same blood of God’s love, the same breath of the Spirit’s life, to join in this life together. Until all God’s children, every being on this planet, is part of this transformed body of God’s love.
What chance do even the gates of hell have against that? The gates of death? The gates of fear? What systems, what rooted prejudice, what global evil can prevail against such love?
It’s not time to hide. It’s time to join together in Christ, and invite the Spirit to transform us.
This is how God will heal the world, how God’s priorities become reality. Now we no longer fear God’s alignment with justice, peace, non-violence, sacrificial love and life because we’re aligned with God and each other in that commitment.
This is how we live, together, as God’s faithful people and find the healing of salvation, when the Spirit transforms all people of faith into this body that includes all, breaks down all walls that divide, and fills the world with God’s love and healing.
So let’s get up out of our hiding places, join arms and hands and voices, and, transformed by the Spirit, follow where Christ leads. A broken, fearful, suffering world awaits the news that God’s healing and wholeness and love is coming, and nothing can stop it.
In the name of Jesus. Amen