Paul and Jesus declare to be reality what we do not yet see: they invite you to be what you are, and you will see astonishing things.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Third Sunday after Epiphany, Lectionary 3 C
Texts: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21
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
There’s something troubling about what we hear from Paul and Jesus today.
Paul boldly tells his Corinthian church that they are the body of Christ, they are one in the Holy Spirit. Everyone matters, no matter how small or great. Everyone’s gifts are needed. This is reality, Paul says.
Jesus declares that the wonderful things he’s anointed by the Holy Spirit to do are already done: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” he says.
But it’s hard to see a lot of evidence of the unified body of Christ or the healing of all things no matter what Paul and Jesus say.
This is a good, healthy community here. But none of us would say it’s perfect.
People are here, part of Mount Olive, because this place has blessed them, this community of faith has been a gift. Each of us have different reasons that draw us here; some become members, some don’t, but we all journey together, each with different experiences of this community. Most days, on our good days, we find this is a wonderful, supportive body of Christ. On those days it’s easy to tell others how much we love these people with whom we worship and serve.
But not all our days are good days. Some days we’re disappointed by others in this community. Some days we feel alone, even unsupported. Some days we don’t like decisions that are made. Some days someone says something that offends us. And each of us likely has things we don’t share with others here, things we could use support with, because we don’t fully trust that someone, or this community, will have our back.
Paul’s vision is beautiful. But we know that it doesn’t always happen, not even here. People can fall through gaps. And beyond just this community, the Church in the world’s got even more problems.
So: is Paul declaring what our aspiration should be? He seems to be doing something else. He seems to be saying “This body, where each member is valued and loved, where all are supported and cared for, this is what you are.” Not what you should be, or could be.
It’s even clearer with Jesus today.
We believe he was anointed and filled by the Holy Spirit to do these things: proclaim release to captives, good news to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, sight to those who cannot see. We claim that from Pentecost to today, the Holy Spirit anoints us, fills us, to do the very same things.
But even though Jesus says “today this has been fulfilled in your hearing,” there are still lots of people captive literally and figuratively, in prison, trapped in systems, caught up in their own sinful, destructive patterns. There are still millions who are poor who hear no good news. Oppression still crushes millions in our own country and around the world.
So: How can Jesus say this has been fulfilled? It can feel dishonest to proclaim in this space all these wonderful things Scripture says God is doing and has done in the world in Christ and through us, and not admit that many days it’s almost impossible to see evidence of this.
Here’s what you need to remember: Jesus and Paul aren’t fools. They see what we see.
If the Corinthian church was actually living as the body of Christ, where each felt welcomed and part of the mission, where all were loved and supported, Paul wouldn’t have to write these words. In fact, the church at Corinth had all sorts of divisions and fractures. The letters to Corinth, more than any Paul wrote, reveal the often ugly realities a Christian community can experience. This was a community divided between wealthy and not wealthy, between people of different ideologies, between people who saw their relationship to other religions and practices of their neighbors very differently, between people who had radically different expectations of Christian behavior.
Today we see that exclusion from the body went two directions. Some – like Paul’s image of the foot and the ear –self-excluded, feeling they themselves and their gifts weren’t worthy of being in this body of Christ. And some – like Paul’s image of the eye and the head – excluded others, saying some folks just weren’t good or valuable enough to count. As beautiful as Paul’s image of the body of Christ is, created in baptism by the Holy Spirit, clearly the Corinthian church didn’t look like that.
And Jesus obviously understood that ending oppression and poverty and captivity and bringing healing to the world didn’t just happen by his sermon that day. His ministry that followed embodied what the Spirit filled and anointed him to do. It also showed how much needed to be done.
But Jesus and Paul see something deeper than what seems the obvious reality.
Paul knew the Corinthians were divided and full of infighting. But he says, “That’s not who you are. You are one body, baptized into Christ, made one in the Holy Spirit. This is your truth: everyone belongs, whether they appear to be weak or strong, gifted or not. Everyone is supported and loved, whether they suffer or rejoice. And everyone has different gifts to serve God, and each are important.” Jesus says the same, in the face of a world that’s still in pain: “today this is fulfilled.”
They believe this reality they describe is, in fact, already upon us. Maybe we don’t see it in the Church here and across the world all the time, or in the brokenness and pain of the world. But the body of Christ exists, is real, is made by the Holy Spirit, no matter what we see or do. God’s healing of all things has come in Christ and continues in you and me, because the Holy Spirit is making this happen.
Instead of commanding us to do something, Jesus and Paul speak in the indicative mood: “This is what you are. This is what God is doing.” So, they say, “Be who you are. Be a part of what God is doing.”
Because that’s how these realities become visible.
If you live in this community expecting the Spirit to make us one body, where all are valued, welcomed, loved, and supported, where many gifts of differing kinds are evident, you will see that is, in fact, our truth. Flaws and cracks will still be there, but they are part of the growing and knitting the Spirit is doing. They are mended through grace and forgiveness as you live in this body of Christ expecting to see what Paul says already exists. And astonishingly, this is also true of the whole Church in the world, not just here.
And if you live believing that God in Christ has already fulfilled the promise to come and end oppression, captivity, poverty, and all the suffering of this world, you will see over and over that this, in fact, is happening. Your eyes – blessed by the Spirit – will see the healing strands of grace and hope. The tiny growths of green life and joy that cannot be stopped. As you participate in these acts of healing as Christ yourself, you will see the Spirit making an impact through your hands and your voice and your heart.
Because the Spirit of God is upon you. And the Holy Spirit has filled you, anointed you, to be these amazing things we heard today.
To be the body of Christ – and not just in this congregation but across the Church – one in the Spirit, not divided. And to be the healing grace of the Triune God working in you as Christ in the world.
Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. It’s your truth. It’s what you are.
So, be that. Trust the Spirit is moving in you and in the Church, and your eyes will be opened to the deep reality behind what you normally see. You will see God’s reality, and live in it. Until the whole creation sees for itself and rejoices.
In the name of Jesus. Amen