For all that has been thank you, for all that will be, yes.
So, granted there are difficult Pauline texts, but this evening’s text is inviting and warm. “We are all one.” “If one member suffers, all suffer together…” (1 Corinthians 12:26) As a well-intentioned white liberal, this sounds idyllic.
But I’d like to offer that this text is really quite challenging; one can almost hear the scratching of the quill, scribbling furiously and quickly; “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.’” (I Corinthians 12:21) Do you see, we’re missing half of the story? We only have Paul’s letters, we do not have the letters to which he is responding. What might the letter the Church in Corinth wrote to Paul sound like?
So wonderful of you to visit, we so appreciated your wisdom and teaching. By the by, we have at least two further questions.
- We have some people who keep showing up. We’re not racist, as you know, but they look different and we worry that they may be a problem to our happy little church. What should we do about them?
- Perhaps along the same line, but again, we’re don’t have any problems with the weak and the poor, but surely, you don’t mean that they are the same as those of us with the nice homes and chariots? We’d like some clarity about that.
Stressing that we are not racist or that the poor and weak don’t have their place, we just don’t think they should be here. Oh, and your thoughts about us building a wall to keep them out would be most appreciated.
The Church of God in Corinth
So, imagine again the furiously scribbling quill, “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.” (1 Corinthians 12:24-25)
And what Paul is asking us to do and be, as a church, as a community, is to actually have the same care for one another. And I think, that is, in the end what Jesus is calling us to, as a species. That we move beyond our default binary system thinking friend or foe, and towards a world where humans everywhere regardless of whether we are Jew or Greek, Slave or Free, Cis or Trans, Gay or Straight, whatever our skin pigmentation, we care for and with each other.
And as you may well imagine, that is very, very difficult to manifest. As much as we may chuckle at the imaginary letter from the Corinthians, they are simply human beings like us. We are wired, it appears, to default to threat mode in the absence of positive cues when we meet a stranger. We are far more comfortable with people who are like us, than we are with people who are different. The challenge in Paul’s letter is that it is as much to you and me as it is to the people of Corinth. My imagined angry scratching on the parchment is addressed to me, and it is addressed to you. It is very difficult to be one body, but there are glimmers of possibility.
You see my vision for the church and for the world is that we are in fact able move out of fear and into community. Out of darkness into light. And I’d like to do a thought experiment with you to just give us a taste of what that one body might sound like, even if just for a few precious moments. There is a wonderful musical on Broadway (yes show tunes!) called, Come From Away. It tells stories of the week of September 11, 2001 in Gander, Newfoundland. Now, just a little context, Gander is a town of about 6,000 people but it has a very large airport because back in the day, it was a refueling point for transatlantic flights. So as a kid, I recall going to visit my Granny in Scotland, we’d get on the plane in Montreal, fly to Gander, refuel, then to Shannon, Ireland, refuel, then to Prestwick, outside of Glasgow in Scotland. So, on the morning of September 11, 2001, 38 aircraft flying from Europe to New York and other airports in the US, were diverted to Gander when US airspace was closed after the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. There were about 7,000 people on these aircraft, landing in a town of about 6,000 people.
Now there is a joke about Newfoundland and knock-knock jokes. Why don’t knock-knock jokes work in Newfoundland? Knock-Knock. Come on in! And that is what they did. The people of Gander simply welcomed the strangers.
“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.’” (1 Corinthians 12:20-22)
And one particular song in the show (which by the way my partner and I wept through), illustrates a challenge that week. You see in Gander, religious diversity is about the Salvation Army, the Presbyterians, the Anglicans and the Roman Catholics getting along. There were now Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, as well as all sorts of Christians wondering about where to pray. The song we’re going to listen to, is called Prayer. And I think this is a fleeting and brief sound of humans praying as one body.
As we listen, I invite you to close your eyes. When the song ends, we’ll sit in silence for one minute and then we’ll ring the bell to bring us back to this place and time.
For folks reading this online, here is a link to the song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BJcwDBRcsk