1 Corinthians 12:12-27
High schools are very odd places. It does not matter if the school is smaller like Edinburgh, huge like some of the Indianapolis schools, or somewhere in between, like the one I attended. They are all odd places, because every high school is like its own micro-society. Each one is different, and they all have their own culture, their own way of understandings, and their own way that the students do things. What makes it even odder, is these little school societies subtly morph and change every year as one class leaves, and another class comes in. So even though it is the same school building, within five years the culture of the student body might have changed quite a bit. Because each school is unique, moving into a new school is a terrifying prospect, and that is exactly what I did between my freshmen and sophomore years of high school. The school I moved to and eventually graduated from was North Harrison in Southern Indiana. At that time, the culture of the school is that there were three major social groups. Because it was real life and not TV, these groups mingled people could be friends with people from various groups, but everyone was somewhat affiliated with one of those groups in some way. There were the jocks, which were the athletes and sports players. There was also the rednecks, who proudly claimed that title for themselves, and finally there were the banders. At North Harrison in the late 90’s marching band was huge at North Harrison High school. It was a school of around 700 students, and 150+ were in the marching band. Moving into that school it was a bit problematic for me. The school did not have a soccer team, so I was not going to be playing any sports. I did not care much for country music and cowboy hats, and my lack of musical ability clearly excluded me from being in the band. Despite that fact, the people that I tended to connect with the most and the people I made friends with were all in the band. So even though I could not play a musical instrument to save my life, I found myself part of the larger social circle of the banders. Even though I was never in marching band, I was good friends with people who were very into it. As such, I do appreciate marching band. I am amazed at the work and dedication it takes. I also know that band camp, at a competitive school, is no joke. Band camp has more in common with boot camp than it does with any other kind of camp. I was never in band, but I appreciate what a good band can accomplish. I also think that a marching band is a helpful illustration for better understanding this morning’s scripture.
This morning’s scripture from 1 Corinthians immediately follows last week’s scripture and is really part of the same thought. Last week we considered the first half of 1 Corinthians which was focused on Spiritual Gifts. One of the major points that Paul made there was that all spiritual gifts come from the Holy Spirit to do God’s work. In the church in Corinth, there was obviously some drama brewing about these spiritual gifts though. Specifically, we get the image that some people were claiming that some gifts were superior and better than the others. It is in response to this that Paul makes his well known Body of Christ metaphor. It does not matter if one person has the spiritual gift of faith and another of healing, they are all needed by the body. The body is only complete with all of the parts together and one part is not any better than a single other part. It is a well-known metaphor, but putting it into practice has always been a bit tricky. If the church is the body of Christ, then sometimes the right hand literally does not know what the left hand is doing. I think it is fair to say that the body of Christ has a bit of a coordination problem, and we can struggle with all of the parts working together sometimes. Paul’s pastoral letters like the Corinthians makes it clear there is not a new condition. Unity between believers and working in perfect coordination for the common good has continually been a learning process for us.
This is why I think marching band can be a good place for us to look for an example of what the church could be like. One of the things that is so impressive about marching band is that in some instances hundreds of people are perfectly united for a common goal. When done correctly the move in perfect sync with each other. All of these different people, in different instrument sections all come together. It is as if all of these individuals almost move and work like one body.
That sort of moving together in perfect unity, all working for a common purpose is a perfect definition of what the church should be. We should be united together in love to serve God and spread forth God’s compassion in the world. In considering what kind of example a marching band gives us, I believe there are three things we can learn about how to better be the body of Christ.
First, everyone has to play their part. Marching band works because everyone does what they are supposed to do when they are supposed to do it. Sometimes this means, marching in place while another section of instruments gets to do fun and complex choreography. However the section doing the “boring” part is necessary to create the overall big picture. This is why Paul wrote in his body metaphor “The eye cannot say to the hand I don’t need you! . . .On the contrary those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” In the body of Christ we all have a role to play. We can lose sight of this in a couple of ways.
Verse 18 of this morning’s scripture states, “In fact God has placed, the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” God has an idea of how we can best serve Him and how we can make the most impact in our mission of making disciples, nurturing disciples, and transforming our world. However, sometimes we do not go that way because we feel that we should do something else. In seminary I met someone who was a worship leader in her church, but it took her years to claim that. Despite having a beautiful singing voice, she did not sing for years. This is because her home church she grew up in had several gifted sopranos who could kill the high notes. However, this woman was very firmly an alto, and she grew up feeling that if she could not get the high notes then she was not fit to sing in front of others. In the same way not everyone is called to preach, which is just teaching the scripture as part of worship. If someone does not feel like they can teach in that setting, they might still be a stellar Sunday school teacher or bible study leader. Another way that we can lose sight of that we have a God given role to play in the body of Christ, is that we can make assumptions about other people’s role. I remember reading a story once from a pastor about a man in his church who was having a lot of frustration. He wanted to serve God and fulfill a role in the church. This man was an accountant, so of course the church put him on the finance committee. That was not where felt he should be though. Since he worked in business, he was nominated for Trustees instead. That was also not a good fit. What this man wanted to do was work with young children. He tried to volunteer in the nursery, which is where all of the young mothers served. This was a larger church with a lot of young mothers, so he was told that they did not need them. The man went to the pastor out of frustration, and the pastor intervened and had him added to the nursery rotation. It did not take long until he became a permanent fixture in the pre-school nursery. He was the absolute favorite of every child, and he loved those little kids with the love of God.
The second thing we can learn about the body of Christ from marching bands, is that it takes work. I was the youth pastor for over four years at Avon UMC, and marching band is a really big deal at Avon High School. Every year in the late summer, the band students in the church would complain that the freshmen cannot march. Of course, they tended to forget that when they were freshmen, they could not march either. Learning to march in time takes time and practice. For a marching band to work in perfect coordination takes a lot of practice and effort. Every member of the band has to memorize the music as well as the choreography. Then they have to execute it in sync with everyone else at the same time. This is why marching bands practice for hours and hour a week. It takes a lot of effort to perfect moving together as one. Being the church, being the body of Christ, is the same way. It takes effort, being the church is more than just showing up on Sunday morning and putting our check in the plate. We have to be the church. It is up to us to do the work of making disciples, nurturing disciples and transforming the world by sharing the love of God. It also takes grace. Because as individuals, trying to work together to do the work of the church, we will not always get it right. There will be mis-steps, there will be balls dropped, there will be mistakes, and there will be things that just do not work like they are supposed to. When that happens in the church, we should be the model of forgiveness, the model of how to try again, and the model of how to come along side someone and support them unconditionally. When it comes to fulfilling the role in the body of Christ that is the perfect fit for us, it is something that will take effort and practice as we learn how to do it right. The church as a whole needs to be a place that is full of support and grace while we learn how to serve God.
The final thing we can learn from marching band is from the motivation that drove people to be part of the band. In my experience there were two motivators that brought people into marching band, and I think these motivators correlate to well to why people are involved in the body of Christ as well. First, in high school I knew a lot of people, especially by my senior year, who were kind of done with band. They still did it, but they were kind of done with the all of the work and effort. However, what brought them back was the connections they had. All of their best friends were in band, and being in band is a fairly intense experience. They did not want to miss out sharing that with their best friend. Their love for why they were there in the first place had faded but they stuck for the people. In churches this can happen as well. Sharing life together in the context of a church can also be an intense experience, and it brings us together. However, if our primary motivation for being the body of Christ is just to be with our friends, then we cannot truly be the body of Christ that is serving the poor, feeding the hungry, and bringing light into the darkness. If our primary motivation for being part of a church is because it is where our friends are, then the church becomes inwardly focused. The simple and undeniable truth is that a church that cares more about its own preferences, than sharing the love of God with others is a church that is dying.
The other people in band had a greater motivation. For them it was all about the music, about being part of the music, in a way that was greater than themselves. I use this term in the most positive and affirming way possible, but these were the true band nerds. Their motivation for being in band was the love of playing music, and they found band to be the perfect place for them because they got to join with people who felt the same way in doing something that was so much greater than their individual selves. This is exactly, what the church should be like. What should bring us here is the love of God. What should bring us here is a tug we feel in the depths of our soul because we know that before we love, God first loved us. We know that God’s love for the world was fully revealed on the cross, and because of that our sins have been washed white, our eternal debt paid, and we have been reunited with God. Our motivation for being here, for being part of the body of Christ should be that great love and our desire to fully participate in knowing and sharing that love. However, just like the band we find this is where we belong, because we are not alone. We are with other God nerds, or disciples if you prefer. We get to come together, each doing what God has called us to do, in perfect harmony, in complete unity, to make disciples, nurture disciples, and transform the world.
Paul wrote, “Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is part of it.” No matter how long you have been a Christian, no matter how long you have been a part of this church, you are part of the body of Christ. There is a role for you here. There is a way that God’s love can be shared and that God can glorified that only you can do. May you find your place in the body of Christ. If you are not sure about what that may be, then I would love to sit down with you to talk and pray about it. We are one body because as Paul wrote “we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body.” May we as a church find our roles in the body of Christ. May we faithfully march to the beat of God’s drum.