Go back to last week’s preaching notes and say, “ditto!” It would be an interesting approach, don’t you think, to preach the same sermon two weeks in a row? Then you will see who is really listening. Certainly, the theme of unity in diversity carries through here as well; you could do a part two.
Most preachers, understandably, would not find repeating a message satisfactory. So, how might we approach this text to distinguish it from the previous part of chapter 12? The previous text speaks of all the gifts going together to make up the whole. This text says each gift goes together to make up the whole. A subtle distinction, to be sure, but nonetheless important. Or you could think of it as last week, we were saying the whole matters, unity matters, the body matters. This week, we could say you matter to the whole, your gift matters to the unity of the body. “You matter” is an important and popular message these days. But Paul’s emphasis would be “you matter because the body won’t be the body without you, without the gift that you bring, without the person that you are.”
The first part of the text could be seen to be dealing with the inferiority complex that many of us have. We might think that our contribution to the whole isn’t worth a whole lot, or that we don’t measure up to the leaders of the congregation, or the ones up front week after week. “I’m just me,” some might think, “nothing special, nothing crucial.”
Here is where the preacher can get creative in the local context. Whom can you lift up, or rather what task or ministry doesn’t get much press, doesn’t seem as dramatic as others? What staff people are often neglected in the thank-you moments in the life of the church? Which volunteers are plugging away unremarked sometimes for years without proper recognition? Many of these workers aren’t asking for acknowledgement and might be embarrassed to receive it. So, take care in giving them attention, but helping people find their worth is a valuable and necessary effort.
The second approach that Paul takes in this text is to deal with those with a superiority complex. Here we aren’t coaxing some out of the shadows on to the stage for recognition; rather, we are attempting to put some into their proper place as a part of the whole. True, this is a delicate enterprise, and it isn’t advised that you engage in it with full prophetic fervor, kicking existential ground of beings and taking nomenclature.
But a little humility would be a good thing in most settings. There are a variety of ways to approach this topic. You could return to the beginning of the text and talk about the source of the gifting. Once we identify our gifts, it can become difficult to remember how we got here. We tend to believe that it is our worth, or our effort, or our goodness that has caused such things to be in our working. But Paul clearly states that any gift worth the title of spiritual gift has come not from within but from the Spirit. We are all sourced from the same reservoir; we drink of the same Spirit, Paul tells us. Because of our common origin, because of our gifts’ common origin, we can share in mutual support and mutual honor for whatever it is that we do within the body of Christ.
Another approach within this text is to focus on the interrelatedness of the gifts we use for building up the body. “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (vs. 26) We are a part of a whole, not one above another, or one more necessary than the other. We are one.
Yes, there is still individuality. “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (vs. 27.) Individually members, meaning you are important, you the individual, you the person, you matter. But we know that best when we engage in the whole, when we act as a part of the community and not just lone rangers. “You are the body,” and the best way to hear that phrase is in the true Southern plural: “All y’all are the body.”