Third Sunday after the Epiphany Lectionary Reflection, Year C
January 24, 2016
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
In my denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the beginning of every calendar year brings a fresh focus on and encouragement for leaders to adopt practices for healthier living. It’s also the season when my local gym is packed with those still leaning into New Year’s resolutions for wellness and physical fitness. These are good things because building up the body, strengthening muscles, increasing flexibility, and improving overall fitness is good stewardship. For pastors, deacons and deaconesses, and other vocational church leaders, taking care of one’s own physical, emotional, and spiritual health is necessary in order to serve God and others well.
This is why Paul’s analogy of the human body to the Body of Christ is so apt for an Epiphany message. Paul unpacks his idea in typical Pauline fashion–plenty of detail that leaves no room for misunderstanding. In short, the body of Christ, the church, is like a physical body, with lots of interdependent parts and systems. And how we treat the body of Christ, the church, matters. Just as we need to have fit physical bodies, our faith bodies need regular workouts and strengthening, too. We haul our physical bodies to the gym to work on those healthy resolutions and fitness goals, so why not give the same attention and dedication to our faith bodies? What might it look like to have a “fit faith” plan for 2016, to dedicate ourselves to strengthening Christ’s body in our local contexts so that every member enjoys better fitness and renewed commitment to discipleship and mission?
Sure, it’s tough to sustain the enthusiasm, the healthy routines, and commitment that benefit our human bodies, and our faith bodies are certainly no different. Life gets in the way. Schedules are overstuffed, and choices and opportunities can resemble the smorgasbord at the local all-you-can-eat buffet. Slipping into old habits and comfortable routines is tempting. We think we can do without exercise. We assume we can eat what we want – a little bit won’t hurt, right? We might think taking care of our heart is negotiable because we can’t see it as readily as our hands or bellies. It’s easy to roll over in bed and skip the morning trip to the gym, and it’s easy to roll over and miss worship, too. It’s easy to ignore warning signs and healthy practices.
I can predict that by April it will be no problem to get a locker or treadmill at my gym. What signs of “body neglect” and “dis-ease” do you see in your congregation? Are there empty pews, neglected classrooms, piles of outdated detritus? What are the signs of health and wellness, and what are the signs of early onset neglect and distress in the system? Does your faith body tend to keep conflict hidden like arterial plaque, ready to silently break loose and kill the spirit of your congregation? Are you exercising your faith body’s spiritual muscles through the basic disciplines of prayer, study, worship, relationship, service, and generosity? Or do those regular exercises take a backseat to the hectic lives, myriad choices, and stressful days of leaders and members alike?
The antidote to flabby faith is simple: exercise the body through regular, basic faith practices, strive for the greater gifts, honor all members, and welcome the stranger to the table. In God’s body there’s always room for one more. Attention to body building, Holy Spirit-style, is as essential to the church as attention to one’s own physical health and well-being is to each member.
Photos: Spirit Fire and Peter Mooney, Creative Commons, and © JcJg Photography – Fotolia.com. Thanks!
Have you ever considered adding a worship service built around exercise and fitness? A pastor in my area has started “Fit Church” to help congregants focus on strengthening their faith and physical fitness. Check out Zion Lutheran Church (York, PA) and Pastor Haley Vay Beaman’s FitChurch Facebook group here for some ideas.
Read the passage from 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a and invite youth to ponder what it means to be baptized into one body by drinking the same Spirit. When we gather for communion and drink the wine, we not only receive the real presence of Christ, we also share this presence with God’s children around the world and across time and space. What prevents us from being “one body” today? Who is not invited to the table in the local congregation? How can we work for greater unity and inclusion? This Sunday also concludes the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. How can we pray and work for greater unity among God’s people?
Keep the fitness and faith focus with the children. Bring some hand weights, a jump rope, a few healthy fruits and veggies, and pillow. Talk with the children about maintaining health and wellness through sleep (pillow), food (fruits and veggies–be sure to share), and physical fitness (weights and jump rope). Invite the children to think what tools we need to strengthen our faith and Christ’s body–the church. Maybe show them a Bible, point to the bread and wine of communion, and invite them to look at how even in worship we sit, stand, pass the peace, and perhaps kneel. Maybe even talk about “deep knee bends” in prayer. Invite them to commit to one good health habit and one good faith habit that their families can help them achieve. Finish with a simple prayer.