The Body

The human body doesn’t consist of just one part. It has many parts. If the foot suddenly said, “Because I’m not a hand, I’m not part of the body anymore.” That wouldn’t change a thing. The foot would still be part of the body. If the ear spoke up and said, “Because I’m not an eye, I’m not part of this body,” it would still go on being part of the body. If the whole body were one giant eyeball, how would it hear anything? If the whole body was just a big ear, how would it smell? 

God, in His wisdom, designed each part of the body for a purpose and put each part in its proper place. If the body was made up of just one part, it wouldn’t be a body. The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” Neither can the head say to the feet, “I’ll get along just fine without you!” Quite the opposite. It seems the most important body parts are also the most vulnerable and the parts which we think of as being less respectable, we take great care to clothe with respect. What’s more, the more respectable members of our body go about naked. God designed the body this way so it can take care of itself. The strong parts protect the weak parts and the respectable parts cover the not so respectable parts. This brings harmony to the human body and each part cares for the other. If one part suffers, every part suffers. If one part is honored, the whole body rejoices.

The church is the body of Christ and each person is one of the parts. Though we have many different gifts and purposes, we are all united by our love for Christ and our love for one another.

The Apostle Paul had a gift for the use of parable. His letters, written in the 1st century, to newly formed Christian churches, contain some of the most vivid illustrations in the entire Christian tradition. The fruits of the spirit, the armor of God, running to win the prize… these are all metaphors that shape our thinking to this day. Perhaps Paul’s most memorable parable is “the body of Christ.” It’s a startling image when you think about it. Paul is rejecting the notion that unity is found in uniformity. Writing to a church torn apart by divisions, he is reminding them that it is their diversity which makes them strong. We often lose sight of this when we prize certain kinds of talent over others and make vices of the weaknesses that are not our own. No single one of us can be Christ in the world by ourselves. It is only when each part works together that He is made present.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The People Here

There once was an old Quaker who used to stand outside of his village and greet strangers passing by. Often the strangers would be travelers looking for a place to settle. They would ask the man, “What are the people here like?”

Whenever they asked this, the old Quaker would ask them, “What are the people like in the village you came from?”

Sometimes they would answer, “The people in the village I came from are the worst. They are rude, nosy, and backward!” 

To this, the man would reply, “I think you’ll find the people here about the same.” After hearing this, the travelers would frown and be on their way.

Sometimes the travelers would answer, “The people of the village I came from are the most warm, friendly, and generous people you will ever meet.” 

To this, the man would reply, “I think you’ll find the people here about the same.” Hearing this, the travelers would smile and walk through the gate.

The old Quaker in this little parable has a profound insight. We all know people who are endlessly negative. Wherever they go  the service is always subpar, the people ahead of them in line are always total idiots, and the people they work with are always out to get them. These constant victims of lesser human beings are never happy. This may have more to do with their hearts than it does with the world outside of them. As disciples, we are called to be merciful as God is merciful. That means forgiving the faults in others the way we want them forgiven in ourselves. It means realizing we are all made in the same image of God, but broken in different ways. It means accepting that the people here are just like the people everywhere else so we might as well learn to get along with them.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

3 Huts

A pilot was flying over the South Pacific when he noticed smoke coming from one of the many deserted islands below. The pilot flew closer and, sure enough, there was a man there with a great huge beard and tattered clothes sending the smoke signals. He looked like he had been on the island for years so the pilot made an emergency landing. When the pilot landed, the man was overjoyed.

“I’ve been on this island all alone for eleven years and I was beginning to lose hope! So many times I’ve seen planes fly by without noticing the smoke signals and here you are!”

“So happy I could help,” the pilot said, “Why don’t we gather your belongings and get you out of here.”

So the pilot followed the man into the leafy jungle and then to a clearing. In the clearing there were three huts. The man went into one of the huts and came out with a modest armful of belongings and announced that he was ready to return to civilization.

“Did you say you’ve been alone for eleven years?”, asked the pilot.

“Yes,” the man replied, “I’ve not seen another soul for eleven years!”

“Then, if you don’t mind my asking, why do you have three huts?”

The man smiled. “It’s simple really… the hut I just came from is obviously my home. This one next to it is my church. I go there every seventh day to worship God.”

“That’s very touching,” said the pilot, “How about that third hut?”

Suddenly the man’s facial expression got very serious and in a quiet voice he said, “That’s where I used to go to church…”

It’s pretty comical to imagine a schism of one and this old joke has made it into many a sermon about Christian unity. As the old saying goes, “it’s funny cause it’s true.” In most towns in the United States there are more churches than could possibly be needed to adequately seat all the worshipers on a Sunday morning. Too often these churches are not marked by a spirit of cooperation and common purpose but of competition and exclusive claims to God’s favor. Of course there are genuine theological differences between different churches and or course different worship styles speak to different people but how many churches are truly necessary? Far too often these are not the things truly dividing churches. Pride, history, and fear all stand in the way of unity. This parable reminds us of of the absurdity of having two huts when one should do.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

A Sack of Feathers

Once a man approached Rabbi Hillel and asked him a question about the commandments:

“I understand why the Torah prohibits idolatry, murder, and stealing but why is there a commandment against slander? Surely this is not as grave a sin as the rest…”

Rabbi Hillel responded, “I will answer your question but first I must ask you to do something for me.”

“Of course,” said the man, “what is it?”

Rabbi Hillel handed the man a sack of feathers. “This evening place a feather on the front porch of every house in your neighborhood, then come back in the morning and I will answer your question.”

The man was perplexed by the request but he really wanted an answer to the question so he agreed to the terms. The next morning he returned and Rabbi Hillel greeted him with a smile.

“Did you do as I asked?”

“Yes,” the man replied, “Yesterday evening I placed a feather on the front porch of every house in my neighborhood, just as you asked. Now please answer my question about the commandments.”

“Patience,” said the Rabbi, “First do me this one last favor: go back and collect all those feathers you laid on those doorsteps and bring them back to me.”

The man laughed incredulously. “What you ask is impossible! Surely the wind has blown away every single one of those feathers by now. There’s simply no way I could retrieve them all for you!”

Rabbi Hillel’s eyes beamed and he said with a smile, “Ah… and so it is with slander. The lies we tell about our neighbors can never be retrieved. They are like feathers scattered to the wind.”

I love the Jewish tradition of Rabbi stories. Especially those where the Rabbis are given a difficult question and respond with a parable (a trait which readers of the Gospels find all too familiar). Rabbi Hillel stories are my favorite. Living in the century before the Common Era, Rabbi Hillel’s interpretations always emphasized God’s compassion over rigid adherence to law (that might be familiar too). This parable beautifully demonstrates the hurt we can cause with our words. Such damage is all too often irreversible. Who among us doesn’t have words they desperately wish that they could take back? But once a thing is said, no matter how many times you say you didn’t mean it and apologize, the words still linger and cause pain. A rumor similarly continues to spread like a wildfire. In this era of fake news and social media slander, we’d do well to remember that we are commanded to choose our words wisely. We are commanded not to invoke God’s name for our own purposes and to not bear false witness against our neighbors. What we say matters. Pray before you speak. A feather in the wind can never be retrieved.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…