Sermon Given January 23, 2022
Those members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.
If you spend time with the Bible, certain ideas are reiterated over and over again, a steady mantra that runs from Genesis to Revelation. One of those mantras is to care for the poor and oppressed. Laws are made for the Israelite people that express these concerns. Don’t glean your entire field, leave some for the poor. Don’t charge interest, that only harms the poor. God lifts up the poor out of Egypt and spends forty years providing for those who have nothing. When Israel goes into exile, the prophets declare it is because they didn’t care for the poor.
When they come back, the prophets rejoice that the poor and oppressed are now being set free.
All along the way, we see the story of a people who became poor and oppressed, who were lifted up out of that situation only to see some of those who were oppressed begin oppressing others. Then something happened and they became impoverished again, in need of help. We find this cycle repeating in every corner of the world, both back then and today. It’s a political reality, and it’s not in line with what God calls us to in the Bible.
Jesus’ first declaration of who he is in the Gospel of Luke, which we read today, is all about the poor and oppressed, all about those society tends to snub or ignore. He declares the year of the Lord’s favor, a time of Jubilee actually mandated in the Bible, where debts were cleared and property which had been taken as debt payment was returned to the original owners. It was supposed to happen every fifty years, but leadership quietly spiritualized that bit and set it as the ideal future, not an earthly reality. But Jesus says that this day, this moment, is it. Now is the time. The cycle ends not with the rich receiving more power, but with the poor being lifted up.
What is it about the poor that make them so darn important? Why does the Bible always talk about them? God certainly does love everyone, no doubt about it. God loves those with resources and those without. It’s not the stuff that matters. If wealth was just the ability to buy more than others, I doubt God would be all that concerned with it. Stuff itself is neutral, neither good nor bad. Money is a tool, not a moral standing. But there’s something sneaky that comes with wealth and prestige, and that has the power to overtake us. It’s the desire for more for me to the detriment of others. It’s an attitude that allows for the denial of other people’s needs and rights because the person in power begins to obsess about themself. The individual becomes greater than the community, the one with more breaks the obligation to leave some for the one with less. The body breaks apart into individual pieces that refuse to believe the other parts matter. We begin the cycle again.
But if all were an eye, where would the hearing be? If all were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? We can’t be a healthy, fully functioning body without all the pieces, all the parts. It’s not the bank account numbers that matter, it’s how we treat those who struggle. Are they part of the body or not? What are they if they aren’t a part of us?
Our Epistle lesson today is a portion of a larger conversation Paul is having with the Corinthian church. They are a congregation with people from a variety of income brackets and backgrounds. Some think they are better than others because of income, or because of their particular spiritual gifts, or because of where they fall in the social class structure of Roman society. Paul keeps saying, “Yes, you come from different places, but you’re all connected.” The argument he makes over and over again is, “Think of those who have nothing first, not those who have plenty.” This argument is applied to those without faith as well as those without money or resources. They come first, not those who have plenty. The argument is that all are lifted up, all benefit, when the person who is least in their community has enough. The parts of the body considered weakest are indispensable. When they rise, we all rise. We are all connected.
Our connections run deeper than we sometimes recognize. Locally, we will sometimes talk about the Murray connection. Once you’ve been linked to Murray, you’ll find that Murray pops up everywhere. While this is to some extent true of any college community that educates and sends out young people who then scatter across the country and globe, I find it fascinating. I had never even heard of Murray or Murray State before I came here, yet I found out quickly after taking the call that one of my seminary classmates, who is now a priest near Atlanta, went to Murray State and her family has endowed a scholarship here. We connected again over that link, and she shared fond memories of her days here. I learned a bit of Murray history through the eyes of a student, who had many family members pass through the halls our students now occupy. Once her family linked in, once they were connected and saw the value of the place, they recognized their resources and utilized them to ensure other students, who had less than them, could access what they found here. They had plenty, so they distributed some of their wealth to uphold those who had less. It is this kind of link that Paul advocates for, this shifting and moving of wealth, utilizing the tools of money and stuff to benefit those who would otherwise be without.
That of course sounds great. We may have different political ideologies, but everyone from Trump rally attendees to socialists and anarchists can agree that we want the best for the people we are most closely connected to. Everyone wants to be seen, heard, and to matter. We all want affordable food, to have good quality housing, and meaningful lives. We all agree that the underdog should be lifted up, even if our definitions of underdog or methods of upliftment wildly disagree. Our most basic desires aren’t all that different. It’s our connection that’s in real trouble. Nationally, we find ourselves at a crossroads, trying to decide who makes up this body, who counts, and we haven’t agreed on that since the inception of this country, when the Constitution described a voting citizen as a land owning white man. Luckily we’ve expanded from there, still the struggle continues hundreds of years later. But while we struggle as a nation, the Bible has the answer for those who call themselves Christian. In Christ’s body, we are all one. We all count. We all matter. The body’s health relies on caring for even the weakest member. We are all connected.
I keep wondering: How healthy are we really? I have a lot of worries about how we connect with each other. I worry about the amount of social isolation and social anxiety within our society, made worse by necessary isolation over the past two years. I worry that we don’t have enough spaces and places to be awkward together, to make mistakes and receive grace, to learn from others who aren’t within our own political silos or social bubbles. I worry about the voices dominating our airwaves. I worry about the gaps between those in power and everyone else. I worry that we have a whole bunch of eyes, ears, and noses, and not enough connective tissue to hold us all together so that the stomachs and pancreases of the world can function well. If I spend too much time consuming social media, new stories, and everything else that comes at me when I take my phone out of my pocket, I can easily despair, especially as we all experience the stress of another variant in this two year old pandemic. Our health doesn’t seem so good.
But then I find the connections. I see those who work to address inequality. I see those who are working slowly and surely for the betterment of those who are on the bottom of our social pile. I see this uplifting spark, this motion, pushing up against all that pushes down. We may not be as healthy as we could be, but we’re not dead yet.
From a can of tuna in a blessing box, to action groups like Bread for the World, which fights to end hunger on a global level by leveraging wealthy countries’ resources through community action and policy change, we find people coming together saying, “We are all healthier when the weakest among us has enough.”
Then I see Jesus sitting down to teach, just as all who taught in the synagogues sat down to teach, and I hear the words of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. It’s upon Jesus, it’s upon me, and it’s upon you. The Spirit. That’s the connection. That’s the glue. That’s what allows us to look into the eyes of the impoverished and see love. That’s what allows us to look into the eyes of the rich and powerful and declare love. That’s what it takes. It takes an act of the Holy Spirit to bind us all together. It’s not us. If it were us, we’d probably be worse off than we are right now. But the Spirit is moving through. The Spirit is connecting and enlivening.
The Spirit is bringing in hope where there was once despair.
The Spirit is preaching good news to the poor and release to the prisoners.
The Spirit is recovering the sight of us who are so blind and liberating the oppressed.
The Spirit is sweeping through and saying,
“This is the year.
This is the time.
This is the place.
Today, we fulfill scripture.”
It’s not a maybe, not an if, not a when. Today is the day.
The Spirit moves over us all and says, “Now.” Now we rise. Now we connect and join together as the Body of Christ. It’s not an action on our part so much as a well of living water bubbling up inside our souls. We pour out what we have been given. The Spirit makes us able. The scripture is coming true today in us. It is sealing us and marking us as Christ’s own forever, calling us into a ministry that has always been ours, waiting for us to come into it. We are called into a ministry that always connects, always cares, always shows concern. It calls us to never forget the most vulnerable, knowing that when their needs are met, all of our needs are met, when they have enough, we have enough too. It’s a ministry that lives out the themes of the Bible: love, salvation, upliftment of the poor. It’s a ministry that makes us truly alive, truly human, truly connected even with all our differences and disagreements. It is the ministry of the Spirit that moves in and through us all. With the Spirit, we are the Body of Christ. We are able. Amen.