This is the fourth of a four-part sermon series preached at Ellendale UMC about our new vision statement: “…to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus Christ.” Here are the links to the other sermons:

Part 1: “…to be the hands of Jesus…”
Part 2: “…to be the feet of Jesus…”
Part 3: “…to be the voice of Jesus…”

A sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:12-18 and Matthew 26:26-30

Something happens to our bodies about the time we turn 30, I’ve discovered. Things stop working like they once could and illnesses take a greater toll and become much more difficult to get over – harder to lose weight. I know, I know…some of y’all are saying, “Just wait till you turn 40…or 50…or 60…” But for now, just allow me to be amazed at this discovery and don’t take away my pity party. The Avett Brothers recently released a song that says this:

Call the Smithsonian I made a discovery
Life ain’t forever and lunch isn’t free
Loved ones will break your heart with or without you
Turns out we don’t get to know everything

Get the young scientists, tell them come quick
I must be the first man that’s ever seen this
Lines on my face, my teeth are not white
My eyes do not work and my legs don’t move right.

–  The Avett Brothers, Smithsonian

Several weeks ago on the Sunday morning we began this sermon series on our new vision at Ellendale – “…to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus Christ” – I woke up queasy and I knew it wasn’t just nervousness about preaching that sermon or anything. You see, my daughter had had a stomach virus a couple of days earlier that made her vomit. So when I woke up feeling unsettled on that Sunday, and then when my wife woke up a few minutes after me and she said she felt queasy, too, and threw up about 2 minutes later, I knew some rough hours were coming. I prayed right then and there – “God, if you can help me hold it together until 12:15 so that I can get this sermon preached in both services, after I get home you can let this hit me as hard as it has to.”

Well, God was faithful to God’s end of the deal. I kept my distance from the congregation that morning, and I made it to 12:15, put on my Green Bay Packers gear (that was the Sunday they played the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs) and then collapsed onto my bed, which I did not leave except to go to the bathroom for the next 36 hours. I couldn’t even get up and cheer when Mason Crosby kicked the winning field goal. Ugh…that was horrific…my body has never felt that badly in my whole life. I ached in places I didn’t know you could ache. My body was getting all out of sorts and I couldn’t get comfortable…just miserable.

Now after I recovered, I’ve had several weeks to ponder about this…not so much the getting older part, but the mystery of how a body processes and responds to an illness. The body is an amazing thing – sometimes extremely fragile, at other times remarkably resilient. It’s amazing how all the parts of the body are intertwined and interconnected…to such a degree that when one part, or shall we say, member, hurts, the whole body hurts with it. Yet at the same time, while the body might be wiped out, there are still some things that you have to do to sustain you through those rough times…even when you have the stomach flu, you have to keep eating and drinking – to stay hydrated, to get some nourishment, however small it is, to the body for the sake of its survival and recovery when the stuff finally goes away.

And then there’s that first meal you have after the virus is finally gone – is there anything quite like that satisfaction? I mean it’s not like you’re able to go after a filet mignon and lobster tail right away, but just the feeling of health and life and strength come back…it’s so refreshing to eat and you know it’s going to stay down.

To put it another way – during the sickness, at times it felt like I was getting dismembered – my body was being torn in pieces. And the last thing I felt I had the strength to do was to piece my body together and eat and drink. The other thing about it is that when my feet couldn’t get me to the kitchen, what had to happen? My wife or the kids had to bring me something.

So the point to consider: when our bodies are all out sorts and we feel dismembered, the way to get well again is through a process we might call re-membering, putting the members back together, and this is best done through nourishment of a meal – to practice and celebrate recovery from an ailment, to get healthy again, to gain strength so that the body, now made well, can go on about its mission…its purpose – vitality! Life!

There are times when the body, that is, the church, is all out of sorts too. Fractured relationships, broken trust, as Paul alludes to in his letter to the contentious Corinthians, jealousy over not getting to be the part of the body you want to be, pride – all of these and more that tends to dismember us, if not in actual people leaving the church, at least in a virtual distance even if we’re in the same space to worship or to learn in Sunday school or to break bread. There are times, probably, where you just don’t “feel like” it…like breaking bread with him or her or them. “Ugh! I have to share at the table with them?”

But Jesus has said that when we come together to break this bread and drink this cup, we are to remember him. Remember by recalling the mighty acts of redemption through Jesus Christ, but also by re-membering, that is putting the members of the body back together, through a meal of reconciliation – a meal to restore the fellowship, to practice the presence of God and be truly present to one other, to gain nourishment so that the body, being made well by the mystery of God’s grace, can go on as a body sent out into the world to share that grace with those who are broken and hurting, with those who for some reason or another can’t or haven’t made it to the table yet.

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We come to the table and the words are spoken – make these elements Christ’s body and blood so that we…that is the church…might be the body of Christ for the world around us – the world outside these walls. This isn’t a private meal, but an open one so that we all can experience God’s healing grace and become more faithful and empowered to be, as we have envisioned – “…the hands, feet, and voice – yea, the whole body – of Jesus Christ.”

Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Resting. Eating. Drinking. Enjoyment. These are blessings of the created life. They existed before the curse. Hence they are not inherently ‘sinful’ even though we preachers are sometimes keen on pointing out the vanity that often coincides with excessive idleness or consumption. The sin of the ‘rich fool’ who stored up treasures was not that he should “relax, eat, drink, and be merry,” but that his action(s) in this came at the neglect of and detriment to his neighbors and hence to his own soul as he did not regard the God who brought the harvest.

Have you ever understood the first sin as one of unhealthy consumerism? Adam and Eve were given a whole garden of fruit from which to enjoy, except for just one. Yet a commercial aired that created within their hearts a perceived need of something they must have in order to truly be fulfilled. The tempting words of the serpent went something like this (my paraphrase):

“You will not surely die if you eat that fruit. But God doesn’t want you to eat of that one tree because he knows if you do, you will be like him…mature, powerful, able to know what is good and what is evil. So go ahead; take, eat that fruit, for that is how you become like God!”

Contrast this with the words that Jesus shared at the meal on the night before his death. For the meal before him, Jesus regarded and gave thanks (Eucharist) to God. He gave the bread and the cup to his disciples and said something like this (my paraphrase):

Take, eat this bread which is my body; drink from this cup which is my blood; this is how God has become like you! Given to the point of death.”

Photo Credit: Rev. Sara Tate took this photo at Carrie's and my vow renewal in July 2013.

Photo Credit: Rev. Sara Tate took this photo at Carrie’s and my vow renewal in July 2013.

Rest. Eat. Drink. Enjoy. For the re-created life still involve these blessings, but they will always compel us to give thanks to God and break bread with our neighbors.

Eternal God, we give you thanks for this holy mystery in which you have given yourself to us.
Grant that we may go into the world in the strength of your Spirit, to give ourselves for others.
In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.